What the Poets say about Mary

unnamed-8He tiptoes into the room almost as if he were an intruder. Then kneels, soundlessly. His white robe arranges itself. His breath slows. His muscles relax. The lily in his hand tilts gradually backward and comes to rest against his right shoulder.

She is sitting near the window, doing nothing, unaware of his presence. Ah: wasn’t there something he was supposed to say?[1]

Mary, chosen vase
Like any cup, easily broken
Like all vessels, too small.[2]

Her downcast glance
Asks the angel, “Why?”[3]

No one can know
How lonely it is
When an angel departs.[4]


[1] The Annunciation by Stephen Mitchell

[2] Nazareth by Rosario Castellanos

[3] The Annunciation by Samuel Menashe

[4] Annunciation by Anna Kamienska


[Feature Image: John Meng-Frecker]


Praying at the Corner of Michigan and Ohio

2897091862_eea07b3c15_oToday I prayed for the man sitting, cross-legged, his back against the street pole at the corner of Michigan and Ohio. He held a cardboard sign like all the other cardboard signs with “Help. Hungry. Homeless.” written in bold, black marker. My prayer began with the man but led me to those who had made me aware of the man as more than just another suffering human. Crouched around him in a semi-circle sat a curious group of youth whose adult did all the talking. “What did you do today?” “Where did you go?” I heard the questions but not the answers as more and more people gathered, waiting to cross the street.

With my eyes fixed on the signal that would tell me when to leave this scene behind, I prayed about the man’s shame, about his being exposed—even more—by this doting group of urban missionaries. And I prayed about the relief I felt he felt as he slipped a new pair of Thinsulate gloves over his stiff, cold fingers—a gift from the group who would soon disappear. And I prayed about the knowledge of poverty, the awareness, the street-weary experience the group craved because I knew that craving too. His story was all the homeless man had. But that was all they wanted. So I prayed for the man to hold on to his story and for the missionaries to move on and for the wind to not be so cold and for the universe to be more right and our problems to be less complex because I didn’t know what else to do.


[Feature Image: Kymberly Janisch]


Deleting Unnecessary Words

282256324_bebc9621db_oI came across this article, 43 Words You Should Cut from Your Writing Immediately, on Twitter and found the author’s advice helpful.  She hits on many of the mistakes I commonly fall prey to in my own writing.  The following advice was particularly helpful for me because I struggle with dialogue.

Dialogue tags slow your pacing and distract readers from the conversation. You can keep these tags for the first couple sentences of dialogue, but once you established who says the first couple lines, readers can follow the conversation back-and-forth for themselves. Also opt for surrounding dialogue with action instead of dialogue tags. Action will let us see what the characters are doing besides talking, and offer character trait information as well. For example:

“I don’t know where I’m going,” said Derek.

“You have a map,” said Ramona. “Figure it out.”

“Haven’t you been here before?” asked Derek.

“It’s been twenty years,” said Ramona. “How am I supposed to remember?”

could be:

Derek frowned at the street sign overhead. “I don’t know where I’m going.”

“You have a map.” Ramona took a drag from her cigarette. “Figure it out.”

“Haven’t you been here before?”

“It’s been twenty years. How am I supposed to remember?”

Bringing it on Home: How to Write a Good Ending

6673406227_64b991df0b_oI have written and rewritten the ending to a new article about a hundred times and it still isn’t right. So I decided to pull one of my favorite writing books off the shelf for help and guidance. One of my teachers at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival told me about William Zinsser’s “On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction.” Each chapter of this book is a gem, full of great advice. In particular, I recommend his chapter on “Clutter.” Writers ought to read this chapter religiously! This week, though, I turned to Zinsser’s chapter on “The Lead and the Ending.”

I appreciated Zinsser’s nod to the preaching task when he writes: “Like the minister’s sermon that builds to a series of perfect conclusions that never conclude, an article that doesn’t stop where it should stop becomes a drag and therefore a failure.” Dragging on, though, is not my problem. I have a tendency to quit too soon. My problem right now is how to sum up my article that I have pushed through to the max, am ready to conclude, but want to do so in a way that is beautiful, memorable, maybe even profound. I think here of the way a good New Yorker article ends. I love the writing in The New Yorker because they can get me interested in reading about topics I thought I had no interest in—like economics! And then, their endings are always perfect. I’ll read to the final paragraph and then make that little “hmm” grunt of satisfaction because the writer has wrapped the article up in such a perfect way. That’s what I want for my article.

To achieve this kind of satisfying ending, Zinsser’s offers some good advice:

  • Don’t summarize. Don’t repeat in compressed form what you have already said in detail. Not only does Zinsser say this is boring, but it’s also insulting. Do you think your reader was too dumb to get the point that you need to go over it again?
  • Zinsser writes, “The perfect ending should take your readers slightly by surprise and yet seem exactly right.” This is really difficult. But this element of slight surprise is important to name and remember.
  • One way to conclude is to bring the story full circle at the end. “Strike at the end an echo of a note that was sounded at the beginning—it gratifies my sense of symmetry, and it also pleases the reader, completing with its resonance the journey we set out on together.”
  • What works best, though, Zinsser advises, is a quotation. “Go back through your notes to find some remark that has a sense of finality, or that’s funny, or that adds an unexpected closing detail.”  I’ve often done this in my sermons, using a verse or a phrase from the text.  I’m playing with the idea of ending with a quote in my article because it includes a number of interviews with college students.

