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Christmas Day

Father, give us Christ.
Star Igniter,
Crack our darkness.
Send the rain to heal our deadness.
Only you make dry bones rise,
Dim the blinding lights that hide
Our fear, until we’re still enough
To feel the thaw of icy hearts.
In stable and by starlight
Overthrow our every expectation.
Our world inverts
Your kingdom comes.

Advent IV: Show Us Love

Father, show us love.
This violent world tears
Hearts apart and
Leaves us trembling in our shame.
Like winter leaves afraid to fall
We cling and sting in bitter wind.
May you slip into our world,
Swift and slight as drifting snow,
Too fragile and helpless not to love.
In heaven’s most audacious act
Our cold suspicion
Melts in spring.

Advent III: Teach Us Joy

Father, teach us joy.
The Christmas feeling
Lost its meaning
In flashing lights, electric dreaming.
We race and chase and check a list
Until the days are gone amiss.
May you call us in our carols,
In our traffic, in our deadness,
And give our harried hearts the chance
To feel the wonder once again,
Like waiting children
With nothing to dread.

Advent II: Make Us Ready

Father, make us ready.
This ground is fallow.
We have followed
Crooked paths to vales of shadow.
The cracked and drought-laced dust of earth
Thirsts and groans beneath our feet.
May we know dryness and longing
So when the rains come
To wash us clean
We will not run for shelter’s awning
But welcome the storm
Arms wide, hearts alive.

Advent I: Grant Us Hope

Father, grant us hope.
This veil of darkness,
Thick around us,
Is within us, and without us.
Our secret sins and sicknesses
Are mingled in our blood.
May the smallest flicker of
Your holiness come spark and light
To keep us warm and
One day burn our
Kingdoms all away.

Adventures in Self-Publishing: Resistance

In Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art, the antagonist who sabotages many a creative undertaking goes by the name Resistance. Resistance wears many disguises. It might show up as the deadlines and demands of your day job, the apparent indifference of the people around you, or your own apathy toward the “industry” of making art. Or sometimes it looks like vegging on the couch with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s and seven seasons of Parks and Rec on Hulu. (At least… um… that’s what I’ve heard…) For many unfinished manuscripts, stagnating blogs, blank canvases, and forgotten songs, Resistance is at least one of the cuprits.

“Remember our rule of thumb: The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it. Resistance is experienced as fear… If it meant nothing to us, there’d be no Resistance.”

When it comes to turning my work loose in the world, lately, the Resistance is me.

Discussion: Favorite Music of 2015 (So Far)

Usually by the end of the year, the Internet floods with the best of everything lists. When the time comes to make said lists, I imagine I’m not the only one who feels like it’s a huge project to just remember everything I’ve heard in twelve months. So, since we are just over the halfway point in an exceptionally good year for music, I thought it would be fun to talk about our favorite albums so far.

It’s only scratching the surface of this year’s goodness, but I’ll get things started with five I’ve enjoyed, in no particular order. What would you add? What do you have on repeat until The Burning Edge of Dawn comes out?

Disclaimer: In the interest of fun / pointless self-imposed rules / sharing new things with friends, I decided to only include artists that haven’t been covered at The Rabbit Room yet. So yes, do go read Matt Conner’s post about Josh Garrels’ fantastic new record and buy everything Andrew Osenga releases, especially when it involves glorious ’90s rock riffs.

(Finally) Discovering Waterdeep

Despite years of hearing good things about them and enjoying Don and Lori Chaffer’s excellent performances at Hutchmoot, I have to admit that Waterdeep has perpetually been on my “I should listen to them someday” list. It’s been twenty years since their debut, and all I’ve heard is their 2009 record In the Middle of It.

I know. I’m sad about it too.

If you also suffer from this problem, I’m happy to let you know their new double album Waterdeep is streaming for free on Soundcloud for the next couple weeks, and it’s a great way to get to know them. The first 11 tracks (Disc 1) feature songs from Lori, while the remaining 12 (Disc 2) highlight Don. Enjoy!

And if you’re already a big Waterdeep fan, please tell me which album I should listen to next.

Transfigured by the World

I’ve been working my way through Christian Wiman’s memoir My Bright Abyss for roughly a month and a half. It was one of those rare random purchases, a book by an author I didn’t know but was willing to take a chance on with a Barnes & Noble gift card. Upon diving in, I realized this is the sort of book you savor slowly—a wandering collection of thoughts on faith, poetry, death, and beauty compiled over a number of years, “a mosaic” more than a narrative, according to the author.

My Bright Abyss chronicles Wiman’s meditations on faith after learning he has an incurable cancer. I wish I could give you a neat little review that tells you what this book is about, but I can’t. It’s about faith and fear, life and death, beauty and sickness, hope and regret. It’s about poetry and creativity in some sense, but so much more than that. It’s the kind of book that I have to pick up in a quiet moment of the day, slowly work through a chapter, then put down and think about for a few days before starting back in again.

It’s exactly the sort of poignant, urgent book a poet might write through years of staring death in the face.

