Jesus’ Ascension and Max the Dog

It’s been TOO long since I’ve posted on my blog. One of my summer goals, along with getting back to meditating, is to start posting again.  So stay tuned….

I have been writing a lot, though, working on my first book and I have three Living by the Word articles out now in the Christian Century.  Here’s a link to the article I wrote on Jesus’ Ascension from Luke 24: 44-53–a text I find challenging and a little hokey.

And here’s a picture of our dog Max, who gets me every time when he begs like this with those big brown eyes.

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More to come!

A Virtual Placeholder

3368979605_70ec416e7f_oLast night I ransacked my recently cleaned home office in search of a poem I wrote two years ago about a sweet moment with my daughter. During a week when I am trying to write a sermon, a wedding homily and a first draft of my new essay, I thought it would be the perfect, easy blog post. I literally paged through ten notebooks full of writing (wow, I’ve written a lot in the last two years!) before I found the poem that turned out to be not as beautiful as the moment that inspired it. But I will still post it. I remember how the urge to write came to me after my then 4-year-old daughter gave me a hug and kiss goodbye before bouncing off to daycare. I wanted to put words to that sweet moment so I could remember how it felt when my daughter is grown.

Here’s what I wrote:

She leaned in for a delicate kiss,
her arms, wrapped around my neck,
as we said our morning goodbyes.
She’s longer now, at four years,
the pudge of her belly
not as pronounced.
But her eyes still round with
innocence—innocence I fiercely desire
to protect. Her laugh is wild
and stubborn. Her head strong.
I couldn’t love her more; my wild,
woman child, who will grow to be
I don’t know what—but surely amazing
in all her feminine glory.
Watch out world, my Ella Grace,
is a lioness in the making.

A few friends and a blog I have enjoyed following recently shut down their sites. Blogging isn’t for everyone and there are lots of different reasons to keep at it. I think what keeps me going is that Something to Say is mostly for myself—and if anyone else gets something from it, that is a wonderful bonus. I really love, though, how my blog is a virtual placeholder for my thoughts and memories. This poem, which I wanted to save, would have soon been tossed in the trash in a de-cluttering frenzy. Now that it is here on my blog, though, as well as other memories (like this post about my son putting on his sunblock) I can search for it, pull up this post and reread it anytime. Who knows, maybe even my children and my grandchildren will be searching through this blog someday. Scrapbooking was never my thing. This is. Thank you, WordPress.com, for the space.

 

[Feature Image: Kari Bluff]

Paying Attention

16526168288_a4fa676e2b_oI’ve been working my way through a new book during my morning writing time called, “The Pen and the Bell: Mindful Writing in a Busy World.”  This book by Brenda Miller (love her essays, which led me to this book) and Holly J. Hughes resonates with my intersecting interests of mindfulness meditation and writing.  I am also realizing that I am paying much better attention to life now that I have made my practice of writing a priority.

All this led me to rediscover this brief piece I wrote five years ago for my old blog.  It reminds me of the wonderful things my children teach me every day, as long as I am paying attention.

This afternoon over a lunch of hot dogs and mashed potatoes our 3-year-old son said, “Mommy, I’m putting on my sun block so I won’t get a sunburn.” “Mmm Hmm, that’s nice honey,” I responded paying more attention to my lunch than to what he was actually saying. Then he said it again. “Mommy, I’m putting on my sun block so I won’t get a sunburn.” This time I heard him because his insistent tone practically begged me to pay attention, to look his way. So I looked. He had smeared ketchup all over his face, legs, and neck – the part of him most likely to burn in the sun.

Paying attention really is important in life. If you don’t pay attention you might miss something terrible—like your son smearing ketchup all over himself. If you don’t pay attention you also might miss something wonderful—like your son smearing ketchup all over himself.

[Feature Image: Mike Mozart]

 

2015 in review

 

At the beginning of this new year, I want to thank those of you who read my blog. We are all inundated with reading material. Facebook, Twitter, literary magazines, Christian Century articles and blog posts regularly enter my feed and catch my attention. But reading time is precious and limited. So I am grateful for those of you who spend some of your time here at Something to Say.

