God Talk

I have a very vivid memory of that moment: grass too green to imagine, framed and dotted by lush trees and a few brick buildings. I was in the car with an acquaintance; I don’t remember where we were going. I just remember sitting next to her, watching the cultivated college landscape go by as she drove down the winding road and said about the most recent speaker, “She said she thinks of God as She.” 

I didn’t quite know what to do with that; neither did she, to be fair. It was an idea she played with as we drove, and I listened. 

That’s the moment that keeps coming back to me as I think about God as mother.* That wasn’t the moment when I accepted it, or even heard of this idea. I think it was the moment where the idea of God as feminine became a possibility, or maybe even the seed of an idea. 

If you’re curious about this idea, feel free to check out my devotion.* Here‘s another personal narrative of seeing God as mother. This article offers a good overview of Biblical sources that describe God as mother, and this site has a pretty comprehensive list of verses.


*They’ll ask for a login to see the devotional I wrote, since it’s been a few days since it posted–but it’s completely free to create one if you don’t already have one, and I never get unwanted emails from them. Don’t freak out!

Speaking of freaking out: there’s also no need to freak out about all this God-as-feminine talk. As the Creator of both male and female (Genesis 1:26), both genders reflect God but God has no gender. And so I prefer to use no pronouns at all to refer to God–but that also means that it makes sense to use imagery and ideas of and about both genders to talk about God.

Seeing God [Off the Page]

Mountains stretched to the horizon, mountain after mountain: most of them blue-green with evergreens, a few tall enough to be topped with rocks and snow. The closest had a peak covered by a meadow bright with flowers: gold, scarlet, and violet swaths, with highlights of creamy white and tiger orange dotted with jagged boulders.

That rainbow mountain was why I was here.


 

I’ve always loved nature and seen God in it. Well, almost always. There were a few years there where that wasn’t quite true, and today I’m over at Off the Page telling my story of seeing God in nature, especially in those few years.

(You may especially enjoy it if you love hearing about flowers, bees, mountains, beautiful nature things…)

Lent Reflections

I went into Lent with two disciplines in mind: I committed to both giving something up (phone games) and adding something into my life (writing daily). 

From the beginning, I felt a bit weird about both goals. Was I just using Lent as an excuse to build good habits? I felt strongly about both of them–they occurred to me one morning a few days before Lent and immediately felt right–but I really didn’t want to use Lent as a goal-making scheme, as just a way to jump-start those habits I’d been pining for. But I trusted that feeling enough to choose them as my Lenten disciplines.

Giving up phone games went so well–why hadn’t I done this before, it was so easy!!–that I started giving up other things too: Netflix, sugar… There was a method to the madness: I had been reflecting on and struggling with my tendency to avoid God and feelings and important things in general by playing games on my phone, or watching Netflix, or eating sugar, or… There’s a longer list, of course, and I had every intention of working my way down that list until the entire enterprise imploded. My motivation disappeared, and it didn’t feel important anymore, and I went right back to all of my unhealthy not-coping strategies with barely a nudge of guilt. (And, of course, the guilt I did feel was subsumed by games, videos, and deliciously unhealthy sugary foods…)

Writing went much the same way. A few days into Lent, I realized that writing daily wasn’t about creating a good habit–it was about respecting this gift that I’ve been given. It was about trusting God and this desire that God has given me. It was about using this gift to write things worth writing. But it didn’t take long for writing every day to become a nice idea that never happened.

————————————–

And now Lent has ended.

I’ve started working towards both goals again. I’ve written four out of the past five days; I just deleted several phone games, and have cut down my playing time to almost nothing. And yet in so many ways, the habits I started with aren’t the point of Lent. They aren’t even the point of my goals.

The point was God, and all of the ways that I run away from God.

Lent is a time of reflection and sorrow. It’s a time in the wilderness, confronting head-on our own sinfulness and demons and need for God. It’s a time of repentance. And in all sorts of unexpected ways, that’s what I found this season. I’ve seen some of my own sin and started to confront it; I’ve been reminded again that God is by my side while I do that. I’ve been learning about doing hard, important things.

It wasn’t the Lent I imagined. It certainly wasn’t the Lent I was hoping for. But it was messy and difficult and very true to the wilderness-wandering spirit of Lent.

Writing with Honesty

I was disturbed recently to read a very conservative opinion of Harry Potter [Harry Potter and the Bible: The Menace Behind the Magick, by Richard Abanes], which condemned the series not only for the magic, but also because there is no logic of good and evil: good deeds do not always lead to good, and wrong decisions don’t always lead to evil.

The example given was that Harry’s sparing of Peter Pettigrew’s life eventually led to Voldemort’s rise. And I’m still finding it difficult to put my visceral reaction into words. Harry’s mercy towards Pettigrew was a beautiful moment in the series. Who cares if anything good happened from that good? That mercy almost becomes deeper and truer when you consider that it didn’t immediately change Pettigrew. What is mercy without risk? 

