For The Someday Book

Archive for March 2010

I had the opportunity to hear a colleague preach this week at an ecumenical Lenten service. He was preaching on the story of the Transfiguration, and Peter’s desire to capture the experience of being on the mountaintop to remember and return to it forever. He opened his reflections with a story about using a camcorder to capture precious moments when his children were small. He realized after a time that he was so busy looking through the lens of the camcorder to capture the moment that he missed being a part of the moment. What we want to be about, he said, is being fully engaged with the moment, because that writes the moment in our hearts, where the memory really matters. We can return to the experience of God in quiet and prayer. It was a good sermon.

Throughout his story, I was reflecting on my (still relatively new) life as a blogger. Since I have been writing this blog, I have found myself thinking, “Oh, I have to capture this story on the blog!” or “I can’t wait to write this down!” I wondered if I am so busy thinking about how to remember my spiritual moments with God or special moments with B that I am not actually present to them.

In reality, though, I have found the opposite to be true. Since I have been writing regularly, I feel as though my senses have been heightened. I feel like I am slowing down and paying more attention to my life. All these blog entries were once just passing moments of closeness to God and people. They did not get remembered at all, much less written into my heart, because I was always rushing off to the next thing. Now I find myself noticing and then absorbing the details of an encounter, with an eye toward writing it later. Writing intensifies my mindfulness and awareness, deepens my experience of events, and implants the spiritual memories deeper in my heart. For example, I am pretty confident I would not remember anything about that Lenten sermon if I hadn’t been contemplating a written response!

Which makes me think there are two key differences between writing and recording. First, a recorder does not need to be present to the moment to record it—the camera does all the work. A writer must be fully present to the moment, because the mind and senses are the only recorders present to capture the experience. Second, what is captured by the recorder is qualitatively different than what is captured by the writer. The recorder is able to capture the moment in all its detail. In video, for example, the camera recalls the color of clothes and the condition of the room, the words that were spoken and the ambient noises, the order of events and the expressions on faces. The written word cannot handle all those lavish details without becoming cumbersome and overwhelming. What the writer captures is what it was like to be there–the feelings, the experience, the words and happenings that mattered most. A writer is reflective and selective. When I write about a moment, I am not trying to tell you exactly what happened, so that you can see it for yourself. I am trying to share with you the experience that I had in a moment, why it mattered to me and what made my heart sing. I am trying to make your heart sing too, in response. Video footage is raw, writing is interpretation.

To continue the example, consider the difference between watching a video of my colleague’s sermon and just reading my brief summation. I make no attempt to capture the nuance of his words or the richness of his outline–I only tell you what mattered to me, and why it spoke to my heart.

All this reminds me of the Bible. The Bible is writing, not recording. This is not a new insight–I long ago abandoned any understanding of the Bible as literal Word of God or factual recording of history. When I teach people about the Bible, I tell them that the Bible exists because people had an encounter with God that touched them, and they were so moved that they wrote it down to remember and share with others.

Then I realized, of course, that this is the same exercise I am participating in today. The technology has changed from parchment scrolls to WordPress blogs, but the act is the same. Encounter God and write about it, because the act of writing inscribes it in your heart and enables you to share the experience with others. I intend no arrogance or pretension by drawing a comparative line between my halting reflections and the words of holy scripture–quite the opposite. I am humbled to realize that I am doing nothing new under the sun, just participating in a long history of faith seekers and faith writers trying to inscribe the moment into their hearts and into the hearts of others, from behind the quill, the pen or the keyboard.

In the last two days, B has started to use the phrase, “talk ’bout stuff.” Yesterday morning, he awoke and climbed into my bed so we could “talk ’bout stuff.” Then he told me a bunch of random stories about preschool and about our cats. Last night, when I was trying to put him to sleep, he wouldn’t let me pray or sing lullabies because he wanted to “talk ’bout stuff.” More random stories and observations about preschool and cats followed. I wanted to be strict and firm and urge him to go to bed in timely way, but I was powerless in the face of his irresistible cuteness.  This morning, it was more of the same. He wanted to stay in the car instead of going to preschool so that we could keep “talking ’bout stuff.”

I couldn’t say no. The day will come, far too soon, when “talking ’bout stuff” with his mother will be the last thing he wants to do. How long can I enjoy this privilege? Three more years? Five? Ten? Every time we “talk ’bout stuff,” I feel both the joyous delight of the conversation and the poignant pang of its fleeting nature.

Today, I took B with me to visit two church members at a  local (Catholic) nursing home. As we were leaving, he pointed out the window.

B: Hey! God is here! They have God here!

Me: What do you mean? Where do you see God?

B: Right there! Look! It’s God!

Me: You mean that statue?

B: Yes! That’s a statue of God.

This is what we saw from the window.

Here is the progression of my thoughts and feelings at that moment:

  • Fascination, to see what my little guy imagined God to be.
  • Delight, at his proclamation, “God is here! They have God here!”.
  • Sadness, to realize that already, in spite of my best efforts to offer contrary images, he already pictures God in classic renaissance human imagery.
  • Intrigue, to query him about exactly why he thought that was God.
  • Amusement, to get a closer look at the statue and realize that it was quite effeminate, like a fairy with angel wings.
  • More amusement, when I realized I hadn’t completely failed, because my three-year-old saw a statue of a girl with wings and daisies in her hair and called it God.

Here is a closer view, where you can really see the effeminate, fairy-with-angel-wings characteristics. Especially the daisies in the hair.

In the end, I decided to simply offer my opinion.

Me: I think that looks more like an angel. Angels have wings like that. You know, we don’t really know what God looks like. God is pretty complicated that way. Nobody really knows what God looks like.

B: Yeah. You’re right, actually. (Actually being one of his favorite words.) Actually, that is an angel. Can I run now? Will you race with me?

And we’re back to earth again. Except that as I watch him run gleefully, blissfully down the sidewalk, waving back at outstretched hands from nursing home windows, I think maybe I do know a little something about what God looks like.


About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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  • Graham: Thank you for writing about Susan Howatch. I like it that she is described as a mesmerising story-teller on front of book, and I do agree. I had long
  • revjmk: Tammy, I'm not sure the "he" you are referring to here (Willimon, Hauerwas or me--who goes by the pronoun "she"). I'm also not sure why you think th
  • Tammy Sanders: Has no one noticed he has the 10 commandments wrong. 1. You shall have no other Gods before me. 2. You shall make no images. 3. Don’t take th

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