Long country walks and God go together in my life.
When I arrived here in the tiny town of Kilwinning, one of the first discoveries I made was a slim country lane just a jog from the house. Last Sunday, after a tantrum of a rainstorm had washed the world and Venetia and I had finished our apple crumble for tea, I went for a walk. I had just finished reading Venetia’s newly-written memoirs, of her life as a child in England and the adventure through which God took her to work with the poor in Columbia. Her story, with its faith and vision and grace, kindled an aching in my heart.
I said something a couple of posts back about the fact that I haven’t written much this summer. The reason is that I’ve been unsettled and direly confused of life. Since spring, I’ve been driven by a bitter-tasting angst to figure out where I belong and how to live my ideals. I’ve fretted. And stewed. And schemed. My dreams are so strong; to bring God’s beauty to the world, to write books, to make a ministry home, to study. But I could not figure exactly how to turn those ideals into a plan, and as the days went by, I began to be afraid that I could not.
The problem, which I ceaselessly avoided, was that I could not trust God. I have known many years of loneliness, of work, and of a life that felt often hidden. As I felt God asking me to write, to invest, again, in ministry and people at home, without any clear sense of a future, I balked. I panicked at the thought of the waiting, faithful life. I became frantic to speak instead of listen. I told God just how I would reach my ideals. I told him why I could not stay put, why this time, I just couldn’t wait. I withheld my heart from settling into home, from rhythm, from anything that would bind me. Is it any wonder that my words dried up? What story had I to tell but my own fear?
When this journey to Scotland was handed to me with such grace and generosity by so many people, I was ecstatic, and knew, even in my bluster of soul, how specifically it was a gift from God. But I arrived in this gorgeous land with a heart exhausted, and something about the strange loneliness of traveling alone finally dismantled me. My inner ranting ran dry, and one night in a B&B, I got the full sight of my bone-dry soul. I knew myself forlorn. I felt a fraud. And suddenly, though I could now answer my friend’s question about why I was not writing, I wasn’t sure if I could begin again. Who was I, in my bluster and pride, to think that I could offer hope in my books? My reading of Venetia’s memoirs that Sunday heightened my sense of need, and with it, failure. What did I have to tell beside my struggle and would it, I wondered, ever end?
The air was close and wet as I strode uphill amidst hedgerows and pasture lands that afternoon, but there was a pearly bluster that cooled my face. The vines and thistles and meadow grass were thick and soft, blown by the wind like hair from a child’s face. The beauty of nature came to me like a sign of mercy amidst my gloom. The earth does nothing to earn its loveliness and God alone sustains it. Perhaps, I thought, I am the same. I began to pray.
I prayed aloud, in the soft-breathed, rhythmic way of walking. Guilt suffused me at first, for my mind was dizzied with my need. I told God that I was fed up with myself and decided to thoroughly pray for every thing that distracted me as a way of putting it all to rest and reaching a fix-eyed focus on my Lord. But instead of more guilt at this abandonment to need-prayer, I knew a quickened sense of God’s listening closeness. I pounded out my fear with each step, and felt that the walking and honest, hard words began to weave toward peace. When my words were spent, I found a gate post, scrambled up, and sat by an old stone wall overlooking a field of somnolent cows.
I admitted the fierce, hungry pride, that drives me to strive after dreams that God never gave and feats he never asked and leaves me broken. I held the frail little seed of my humbled, lonely heart up to him and asked him to grow it into the beauty that I could not accomplish for myself. My spirit lightened. I felt a quickening, like a sweet, silvered stream through the dry riverbed of my heart. My brain halted its tilt- a-whirl so that I looked with full presence out of the windows of my eyes. I knew that startled sense of coming awake in soul. And in that instant, I felt God’s voice within me breathing and speaking again.
I want you to come alive to Me again. I want you to live alive as your work in life, thoroughly alive (it isn’t just a nifty name for your blog) to all that I am and the beauty I bring.
My heart leapt up in dawn-like joy. To feel him with me again was life itself. But the words were glory, for even amidst my inner angst I have known, again and again, a conviction of why beauty must be brought to this world. In art, in music, in relationship, in the homes and feasts we offer to the world, beauty speaks and sings and signifies the reality of God. It is the theme, the work I cannot escape. It is what drives this story I have come all the way to Scotland to tell. Yes, my heart sang, I will come alive.
And I will trust. In that moment, I knew that trust was the difference between the heart in me now, in its glimmer of cool calm, and the frenzied, flush-faced one I left behind. To be alive to God is to not only to see his beauty, but trust myself to it, and to God’s power to bring it to pass. To rest, to wait, to “dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness.” I knew this as I perched on my gatepost, remembering Wendell Berry’s words about assenting to life, yielding to what God gives. I opened my hands to accept a life of waiting at home. I relinquished the crazy, drastic, desperate plans I had made. But the questions remained. What does that mean for every day? And in this waiting, what do I write? Can I tell the story I desire? How do I write at all when my heart is so frail?
I suddenly remembered something from Venetia’s book. In her story, Venetia wrote that, once in a while, God had given her a picture, an image, a story, to be a mental signpost. I thought this a luminous gift. Now, with the timidity of a shy two-year-old, I squinted at heaven and mumbled a request. God, will you give me a picture? An image to help me know what this all means, especially when it comes to my writing?
Instantly, I do mean instantly, a Millais painting came to my thought. It has long enchanted me for its vivid, startling image – that of a blind young girl sitting amidst a glory of a golden field with two rainbows like stairways to heaven behind her. Not a bit of it can she see. But in that painting, a small child sits next to the blind girl, peeking out from under her cloak, neck craned in awe at the glory, telling the blind one of all the beauty. And I knew in that image that my task, as a soul, but particularly as a writer, is to be that child.
Tell the world of the rainbow. My work, my rhythm, my daily set of heart must be that of the child with wide open eyes and a wondering heart. It is a task demanding a hushed, trustful soul, for when I strive and fret, I am blind. I think the fallen world generally is. Sorrow and fear and loneliness make all of us dull to the life of God, and I have often known that darkness. Yet the work God has asked of me is to fret no more and instead, to see. To tell, to speak, to wonder, to watch, with the awe of a little girl. And then to tell the glory I find to those who cannot see for themselves.
To write in such a way does not require strength, success, or even much knowledge. I need not solve my own, or anyone else’s struggle. In fact, to tell the rainbow is also to write the storm amidst which it glows, the black in which the gold burns brightest. It is to tell of the beauty that sustains us in the midst of the rain and draws us beyond it into redemption. All God requires of me is wonder. A heart that is daily alive to the goodness of my God, and a pen full willing to tell of his beauty instead of my own.
If I do nothing else in the next years, if I don’t finish another book, or get a degree, or do a useful thing, if I behold God’s beauty and whisper it, write it, tell it to all I meet, I will count my days well spent. To live alive to the wonder of God and sing it out to the world is the work I accept. And it is why I can write again.
Now, there is so very much to tell.