The Pencil and the Keyboard

What’s better for your creativity: handwriting or typing? Here is a short but fascinating video making the case for both as essential tools:

The basic suggestion here is to use handwriting for note-taking, brainstorming, and synthesizing ideas for yourself, but to use a computer to create pieces that give information to others. Or more simply, always carry a pencil and learn to type faster.

As a writer who frequently switches back and forth, this rings true for me. All my poems begin as scribbly drafts on paper, but many an article or blog post was written completely digitally, when my fingers need to keep up with my ideas. (This may also explain why, since breaking my arm a few weeks ago, I’ve come up with a ton of ideas but have nothing to show for it. Science! One-hand typing is hard. Yes, I am making excuses.)

So let’s discuss. Writers, what’s your preference, and when do you pick a keyboard over a pen? Do you find your medium affects your ideas? Artists of other types (music, visual arts, etc), what role does technology play in your creative process?

(H/T Austin Kleon)

Winter Does Its Work

Blame thirty years of Florida living, the media, Norman Rockwell, or Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, but to me the idea of winter always carried a certain air of romance. Back home I loved the days of weather dipping into the 50s and chillier (Northerners, feel free to laugh at me here). Any excuse to pull out the cozy sweaters and settle in with hot tea and a book was fine by me. I guess I didn’t have much experience with cold. To paraphrase a famous snowman, it was more that I liked to imagine what real winter was like when it comes.

When I moved to New England last summer, I quickly realized my homeland was a fancy handwritten invitation to jokes and pity and some variation of “Haha, poor thing, wait until winter gets here.” Which is all in friendly fun, but sometimes it sounded more like, “You, naive one, are gonna die.”

I’d laugh it off, because I thought I knew full well what I was getting myself into.

The Romance of the Gospel

[Loosely adapted from my portion of the Hutchmoot 2014 session “The Romance of the Gospel”*]

Five years or so ago, I took swing dancing lessons in the name of trying scary things. Ballroom dances evoke images of poise and elegance and precision, but swing appealed to me as a reckless street dance that anybody can join, regardless of skill or athletic ability. (So no, I never did experience being tossed in the air and flung over someone’s head, thank goodness.) But of course, if you’re going to dance, there are always a few rules to get out of the way.

The teachers stressed two major elements at the start of every class: frame and connection.

Frame involves how you hold your body and keep a good posture as you move with the music. Connection is where the two frames meet, and the silent, subtle communication between leader and follower. If your frame is too loose, the follower flails around, unsure where to go. But hold your frame too rigid, and her moves become snappy and robotic, losing the flow and rhythm.

The trick is keeping these things in balance, just taut enough to signal each move. Two great dancers can make it look like mind reading, even if they’ve just met. Without tension, there is no dance.

It reminds me of the balance between head and heart as we contemplate the mystery of the Gospel.

Far as the Curse is Found

“No more let sins and sorrows grow
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make his blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found…”

This verse rarely seems to make the cut in modern versions of “Joy to the World.” Maybe it’s because hymns are often lengthy and difficult to get the head and voice around, or maybe thoughts of sorrow, thorns, and curses don’t exactly drum up holiday cheer. But a lot of truth is in that forgotten third verse; it captures the soul of Advent, the waiting, the intense anticipation for reversal.

Far as the curse is found. Maybe farther. Hope, renewal, joy, flooding across the nearly-dead earth to drown the weeds.

The first great curse is that we toil, surviving by sweat and tears and waging battle against thorns and drought and disease. Of course the beauty is there, but our joys and sustenance are tempered by futility, the sense that we can never do enough, or be enough, or win.

But take heart, because the memory of Paradise sustains us, and the hope for renewal leads the way from winter’s bitter sting to spring’s gentle rain. The reversal has begun, and with heaven and nature we can sing.

Joy to the weary, broken, beautiful world.

October

The light looks different this time of year.
Shafts of gold pierce trees
transient, darkening.
The earth goes to bed
a little earlier each night

because she knows she’s getting older,
fighting gravity, remembering
carefree green and dancing in the
rain, remembering emotional
thunder and flashing lightning.

But now,
she’s only wiser
and knows sleep makes all things
rested, beautiful.

And tomorrow she’ll wake early,
dress in fire-red and bands of gold
because she can
with no one left to impress
and never more alive.

Emily and I

What did you love in your high school years? A band? A movie? A book that kept you up all night? It’s amazing how, in that fragile time between becoming an adult and still hanging on to childhood, those attachments you can’t explain can shape your passions for the rest of your life.

If I think about it long enough, go back far enough, I’d say I write poems today because of Emily Dickinson.

She’s a staple of the earliest literature classes, like Shakespearean tragedies and Poe’s “Tell-Tale Heart,” the old stuff you have to read. Demure in photographs, with wide collared dresses and hair pulled back tight. But for me, and I suspect many other slightly awkward and shy teen girls, her poems burrowed deep into something I didn’t have a name for yet. My text books taught the “cleaned up” versions that toned down her eccentric obsession with dashes, but being drilled into memorizing “To make a prairie” and “I never saw a moor” stirred a sense of vast possibility.