Picking up Carlo Rovelli’s The Order of Time in an Oxford bookshop this past May was a surreal moment. After all, it was C. S. Lewis—who taught at Oxford’s Magdalen … Continue reading Time is Ignorance: From C. S. Lewis to Carlo Rovelli
You do not have to sit outside in the dark. If, however, you want to look at the stars, you will find that darkness is necessary. But the stars neither … Continue reading Peace in the Dark
I am still every age that I have been. Because I was once a child, I am always a child. Because I was once a searching adolescent, given to moods … Continue reading All the Ages I’ve Ever Been
If my relative silence here (since December 2013, good Lord) didn’t tip you off already, I guess it’s time to admit: 2014 has been a doozy. In some respects, this has been the most challenging year Luke … Continue reading Yes, I Have a Pulse
One of my favorite modern parables is G.K. Chesterton’s Tremendous Trifles. It’s short and sweet – just over a thousand words – but it’s become something of a touchstone for me in the years since I first read it …
I write for a living – in two different ways. I’m a web content writer/editor for an Internet marketing firm, which means I output around 13,000+ words a week, translating into nearly a thousand pages/blogs/articles a year …
Imagine a poem written with such enormous three-dimensional words that we had to invent a smaller word to reference each of the big ones; that we had to rewrite the whole thing in shorthand, smashing it into two dimensions, just to talk about it. Or don’t imagine it. Look outside. Human language is our attempt at navigating God’s language; it is us running between the lines of His epic, climbing on the vowels and building houses out of the consonants.
Notes From the Tilt-A-Whirl
N.D. Wilson’s Notes From the Tilt-A-Whirl is one of those books that’s difficult to pull quotes from, because whenever I open it up again, I want to quote the entire thing line by line. It’s that good. Even the passage I posted above seems a bit paler for being isolated, but I love how Wilson visualizes the way we use language to grasp at truth. We might not even be able to see an entire word of God’s at once: just hear a consonant uttered in a mountain-scape, or a vowel in a lion’s roar. But our little words give us some methodology in approaching God’s.
As Wilson puts it, God’s language is “heavy poetry” that is “so potent that [it has] weight and mass and flavor.” His speech brings things into being out of nothingness. This mode of thinking seems to coincide naturally with how Jesus himself is referred to as “the Word” – a unique name given to no other member of the trinity. As in John 1:14 (NIV):
The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.
I love this idea that Christ is God’s language in its purest form: his clearest way of communicating with us. When God chose to make his ultimate statement to the world, He didn’t give us a statement at all; He gave us Himself.
But He’s been speaking all along. In my eyes, the universe is its own distilled form of God’s language, from the births and deaths of billions of unobserved stars to the family of birds nesting on my third-story balcony right now. All of it tells me something about God’s character, just as any piece of art tells us something about the artist.
But in Jesus, God condensed the poem of the universe into a single person.
Aren’t we all armchair literary critics when it comes to this particular poem? We’re all trying to interpret it. Everyone has their own ideas about what this world means, if it means anything. Indeed, many people would say that our existence is nothing more than the scribblings of chance.
But I can’t help seeing the poetry everywhere I look. Even in the dark things, the ugly things, the sad things. It’s a drama. And in this drama, God always has the last word. The darkness gets usurped and pulled into His narrative, re-formed into some new possibility that wasn’t there before, shaped by the endless catharsis of story.
I’ve also noticed that the darkness tends to repeat itself; it can do nothing but plagiarize, twisting the narrative to fit a false image of the world, or to describe a false balance of power. It has nothing original to say or to speak into existence.
Meanwhile, when God speaks, He makes all things new.
Am I listening?
Tomorrow, according to the weather prophet, these clouds will crystallize and turn into six-pointed haiku, haiku like you’ve never seen, each subtly different, each capturing a different mood, a different beauty. Each priceless, a divine word. If I were infinite, I could read and love each one. I could remember the dance of each flake since the world was born. But I’m not infinite. And so I keep a shovel for when the haiku falls, a bag of salt to fend off the whispering storm.
For the past six-odd years, I’ve been working on a manuscript. I call it a manuscript because right now, it doesn’t really resemble a novel, despite clocking in at around 69,000 words. I still have at least 60,000 more words to squeeze out of myself before I make it to the end of the story.
I’ve tried everything to make the writing go faster. Outlining, flying by the seat of my pants, challenging myself to “page-a-day” contests with friends, joining a writing workshop. All of it helps, but none of it accelerates my pace in any tangible way. For some reason, this story is the kind that I can only discover bit by tiny bit, unraveling each meticulous puzzle piece one at a time. It’s like sailing through a fog most days.
Maybe someday I’ll write something that’s a breeze – that flows out of me the way stories used to when I was young. In the meantime, the challenge of this one keeps me moving forward, even when I feel utterly unequal to the task. You know what else keeps me moving forward? VNV Nation.
I KNOW. It’s so horribly cliché to say that a particular artist has written the soundtrack to your book (or a character), but VNV’s music is full of all the same themes that fuel my current story: wars of the self playing out on a global scale, futurism, our place in the cosmos, the pull of memory and regret, the abuse of power… and so on. When I’m feeling uninspired, or like I’ve lost the thread of the story, I put on VNV and suddenly remember exactly what it is I want to accomplish. I think that’s what drew me to their music in the first place: they talk about all the things that I think about.
But my favorite track – the one that kicks me in the gut every time I hear it – is a very short one, more of a spoken poem than a song, called “Distant (Rubicon II)”. I wish I could say why this fits my old-man-scientist character so well, but for now, I just want to post it and expose it to people, because… isn’t it beautiful?
Gah. It kills me.
The paths that I once tread have all but gone
Only embers now smoulder where bridges once burned
I feel alive and yet I fear what may happen now
I know I can’t return
And I hear me say again, “Oh, let me not return.”
Damn the illusions of redemption and the hopes that held me here
I will oppose all that would befall me, with this rage inside of me
I’ll defy what I would become
The solitude and anger that do battle inside me
Will always guide me to the answers that I know I may not see
They are the bonds that hold me tighter
They are the chains that weigh on me
One day I know they will be gone
Can I start again, and erase this pain?
By casting doubts into the waters,
Asking judgement of the sea?
Though fortune may guide the fools
I have no wish to be free
Until I am gone.
And now, my rear has officially been kicked into gear. Back to writing. Back to the fog. Back to old-man-scientist and his crazy comrades and… why did I choose to write sci-fi again? (This stuff is HARD.)