upon grace

What do I need to write on a long day of December rain? What do I need to write on a day when I’ve simply felt pale blue? What do I need to write on day when I spend hours trying to say things and feeling discouraged at not finding the connections, the words?

P1030591

I need to write truth. I need to breathe truth, inhaling it with every breath, bearing it in my blood to the crown of my head and the chilly extremities of my toes.

What is truth? Truth is that each of these breaths, each of these heartbeats, is grace, happening without any conscious effort on my part. I don’t have to tell myself to keep being alive because these being-alive processes are built into my system and guided by One much wiser than I. I would kill myself trying to keep my heart going at an appropriate rate, unable to think of it consistently enough, unable to keep thinking of it in my sleep. But He guides each beat of each heart on this planet, and He never sleeps.

Truth is that I am every bit as inadequate as I feel. I am never enough of any of the things I should be. No, leave “enough” out of the question completely: truth is that nothing good dwells in me.

Truth is that I do not deserve love, but I am loved. Truth is that I was under a righteous judgement destined for death, but that the righteous Judge made Himself my Savior and gave His life for mine. Truth is that I was dead already in my sins, but God loved me with a great love and made me alive together with Christ. Truth is that I am the recipient of the immeasurable riches of God’s grace in kindness toward me in Christ Jesus.

Truth is that the God of the universe, the God who created time, made Himself small and submitted to the constraints of time and the pains and indignities of a mortal body that we might enter eternity with Him and be clothed in glorious immortality.

Truth is that long days of December rain after nights of too-little sleep need not cause blue moods, because they cannot alter the fact that Christ is my sufficiency. Truth is that if I am never able to write another coherent word, the important Word has already spoken: He became flesh, dwelt among us, let us see His glory.

Even on difficult days, from His fullness I receive grace upon grace.

©2014 by Stacy Nott

signs. countersigns.

1.

A hand painted sign beside a country road advertises “MOILE HOME FOR SALE.” Catch it from the other direction, and you’ll find it’s a “MOBILE HOME” available for purchase. Each time I see it, I am freshly baffled by the omission of the “B.” I mean, in “MOBILE,” it strikes me as an unforgettable letter.

The Second Edition of Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary, Unabridged — in two volumes copyright 1962 and purchased for a dollar in our library book sale room — informs me that “moil” without the “e” can be a verb meaning to daub or make dirty, to weary or fatigue, or to labor, toil, work with painful efforts, to drudge. Additionally, as a noun, it may mean drudgery, confusion [turmoil], a spot or defilement, OR mining tool used in lieu of a pick and worked like a crowbar to make accurate cuttings. There’s also the obsolete noun version meaning “mule.”

This “mule” apparently comes from the French mule or slipper, so that “moile” in a google search turns up “a kind of high shoe worn in ancient times.”

Returning to the sign, is perhaps the “moile home” like that which belonged to the old-woman-who-lived-in-a-shoe-who-had-so-many-children-she-didn’t-know-what-to-do?

from Appley Dappley's Nursery Rhymes by Beatrix Potter

from Appley Dappley’s Nursery Rhymes by Beatrix Potter

After all, I suppose a shoe is simply another sort of mobile home, isn’t it?

 

2.

On a different road, a church sign admonishes me to “give thank to the Lord.” I thought the absent “S” was an accident until I saw the same admonition to give the Lord one thank on the other side of the sign. There were no “S”s anywhere on the message, and I found myself wondering whether someone had stolen the church’s supply of “S”s.

Why, though, do we “thank” and in our thanking always “give thanks“? I suppose it must be short-speak for “thanksgiving,” but still: why is there no “thank-giving”?

Toward God, it seems obvious. There’s never a time when He is not deserving uncountable thanks from us. He doesn’t deserve just one “thank.” We owe Him not less than everything. To give Him a “thank” is like paying a penny on a multi-trillion dollar debt. Though, of course, no amount of thanks from us can ever, EVER pay Him for all His benefits, nor even — since thanks are only ever acknowledgements — could we ever manage to acknowledge all He does for us.

3.

I’m learning to backtrack through a mental thesaurus, following the tracks of English language learners’ odd constructions. It raises questions for me, too, as I try to explain why “observing a fast” is not the same thing as “watching a fast,” or why “material relations” and “physical relations” are not synonymous.

