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I’m joining Emily Freeman’s band of writers to pay attention to the inner workings of the spirit this spring. Sometimes I share my learnings in bits and pieces, opening up my box and showing gathered little treasures one at a time. Other times the shift is so profound that it requires a backstory. This one requires two.
Here was the crucible event: a few weeks ago I sat in the front row at The Unchained Experience, an art performance show telling the story of a woman being trafficked and coming back out. Yes there were facts that shocked me and made me weep, but there were also blinding rays of hope. In the show models wear avant-garde art onto the floor illustrating each scene in a trafficked woman’s life. The collection was designed by Korto Momolu of Project Runway fame. Its terrible beauty cuts through all the emotional walls we erect between us and the 24 million trafficked. My sister, fierce for these women, is one of the two founders of this awareness event.
I rode the waves of the UNCHAINED narration next to Kris Camealy who was gracious enough to be my date for the evening. We met over pasta at an outdoor cafe, shared notes about homeschooling, discovered friends in common (the man who performed her marriage ceremony was my bishop! What?!!!), and then as we drove toward the show I whispered, “The script of the show includes 62 poems. This is the first time I will have seen them performed. I wrote them last year during Lent.”
I had written the poems over a period of forty days last spring and then given them as a gift. I’ve held it like a secret, a small hidden joy. UNCHAINED is shown about three times a month all over the country from local inner city high schools of Columbus, OH to Harvard’s Social Enterprise Conference but this was the first time I had been able to attend since my work became the narration. After watching, Kris leaned over, “That script!!! Why do you fool around with prose when you could be writing like that!” At first it felt like a backhanded compliment I’d heard before from professors who looked from one to the other and shook their heads. But Kris’ truth-telling resonated and I gathered her words like Mary wondering what it all could mean.
A small taste of the narration:
“Then the camera zooms in on just one girl,
Fragile, exposed, wings still wet
limited-edition butterfly swept up in his revolting net.
He wants to paint over the frail beauty.
He wants to fabricate
As UNCHAINED commissioned a new collection from Korto Momolu, they also wanted a new script. My sister knowing I had been scribbling bits and pieces to support UNCHAINED for the last three years, asked me if I wanted to write it. So last Lent I sat in the purple papasan chair in my master closet every morning before dawn imbibing the story of the trafficked, one septic drop at a time. I watched videos and listened to survivor stories. Many mornings I felt physically nauseous as I emerged from the closet and walked downstairs to stir oatmeal and homeschool my three children. For forty days these captives were no longer a number, they were faces and names. But even this wasn’t the true beginning of this story.
Here’s the second piece of the backstory: for six years I had studied poetry at Asbury University, Virginia Theological Seminary and Wesleyan Seminary in D.C. with fantastic midwife poets. I found a small corner of the world where my words could be born. I sat weekly with other writers in critique sessions and loved the weighing of words and deciding just where the line breaks should be placed. As I had children, I would pick up small projects in which poems could find light but mostly stepped sideways into other creative ministries in my new role as an ordained Anglican priest. I had put in untold passion and spread out hours honing this craft and then slipped it all into a drawer and wondered if it would ever emerge again.
Watching the UNCHAINED event was overwhelming but with a couple of weeks of distance, this is what I learned this spring: If I am faithful to the craft, I will be ready for the fire. Let me explain.
Amber Haines, author of Wild in the Hollow, a profound, deep-well kind of memoir, was interviewed by Emily Freeman, my inner artist whisperer, in a video on the HopeWriters membership website. Amber, with her easy smile, has a prophetic presence and a warm, Arkansas lilt to her voice. With a deep knowing from her own writing experience, she encouraged writers to “not try to write a book until the book is asking to be written.” Then she clarified her words deeper. I leaned in. “Wait for the fire,” she said.
But, here’s where all these threads come together. Something happened after I watched the UNCHAINED event and realized that the six years I had honed the craft of poetry (and oh yes, I hope to keep honing this for a lifetime) had been transformed into something dynamic, vital, God-breathed when I was patient enough to wait for the fire. As I was obedient to the art that wanted to be made and the God who was calling it forth, I could rest in the simple act of daily yeses. Something inside me has begun to rest in the writing. I don’t have to strive, I only have to stay faithful. I can keep doing the work until the fire meets the gathered logs of my craft.
As I waited in the early dawn of Lent, something like a small Pentecost happened. When I walked into the closet every morning, I walked in with prayer, begging the Spirit to breathe into my words, to create something bigger than just Summer and scribbled lines of poetry. I begged for words which would throw open prison doors.
Love and fire and craft all merged to create a narration which speaks the truth about human dignity as the image of God into spaces where the church will never be given an invitation. And now I’m preaching, but can you hear the mini-Pentecost? Can you hear the rush of wind? In Exodus 35, it was the artists, the craftsmen of the tabernacle who was gifted with the Spirit first.
So here’s the gift this spring for you and for me:
Be brave. Keep showing up to the art. Be faithful. Keep honing your craft. Pray. Wait for the fire. Pentecost will come.
You friend, what one bit of advice strengthens you in the long obedience?
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