Tag Archives: Annie Dillard

Embracing Mystery

To see a world in a grain of sand,

And a heaven in a wild flower,

Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,

And eternity in an hour.

– William Blake

I enjoy spending time around children because they remind me of how to live each moment fully, how to examine the world with eyes of love and wonder, and how to embrace mystery as a natural part of what it means to be alive. Somehow, between childhood and adulthood, we manage to squelch this wonderful approach to living and replace it with something far less satisfying, what we term “realistic” and “appropriate” and “logical.”

Somehow along the way we build fences, construct walls, and organize life into neat categories of black and white, right and wrong, in and out, cool and uncool. Because of our human desire to “know” and control our life and destiny, we strive for certainty and mastery. We seek to acquire and cling to rather than experience and ponder. In the process, largely unintentionally, we lose our ability to embrace the mystery of the universe.

Have you ever watched a child experience the natural world? Have you seen how each flower is its own universe to be explored, how every bird and animal is marvelous and wonderful to behold? Remember how mud puddles are for jumping in–not avoided–and garden hoses are destined to be fountains rather than simply conduits for H2O? Little children don’t watch clocks. They don’t hurry past when something catches their fancy. They are honest and inquisitive and, well, real.

Children not only accept mystery, they embrace and are enthralled by it. Mystery and wonder are partners in living. Once upon a time signals a story worth listening to, and music is made to inspire a silly whirl of a dance. A child sees no reason to argue about whether the world was created in seventy days or seventy million days. The world was created, and it’s really cool; that’s what matters.

What would it take for you to recapture and embrace the mystery of life in this new year? Is it possible for you to take off your watch, shut off your cell phone, put on some music and dance like a kindergartner until you fall down exhausted? Can you spare an hour to walk in the woods, to taste snowflakes, and yes, to stomp in a puddle? Will you treasure and ponder the mystery that you are, the gift of life that the Creator has given you, and the wonders and delights of this beautiful world? I hope you will. I pray you will.

We wake, if ever at all, to mystery. — Annie Dillard

Photos by AlicePopkorn and vastateparksstaff. Thanks!

These are a few of my favorite things…

(Everybody sing now!)

ebooks and websites, some poems and a cool Nook.

music, In the Heights, and Yeats, Joyce, a good book.

Sondheim and Shakespeare, slow jazz and porch swings,

These are a few of my favorite things.

If the plot fails,

miss your deadline,

and you’re feeling blue

Just fire up your laptop and type ’til it’s fine

And then you will feel brand new!

With apologies to Oscar Hammerstein, of course! Seriously, as writers we need all the help and encouragement we can get. Sometimes this comes in the form of reading what other writers have to say about the craft. So here they are, my fab five short list of consistent favorites that withstand the test of time. Feel free to share your favorites, too!

All Around Favorite Writing Books–The Fab Five Short List

If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland

Ueland first published this book in 1938. She was way ahead of her time, and had a wonderful sense of humor. She believed, and I agree, that “everybody is talented, original, and has something important to say.” If you need a pep talk to help undo the damage of folks who’ve tried to rain on your word parade, this is the book for you.

bird by bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

O.K. I just like Anne Lamott. She has more guts, style, and quirky humor than ought to be legal in any one person. Beyond that, she speaks with an honest voice. and offers some true gems of advice and observation.

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

If you read only book on writing this year and have not had the pleasure of reading King’s memoir, then by all means lay hands on a copy or download it to your e-reader or mobile device. However, whenever, and wherever you can–just get it and devour it. There’s a reason King is a successful writer (however one chooses to define that term); he can weave a fine story, clearly loves what he does, and is honest about the craft.  You’ll find the advice practical and unflinching, the prose lively and witty, and the overall effect satisfying and inspiring. Enough said. Read it or reread it and then read it again.

The Writing Life by Annie Dillard

Whenever I want a lyrical shot in the arm to remind me why I do what I do, I revisit Dillard’s slim, elegant reflection. I’ve read the book many times over the years and taught it in many advanced high school English classes; each time is a different experience because I bring my current context and experiences to the encounter. The common thread is that each reading is rewarding and makes me glad I am called to write.

The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White

This classic volume is a must read for anyone who writes, be it for school, work, pleasure, or vocation. It will do more for your writing style than almost anything else I can think of besides relentless practice. My very favorite gem from this book is found on page 35 of the third edition and involves my hometown newspapers and the unintended result of a poor hyphen choice. Check it out, you’re sure to have a chuckle (and if you think I need a semicolon to separate the two previous clauses see pages 6-7).

Photo by Bright Meadow used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

Marvelously Made

I will thank you because I am marvelously made; your works are wonderful, and I know it well.  –Psalm 139:14

You, dear one, are marvelously made. You are unique. You have been gifted with talents and skills that only you, in concert with the Holy Spirit, can bring to  fullest expression.

In worship today, we focused today on the Baptism of Jesus and on his divine blessing. We gave thanks for the gift of baptism and for the gift of the Holy Spirit–the advocate, the gift that keeps on giving, the presence of God that never leaves us and that journeys with us. We also acknowledged that this is not a tame, calm gift. Our incorporation into God’s family and our the fact that we are blessed, named, and claimed sets us off on a life-long journey as wild and wonderful as any carnival ride. It’s a Holy Collision of grace, love, and mercy. Think of it as a combination of bumper cars and a wild, wet water ride.

Annie Dillard said it well in her 1982 book Teaching a Stone to Talk:

“Does any-one have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake some day and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.”

The wonderful news about this wild, crazy ride through life is that we are very well-prepared because we are marvelously made. This week I invite you into a deeper exploration of what it means to be created in the image of God, to be intimately known and understood by the One who spoke the stars into the night sky and who breathed a wild and wonderful wind upon the waters.

Let us be thankful for the gift of humankind and for one another. Peace, blessing, and joy!

For Further Reflection

Click here for a beautiful visual reflection set to the hymn “Borning Cry” produced by Wolfie Productions. The lyrics and music are written by John Ylvisaker, #732 in Evangelical Lutheran Worship (ELW). Click here for the lyrics and a reflection on Susan Stabile’s blog. Relax, enjoy, and know the presence of God in your life both this day and always.

As the week progresses, assemble pictures of you at various stages in your life. You might also wish to gather pictures of family members. Keep these in the area you set aside for your prayer and devotional time. Give thanks for the gift of life and for all the stages of the journey.

Photos by sabianmaggy, Daily Organized Chaos, and ohitzanna used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!