Learning to articulate the differences sharpens my own understanding of my language. How “watching” must always involve our powers of vision. How we can draw the same contrast between physical and spiritual as we do between material and spiritual, but physical can have to do with bodies when material does not.

4.

And so I am freshly delighted with this world of words which we inhabit, willing or no. Freshly astonished at our God who created by His words, who said “Let there be light,” and there was light.

Synonyms are not synonymous, and single letters included or omitted open thoroughfares down which meanings pour, eager for reception. We are moiled in meanings at times, while other times a word can become a moil with which to carefully chip one precise meaning from the surrounding stones.

I watch and I observe all this: the words which are so much more than their materials in sound and symbol. I think of how the Word was in the beginning with God and how all things were made through Him, and I think of how God’s word lives and acts, exceeding a sword in sharpness to divide soul and spirit, joints and marrow, to discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

I think of how words are gifts.

For this, O give thanks to the Lord. Thank Him continually, with uncountable thanks.

©2014 by Stacy Nott

Aside

on principles of least effort

It’s funny the things you don’t expect about being a teacher. Things like the need to discern the difference between a stretching student, student raising a questioning hand, and a student with the tendency to twist the hair on top of her head while working.

We’re doing in-class research today, and one boy sprawls across two chairs, hands above head, reading an article, while others lean over their desks, encircling pages of notes in protective arms. They’re more inclined to ask questions if I walk among them, seeming to realize, by the fact of my nearness, that they don’t have to figure everything out alone. There are fewer questions when I stay at my desk in the front.

They need help with citation format, naturally, but also need help with the process of finding a book in the library stacks, need me to explain how to check out a book. (Since our class meets in the library, this is easy.) They’re excited to find that, when they follow one call number down into the stacks, they come upon whole shelves of books relating to their topics.

 books

You’d think, for students versed in the millions of results available to an internet search, the thousands of articles that appear with a few key-strokes in a database, they’d be used to choosing amongst sources, but multiple books overwhelm them. “Which one should I use?” “You mean I have to read the whole thing?”

In a research class I took as an undergraduate, we read Thomas Mann’s Library Research Models: A Guide to Classification, Cataloging, and ComputersI confess to not remembering most of it, beyond the fact that — as I recall — the author is a private investigator-turned-librarian. (A fact which, reinforced by the fact that one of the librarians with whom I’ve worked recently used to be in law enforcement in Atlanta, has made me believe that library science is not, perhaps, populated with only calm, bookish types.) But, among the several research models and principles he listed, one stuck out to me: the Principle of Least Effort.

While Mann did not recommend it as good practice, he noted that it was common practice: researchers tend to follow the path of least resistance, rather than the path of best results. I’ve been guilty of it, often and often. And I see it operating among my students, as they do the least they can to get by. Search engines and online library catalogs make this model more palatable than it was, perhaps, in 1994 when Mann penned his tome, but even taking the few extra steps to streamline the process of filtering search result lists seems to be too much effort for many of my students. This means that their PLE practice actually leads to more effort, because they spend more time browsing sources than they might have done if they’d learned to use their tools effectively. (I remember Mann making a similar point.)

And so, while I work to interpret the hand signals, to anticipate the questions they won’t ask, while I lean over shoulders and explain — again — what to do if an article has no author, I think about how this Principle of Least Effort seeps into other areas of life, how it infiltrates my Christian walk as well as my research practices.

I think of how scripture, “breathed out by God,” is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” to make us “competent, equipped for every good work.” I think of how God’s divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us” — that knowledge, again, available in scripture. And I think of cursory attention I give to the book which makes me competent and gives me all things pertaining to life and godliness, and I think of how I struggle and feel inadequate.

And as I watch the questions multiply when I move between the desks, I realize that, though I cannot see him, my God is always here, and he bids me ask, seek, knock: “for everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” How small  my asking often is, how hesitant, as if he were far away and hard of hearing and stingy in his answers. But he is none of those.

My PLE, applied to my Christian walk, burdens me with the weight of being and doing enough, when my God has worked for me, prepared works for me, promised his power — not my own — sufficient for me, made perfect in my weakness.

 

©2014 by Stacy Nott

Wonder: Word-Wonder Day 31

How does one conclude thirty-one days of blogging about words? I struggle with conclusions: the ends of papers, the ends of stories, the ends of semesters, of chapters in life. I don’t like goodbyes, and at the same time I feel a sort of panicky necessity to do goodbyes well — because there have been times when I haven’t done them well, and I regret those times.