To be fair, Abanes, was writing before Deathly Hallows had been published, and didn’t know that that mercy was in fact returned. In a way, Rowling followed the moral equation of good to good and bad to bad. As satisfying as that moment was… would Harry’s mercy have been somehow invalidated, or a bad example, or untrue, if it had never been reciprocated? 

Abanes has a picture of fiction as a place to struggle with the world as it is, but far more as a place to paint a picture of the world as it will be, a world where everything works out perfectly and there is always a clear relationship between our actions and the results. It’s an untrue picture of the world now. I’m not convinced it’s a true picture of the world as it will be. Jesus rejects the idea that our actions will be suitably rewarded or punished in this life (Luke 13:1-5). Eventually rewarded or punished? Absolutely. Jesus calls for repentance in the Luke passage; He knows that our way of life has consequences. In this life, though, this consequences aren’t always there.

And I find I’ve written myself into a corner, because I totally hate books where everyone is left in misery and nothing good has happened or been resolved. I’d like resolution as much as the next person. I think what I’m trying to say, though, is that I don’t enjoy books where the resolution is perfect, like a math equation with everything summed up perfectly and everyone getting exactly what they deserve down to a decimal point. 

I believe in a God who works with the imperfections of the world, who doesn’t tie everything up with a neat bow and a suitable reward of a 9-5 job every time. The world isn’t that neat. God works with what’s there. Sometimes that’s abuse, or a good deed that goes far, far awry and is never put to rights, or the mercy to not be given what we deserve. Sometimes that’s sitting in darkness and trying to live with awful things you’ve done or been subjected to. Sometimes that’s good people dying for no good reason, or mistakes and sin that are never addressed. That’s life, and that’s where I’ve found God.

And that life is what I love to see reflected in the stories I read. That life is the kind of life I want to reflect in my own writing, whether that’s a nonfiction piece or a fiction piece. I want to reflect the complexity and darkness and struggles of real life, not some glorified, white-washed version of reality that may teach us what’s right but certainly doesn’t teach us much about life or God. I want to write honestly. I want to be honest about life and God both. I want to write things that feel real, because that’s what inspires me and connects with me as a reader.

That doesn’t mean that I’ll write stories that are full of despair and evil. But there may be a lot of them. I seriously doubt there will be much moral arithmetic. But those places of evil and despite and injustice are where God is. It’s where we are. How could I write honestly about life, about God, and ignore them?

(Giving Myself) Grace

I’ve been in a place, lately, where writing is hard. I guess I should say it’s been harder than normal–writing is always hard, in some way or another. Writing well and truthfully is never easy. But it’s been especially hard over the past weeks. Paper deadlines have been looming, tempting me to just sit down and WRITE. 

And I do that, sometimes. But it never really ends well. Every time I try to fight through that feeling of not-rightness, that feeling that now isn’t the time to write or it isn’t the time to write whatever I’m working on, and just write anyway, I come out of it so incredibly frustrated, with maybe a few pages of bad writing that I’ll just delete trailing behind.

And I got so fed up of that feeling of just forcing myself through things, of doing things I didn’t want to do. Not a ‘lazy me would much rather be watching Netflix’ sort of wanting, but a ‘this kind of hurts what are you doing?’ kind of wanting. It hurt so much that I finally just stopped, and stopped, and stopped. I stopped forcing it. I would sit in silence, or pray, or write that other piece that’s nudging up at the edges of my thoughts, or go do the dishes, or… anything else, really. 

And it felt beautiful.

It was such a release. I was recognizing how I was feeling and legitimizing it and accepting it. And how I was feeling was tired: tired of being in class, tired of my own emotions, tired of my own avoidance. AND THAT WAS OKAY. 

By admitting what I was feeling, by giving it a name, I was giving myself the grace to feel as I was feeling. I was accepting myself and my feelings, and caring for them, and just trying to understand. And it felt like such love for myself.

How I was feeling was completely okay.

I see a lot online about forcing yourself to write every day and how such good things come from that. I have never, ever found that to be true. I’ve always written badly when I’ve forced myself to write. I’ve always left those sessions feeling empty and drained in a way that feels more like ‘something was taken from me against my will’ than like ‘I just did something good and hard and beautiful.’ Forcing myself to write–to do anything–denies the larger truth that I am not the source of my writing. God is. Good, truthful, faithful writing will not happen on my own strength; it happens at God’s direction. Writing is not the highest good; God is. God is the highest good, and my writing belongs to God. Forcing it is just another way for me to try and take back control of my writing, control that I don’t want (mostly), control that I certainly don’t need. 

Stories in the Dark

Addie Zierman is hosting a synchroblog today about our own stories of darkness to celebrate the release of her new book, Night Driving. So, here goes…

  
Writing has always been complicated. 

It’s hard to pick a darkest time in that set of months; everything was so dark and tangled, full of guilt and longing, both of the kind that fill your stomach and sit heavy in your bones and feel like they’re about to tear you apart. Underlying everything was this tension between what I dreamt of and what I was terrified would happen.