This blog began as a way for me to find my writing voice–as a constant reminder to myself that I have something to say.  But it has become more than a reminder.  A self-imposed deadline of posting every week has become essential to my writing practice.  The connections I have made through blogging has expanded my world as I meet new and old friends and enjoy whole networks of blogging communities.  Finally, this blog is my play space.  I have so much fun writing here because I can write about anything.  Each new blank draft I pull up on my trusty Macbook Pro stokes my creative fire.  This blog has come to mean a lot to me.  So, thank you, for pausing here to read.

Every year the WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepare a 2015 annual report for their blogs. What follows is my report as well as links to my top five most viewed posts from 2015.

Here’s an excerpt from the annual report:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 7,300 times in 2015. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 6 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Most Viewed Posts from 2015:

#1: Mindfulness Meditation: There’s an App for That

#2 When Worship Works

#3 How can this be?  A Christmas Sermon

#4 Three Lessons from a Productive Summer

#5 I find you spiritually attractive

 

It is Solved by Walking, or Stair Climbing

16451260905_747f81dc91_oLast week I had no idea what to blog about until I went to the gym. After ten minutes on the stair climber, I had my idea. Fifteen minutes later on the elliptical trainer I had Three Lessons from a Productive Summer outlined in a note-taking app on my cell phone. Actually, I had ten lessons outlined. Seven got cut after realizing I had plenty to write about three. One of the lessons that got cut was going to be: when you have no idea what to write about, go to the gym. In the end, I decided this lesson deserved its own post.

Not long after my inspiring workout, I happened upon a Facebook post by my friend Heidi, the Vicar of Bolingbrook. Her post said simply, “It is solved by walking (Solvitur ambulando).” Intrigued, I followed the thread of comments and discovered that the quote is credited to Diogenes, a Greek philosopher and one of the founders of Cynicism. Apparently, in response to the question of whether motion is real, Diogenes got up, walked and said, “It is solved by walking.” Later in the thread, a friend of Heidi’s posted this excellent article by Arianna Huffington in the Huffington Post about the virtues of a good long walk–one of those virtues being creative inspiration. Nietzsche is quoted as saying, “All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.” Ernest Hemingway is noted for “thinking something out” while walking along the quays. And Henry David Thoreau described walking as the “enterprise and adventure of the day.”

To this celebration of walking, I would add stair climbing, elliptical training, or jogging. Any kind of rhythmic, physical movement focuses my mind and taps into the most creative parts of my brain. Ideas just come when I exercise.

Unfortunately, I always seem to forget this important lesson of creativity until it happens to me again. So this blog post will serve as a my reminder. The next time I get creatively stuck, I’m going to lace up my favorite, hot pink, Merrell Pace Gloves and hit the gym or the pavement. Because odds are, I’ll find the inspiration I need while in motion.

 

[Feature Image: Lower Columbia College] 

 

 

Three Lessons from a Productive Summer

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Lesson #1: Pay attention to baby sparrows.

A newborn sparrow surprised me last spring, unballing himself at the end of my driveway as I was heading out for a run. I had mistaken him for a leftover clump of dead grass. His feet, each with three long, hooked toes were bigger than his whole body. He stood and cocked his thimble-sized head—a shock of feathers on top like a scruffy cowlick—to get a good look at me looking at him.

This summer, during a creative nonfiction writing class, that newborn sparrow worked himself into a piece I wrote about my son as an infant. As I wrote, I was thankful I had paused at the end of my driveway long enough so I could write about the sparrow in detail. Afterwards, I promised to pay more attention to the “baby sparrows” of life, the intricate, intimate life moments that lead us to the best creative fodder.

Lesson #2: Ugliness reveals ugliness.

Another article of mine was published in The Christian Century this past June. In this article I revealed a lot about my preaching anxiety. At the end I even quipped about needing the occasional Xanax to get me through my preaching nerves. I got lots of positive feedback for the article. A number of people specifically noted, with appreciation for my honesty, the line about taking Xanax. Not everyone was so kind, though. One woman apparently felt like I needed a little lecture about addictive prescription drugs. Publishing her comment on the Christian Century’s website, she concluded that if I needed Xanax just to get through a sermon, then clearly I had a problem.

I won’t lie. Her comment stung—it stung so much it made me wonder if I wanted to write so honestly again. Then, Christine, my awesome friend and writing coach, helped me see this woman’s comment for what it really was; an ugly response that made her look ugly, not me. Ugliness reveals ugliness. Thanks for this timely lesson, Christine.