Word-Wonder

This is not a goodbye, of course; it’s just the thirty-first of thirty-one posts, the post which signifies a task complete, a challenge met. But we have a tradition, in our culture, of putting special words at the ends of things: farewell speeches, parting toasts, even “The End” on the last page of a storybook. We like to mark endings, to pause and reflect on what has come before, to notice what was important or meaningful.

What then has been important or meaningful? Well, I blogged every day, and I wasn’t sure I could do that. And I spent a good bit of time thinking about words, sentences, stories, and I had a lot more thoughts than I wrote here, and that was good. And I think, perhaps, some of the things written here are important. No, I know they are.

I keep circling back to Christ the Word, to God the Author-Creator, to the fact that we’re in a story He’s telling, that we don’t know the story yet, that we haven’t gotten to the place marked “The End.”

Today, as I think about “The End,” here’s my thought: this story of ours, this story God is telling, doesn’t have a place marked “The End.” Some parts will end, but the story won’t. I’ve written of those endings: the completion of creation when behold, it was very good. The completion of Christ’s work on the cross, when it was finished. The completion of this story of sin and death when the new heavens and the new earth arrive, and the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, declares that the old things have passed away.

But when He declares that old things have passed away, He also declares that new things have come. That ending is equally a beginning. It ends this realm of time, this brief space in which we struggle and suffer, but it begins an eternity of glory, with which what Paul describes as “this light, momentary affliction” is not worthy to be compared. This is measured and soon over. That is immeasurable and never-ending.

There we will see the Word — the Word who was in the beginning with God — face to face, and we are told that we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is. There shall be no more incomplete thoughts: the partial shall pass away and we shall know fully. There the story continues, and it is a tale of celebration, of healing, of satisfaction. There the songs continue, day and night.

The theme of the songs, the center of the stories, the end mark on each sentence? That Word, Faithful and True, King of kings, Lord of lords.

Wonderful.

 

©2013 by Stacy Nott

Worlds out of Words: Word-Wonder Day 29

Today is a re-post from just under a year ago, since I’ve been wondering over words much longer than this month, and since we build whole worlds, not simply sentences, stories, and songs, out of words. You can find the original post here.

Word-Wonder

“People make worlds out of words.”*

They do. I know it. I have lived in those worlds, often and often, and they have taught me to make sense out of my own world, which is also, as it happens, made out of words, by the Word, beginning when God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.

“And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. And God called the light ‘day,’ and the darkness He called ‘night.’ And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.”**

Later, He made man, not by the familiar “Let there be” formula, but with His own hands, from dust, infusing him with His own breath. This was the way to make man in God’s own image, according to God’s likeness: great God-hands fashioning, great God-breath made small enough to fill the fragile lungs. There stood man, a small maker after the image of the great Maker.

His world was ready-made for him, but to him was given the gift of words, the task of naming, so that by a word one man could call up a bit of the world in another man’s mind. So that I may say “cat,” and you see it, though your physical eyes are not on it. That was the beginning.

Later still, at Babel, when all the people of the world spoke one language, they planned to build a world to reach to God. (Still hearing, no doubt, the hissing seduction from the Garden, that God was keeping some good from them, that they must reach out their hands to take it.)

"'Tower of Babel" by Marten van Valckenborch, circa 1600

 God thwarted their building plan, not by toppling the tower, as I might have done had I been God, but instead by destroying their world-building capability: their language. No longer could one man build a world to which all the others could be effortlessly privy. No longer will every person to whom I say, “cat,” see the thing that I mean.

In their own languages, the people recreated the story. The great project: that tower; the labor involved; the visionaries who, with their words, helped all the others to see it; the friend who labored alongside, with whom one shared words while toiling with stones.

And then the day when the friend gazed with uncomprehending eyes, even at the most commonplace comment, when the friend spoke, and the sounds were utterly new – unlike even the garbling of a baby. The visionary attempted to rally the people, but they told each other he was insane, for he was saying nothing, and they could not understand one another any more than they could understand him.

Though all their meanings were in agreement, they could not understand it, and left the words for blows, and left the blows behind with the project. They knew that the blows were sinful, that such sinners could not hope to find God, even at the top of the highest tower in the world, even if building the tower had not become a hopeless task.