Zinsser concludes his chapter on conclusions by returning to his point about surprising the reader. “Surprise is the most refreshing element in nonfiction writing” he writes. This is truly the best advice I’ve received from all the writing courses I’ve taken. When I write now, I write towards the surprise. Nothing kills interest quicker than predictability—there’s no tension, no wonder, nothing worth paying attention to about writing (or preaching) that is predictable. So now, with Zinsser in my head, I’m going to pick up my notebook and write through my ending again. I won’t stop writing until I am surprised by what I find. Because if I am surprised, then I can rest assured that my reader will be too.

[Feature Image: Steve Johnson]

about remembering


This week I decided to dip into my archives and reblog my most popular post. This was written in response to the Daily Post’s Weekly Writing Challenge and was featured on Freshly Pressed.

Originally posted on Something to Say:

1349987486840I remember getting out of bed in the morning to muscles that didn’t ache and joints that did not crack and pop.  I remember being able to see without the thick-lensed glasses I fumble for on my bed stand.  I remember not needing a minute to loosen up, my feet screaming from their heel spurs, before I answer my children’s calls from their beds.  In fact, I remember the time before children.  An actual alarm clock woke me then.  If it was not set, I would sleep the morning away.

My body doesn’t rest like that anymore.  These past forty-one years have taken their toll.  Though I consider myself healthy, I cannot stop the effects of aging…or the trauma of childbearing….or the enduring back, leg, knee, and foot pain after years of running. I imagine carpal tunnel will soon set in with all this writing.

But I don’t live with…

View original 329 more words

The Artist and the Art: A Theological Relationship

Stephanie Baugh

Stephanie Baugh “Wanderlust”

Sometimes, when I feel creatively dry, I venture over to our college’s art gallery in search of inspiration. Yesterday morning I made this excursion with Abraham Joshua Heschel’s Essential Writings tucked under my arm.

Upon entering the gallery I paused first to scan through the binder that held the resumes and statements of the artists. The statement of my friend and colleague, Stephanie Baugh, caught my attention immediately. She wrote:

I am interested in the felt experience of small and quiet aspects of life. I am curious about how we can lay meaning and import over activities that are often seen as mundane or merely practical. I regularly spend time in reflection about my experiences or about states of mind in which I find myself. I give these reflective thoughts form as artworks. The process of creating the artworks extends my examination of the conditions of my consciousness and how I encounter the world.”


Stephanie Baugh “Philosophy”

I resonated with Stephanie’s desire to pay attention to “the small and quiet aspects of life” as well as the meaning she finds as she creates. I have often said that I don’t know what I know until I write it out. There seems to be, then, something extraordinary about the act of creating—how through it we come to know ourselves and our world in a more profound and intimate way. There’s something mystical about this act of creation. Something wholly “other” as we surrender to the muse and follow wherever she leads. And apparently where she leads is often to a new version of ourselves.

Stephanie concludes:

“It is not only that I am making art; the art is also making me.”

In the introduction of the book tucked underneath my arm, I have underlined and tabbed a particularly interesting passage. Here Abraham Joshua Heschel’s daughter writes:

“Like his Hasidic forbears, my father turned religious assumptions upside down. It is not just that we are in search of God, but that God is in search of us, in need of us. We are objects of divine concern.”

The idea that God is in need of us is somewhat startling, but also intriguing. How might God need us? If God does need us, what would God not be able to do or be without us?

Because these questions arose in an art gallery I began to contemplate God’s role as a creator and maker. God’s art clearly includes us. We are an element of God’s beautiful creation. If what Stephanie and Heschel say is true—“I make the art, and the art makes me” and “God needs us”—then does our art, our acts of creation, somehow make God? Are we so entwined—Creator and created, art and artist, that we influence and inspire and even evolve each other? Do we feed off each other’s creations?

Walking slowly around the gallery I imagined God in that space as well. What might God create after pausing to gaze at  “Balance”?


Stephanie Baugh “Balance”

Where might the muse lead God after contemplating the aspects of “Present.”

Stephanie Baugh

Stephanie Baugh “Present”

I left the gallery abuzz with ideas and energy—my brain playing with all the new questions in my mind. The sun warmed my body as I walked across campus brightening the trees, the grass, the white cement of the sidewalk beneath my feet. Everything in that sunshine was more beautiful. It was as if God had been inspired, even as God was inspiring.




Praying for my Community

I pray before every faculty meeting here at my college.  In this prayer, I seek to name the needs of my community.  The rhythm of the academic world is unusual–a blazing fast pace throughout the year, with some halting, long breaks in between.  Here, about two months into our first semester, we are already growing weary and looking forward to our first fall break.  So this was my prayer for our community:

Creator God,

As the days darken and the excitement of a new year wears off, we begin to stockpile our needs and feel the weight of our work.   Here we find ourselves praying / desiring / asking for more time, more resources, fewer obstacles, less stress.

Into this spiritually-constricting place of scarcity, remind us, Holy God, that we are enough, that we have enough, that there is enough…for each.

So let us not hoard, or protect, or scavenge for more.  But let us live generously with each other and generatively with this community – so all might know the abundance of our collective harvest.