Lesson #3: Encourage others, as you have been encouraged.

Blogging can be discouraging. Sometimes you feel like you are putting your words out there for all the world to read and nobody notices; nobody clicks your link, leaves any comments or gives you any blog love. No matter how many times you check your site’s stats (and yes, some of us check obsessively) that beautiful blue bar graph of “hits” never rises as high as you would like.

I blog for a variety of reasons. I blog as a spiritual practice, as a way to develop my thoughts and my writing, and as a reminder to myself that I have something to say. So it’s not just about the number of hits or likes, I receive. (I don’t think I would have kept at it this long, if that were the case.) But it sure does feel great to get a little encouragement. A few people, in particular, have encouraged me through my blogging, by offering me more opportunities to write. For these people, I am extremely grateful.

So when I found myself at a conference this summer where a number of clergy were starting new blogs, suddenly I was in the happy position of being able to encourage others. I have been having so much fun since this conference, following my new blog friends, leaving comments, and sharing many of the opportunities that were shared with me. Most of these new blogs are written by clergy who are privileged with (what I call) “life encounter” stories— stories like “Bitch Wings” by my new blogging friend Melissa Earley, a pastor in the United Methodist Church. (Seriously, read that post of Melissa’s. You won’t regret it. Then follow her blog. She’s got something to say.)

Some might say that I need to have more of a competitive spirit about all this—that there are millions of blogs out there and I need to market myself and promote myself. But honestly, that feels self-centered and smarmy. I’d much rather encourage others, as I have been encouraged and share the blog love.

[Feature Image: Angelo Di Blasio]

Where is the heat in your writing?

16706452451_eddf5b4825_bI picked up the Rose Metal Press’ Field Guide to Writing Flash Nonfiction at the AWP conference this past March.  This morning I began reading it as I contemplated this blog and the writing I hope to do.  Bloggers would be well-served to study this “flash” genre of writing, since all of it is pertinent to the short essays we post here on our computer screens.  Dinty W. Moore, the editor of this field guide of flash writing, opens the book with a thoughtful metaphor and some great words of advice.

In his attempt to define the flash nonfiction genre of writing, Moore writes this:

Imagine there is a fire burning deep in the forest.  In an essay of conventional length, the reader begins at the forest’s edge, and is taken on a hike, perhaps a meandering stroll, into those woods, in search of that fire.  The further in the reader goes, with each page that turns, the more the reader begins to sense smoke in the air, or maybe heat, or just an awareness that something ahead is smoldering.

In the very brief essay, however, the reader is not a hiker but a smoke jumper, one of those brave firefighters who jump out of planes and land 30 yards from where the forest fire is burning.  The writer starts the reader right at that spot, at the edge of the fire, or as close as one can get without touching the actual flame.  There is no time to walk in.

The brief essay, in other words, needs to be hot from the first sentence, and the heat must remain the entire time.  My fire metaphor, it is important to note, does not refer to incendiary subject matter.  The heat might come from language, from image, from voice or point-of-view, from revelation or suspense, but there must always be a burning urgency of some sort, translated through each sentence, starting with the first. (pgs. XXII-XXIII)

Moore’s words immediately made me recall what my writing coach, Christine Hemp, is always asking me about my writing.  “Where is the heat, Teri?  Find the heat and write from there.”  Sometimes it takes me quite a while to find it.  I have to write a lot and pay close attention before I can zero in on this place of friction.  I have to ask myself constantly,  Where is my hook?  Where is my writing most urgent and honest?  When do I feel my heart burning and my pulse quickening when I write?  Albeit a difficult and oftentimes trying process, finding this place of heat means that my writing will be its best.

In fact, this tip may be the most important advice for good writing.  In an interview with the Paris Review, Marilynne Robinson was once asked, “What is the most important thing you try to teach your students?” To which, she replied:

I try to make writers actually see what they have written, where the strength is.  If they can see it, they can exploit it, enhance it, and build a fiction that is subtle and new.  I don’t try to teach technique, because frankly most technical problems go away when a writer realizes where the life of a story lies…What [writers] have to do first is interact in a serious way with what they’re putting on a page.  When people are fully engaged with what they’re writing, a striking change occurs, a discipline of language and imagination.

So, fellow writers, bloggers, and preachers: Where is your heat?

 

[feature image: Soreen D]