Their worlds divided by only words – and the saying goes that “words will never harm me”! – they abandoned the tower project, wandered off with their different visions, different words, building worlds all over the world.

But the dividing wall – words – has now been broken; to the men who could not reach up to God, God has come down: the Word to crush the wall and heal the breach, the Word to bruise the head of the hissing seducer, to bring all good things to the people who could not even reach for them.

So that the world made by words, broken by words, is restored by the Word. Even now, when God says, “Let there be light,” there is light.

 

 

*Donald T. Williams, “Christian Poetics, Past and Present.” The Christian Imagination. Ed. Leland Ryken. Colorado Springs: Shaw, 2002.
**Genesis 1:3-5

© 2013 by Stacy Nott

Incarnation: Word-Wonder Day 27

As I’ve thought about what poetry is this week, I’ve realized that there are parallels to be drawn between poetry and the Incarnation. I’ve been thinking about them all week, but hesitating to draw them, lest you walk away from this post with some sentimentalized notion of Christ as God’s poem to the world or the sacrilegious idea that I have somehow put poetry and the Incarnation on an equal plane. I intend neither of those things.

What do I mean?

I’ve said that poetry is compressed language: large meaning in a small space. In the Incarnation, the whole fullness of God was pleased to dwell in the little space of one human frame. The Word-through-whom-all-things-were-made became flesh.

I’ve also said that poetry is more about experience than about cognition. It’s become a cliche in Christian circles to talk about “relationship rather than religion,” and I don’t like that language very well, but the fact remains that, when we come to Christ, we come to a Person, not merely to an idea.

We’ve all, at one point or other, heard a lot about a person, or read a person’s writings, and formed an idea of what that person is like. And then we meet him or her, and find that reality is quite other than, or larger than, or more complex than, our idea. People are more than ideas; they are more than whole systems of ideas. And Christ is more than a person.

Ideas can be memorized, learned, applied to various situations, combined with other ideas, summarized, paraphrased, filed away into neat mental compartments. People are not so easily handled. To know an idea is to understand it and be able to recall and restate it; to know a person is to invest a great deal of time, to watch, to listen, to watch and listen more, to question, to be surprised, to invest more time: it is, like poetry, more about experience than cognition.

I don’t come to appreciate a poem through one close reading. I learn to appreciate it over multiple readings, finding, with each reading, how different things jump out at me, unpacking, slowly, the compressed meaning, experiencing and savoring it.

This also, in some measure, is the way in which we come to appreciate Christ.

Word-Wonder

(I’m a bit too cross-eyed and sleepy to unpack it any more tonight. But I hope I’ve shown it to be neither sentimental or sacrilegious.)

©2013 by Stacy Nott

 

 

Completeness: Word-Wonder Day 10

Last week, I spent a few minutes of class time talking about sentences with my college freshmen. I asked them to remember what defines a sentence. A sentence must have a subject and a verb; it must begin with a capital letter and end with some kind of end mark. Most importantly — at least in the context of our conversation in class — a sentence must express a complete thought; it has to make sense.

When I think of this completeness, I think back to the first chapter of Genesis; I think of God seeing all that He had made, “and behold, it was very good.” And then I move forward to a cross under midday darkness, the sinless One bearing the sins of the world; I think of the weight of His declaration, made with agonizing breath: “It is finished.” And then, further forward still, I hear a loud voice from the One seated on the throne when the first things have passed away: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.”

Those sentences, of course, are not simply complete thoughts on their own; they also express a larger completeness. They are complete thoughts about complete actions.

And those actions which are complete? They relate to another kind of sentence. A sentence in the legal sense, a decree of punishment for guilt. Because into the very goodness of the first creation entered the corruption of sin, for which the penalty is death. We all have sinned; we all fall under the sentence of death. But that is not the complete story.

The complete story is that, in answer to our sin and our sentence, the Sinless One — the Word — came to stand in our place. On the cross, Christ bore the sentence, took the punishment He had not earned: He finished it for those who trust in Him. And at the end of time, the first things will pass away, giving way to an incorruptible very goodness, a restoration of that first “very good,” a completion of the completeness of the cross.

“It is finished” is not just a complete sentence, but also a sentence completed.

As teacher, as writer, as sinner saved, of this I say, “Behold, it is very good.”

Word-Wonder

©2013 by Stacy Nott