My first forays into fiction writing were born out of my own desire to see the kinds of stories I loved, but full of girls and women. I hated that there was just that one token girl who, yes, tended to be kick-ass, but why couldn’t she be the main character? And so I crafted my own storylines, full of superheroes and dragons and unicorns and lots of kicking ass. Sometimes there was even a boy character! 

I dreamt of being a writer. I wanted it the way you want your first dream: I wanted it with all of my being, imagined the books I would write and my books being made into movies and being famous. I wanted it so badly that I gripped my dream dream with a death-grip, not allowing anyone to even know of it, yet determined to make it happen. Crafting the plots of my stories took on all that frenzied passion that I wouldn’t allow myself an outlet for–for, being a perfectionist, I wouldn’t let myself write anything unless I had it all planned out, unless I was sure it was going to be perfect. Besides, writing was hard work, work that I poured my soul into and didn’t want anyone to know I was doing because then they would ask to see it and I’d have to say yes but I couldn’t face the idea of anyone reading it and so I only wrote where no one would see me–but plotting, plotting could be done anywhere. I could plan out the next scene, outline the ending, craft that conversation word-for-word, and as long as it was in all in my head, no one would be the wiser.

These imaging ins took up more and more of my time. I would slip away from people to get a few more minutes of time with my stories. I would lay awake at night thinking of them. I would plan scenes in exquisite detail, going over my favorites again and again. They consumed me, pushing aside everything else into various levels of ‘Less Important.’ God was pushed aside, honesty, sleep, school, relationships… They all paled in comparison with these fictional worlds that so vividly filled my head.

Those years weren’t the darkest time–just the background, the behavior that I slowly learned and that became ingrained in every part of my being, every part of how I thought and processed emotions and behaved and lived. No, the darkest time came later, after God wooed me back. God was lurking at the edges of my own story, waiting for me. I knew it, but the knowledge filled me with frantic terror, until one day the terror collapsed at the knowledge of my own weakness like a wet tent–or maybe God just reached through it and pulled me out. And my life was full of joy again, and I wasn’t alone anymore. 

Except.

Except my life was still woven in with my stories, these living things writhing about inside me, demanding my attention, wanting my life, wanting perhaps to be written down but certainly to be thought about, to shove their way into every moment, whether that was studying or sitting and laughing with friends or watching the school orchestra or walking down the sidewalk on my way to class. I was still faced with this beast, the one that wanted to think about reality for maybe two minutes of any given day and. wanted to get lost in fictional places and characters for the rest of the time. 

Trying to give that up was physically painful, sometimes. The desire to get lost somewhere else was so strong that it filled my gut, infused my limbs, until just sitting there thinking about not stories was all I could do, took all of my energy and prayer and effort, and all I really wanted to do was fall to the floor because that extra effort of staying sitting and normal-looking seemed like too much. Tasks like walking to class and taking a shower and going to bed became tasks that I looked to with dread, because those were the times when stories started prowling and growling and demanding to be let in and looked over and put back in the pride of place. Every slip up filled me with deep guilt and terror, a sick tension in my stomach, because this was the thing that led me away from God and I was overjoyed to be back. I didn’t want to be dragged away, bit by bit, so slowly that when the moment of choice came it was so easy to shove God away one last time that I then repeated over and over again. I didn’t want these fantasies to be so important to me, to be woven into the fabric of every day, to be always lurking at the edges of my vision and thoughts, calling out to me like sirens while sitting in lecture or pippetting for my experiment or watching a movie with my dorm mates. I hated that they twisted everything, were twisted into everything in my life, twisted and enmeshed and clawing their way into everything.

Writing Scared

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(source)

I’ve been sitting at my computer for a while now, trying to psych myself up to write: I checked my work email, cleaned out my personal email, caught up on blog posts, researched a few submission possibilities… but I’ve been avoiding the thought of actually writing all morning.

I’m scared.

It’s one of the reasons I should never stop writing, because when I do entropy kicks in, and it’s so, so hard to start again. I’ve gotten out of the habit of listening–the difficulty and honesty and courage required for listening were why I stopped writing in the first place–and now I’m trying to start again and it’s scary. That’s why I’ve been avoiding writing all morning. It’s scary. I don’t want to come face-to-face with myself, bare my soul through writing words on a page, listen to the Source of inspiration and all the things God might say that I don’t want to hear. I don’t feel brave enough. I don’t feel honest enough.

I’m afraid.

I know that if I push through, with prayer and preparation, I’ll be fine, I’ll be more than fine. I know. I do. If I push through, there’s something beautiful and wonderful on the other side, the sense of being surrounded by love and presence. I know. I do. I know even that it makes sense to be afraid. Writing transforms. It’s terrifying to approach God, hands and heart and mind open, ready to receive, whatever it might be. It’s terrifying to approach God, period. The Creator and Ruler of the universe is not conceivable, controllable, quantifiable. I know this. I do.

I don’t feel ready. I don’t know how to start.

And that might be the end, for today.