This week I’ve been thinking about messy rooms. I know, it’s an unlikely topic for a blog, but I was reminded this week of a “messy room” story from my past. Well actually, the story has two rooms. I’ve realized that a story can become a place where God begins to play during the week, bending my imagination towards hope.
It’s a story that my Dad told me years ago about his own mother. I never met my paternal grandparents. They both died in circumstances surrounding the war long before I was born, but I was named after my grandmother, Lydia Sawatzky, and apparently like me, she loved to write.
The story goes that my grandfather had built a small hut in the back of the house for his wife (my grandmother) to get away and write when she could. She would be away from the messy household and child care responsibilities and have a quiet place.
I could hardly believe this story when I first heard it. This was in the early 1900’s in what was then called Russia. Would any male really have supported his wife’s vocation in this unconventional way? The story seems unlikely, but over the years, it has taken shape in my imagination, becoming a sort of myth, one I didn’t want to ask about again in case I heard it wrong and it wasn’t true. Whenever I have doubted my own inner calling to write, I have remembered this story and thought that my own writing inclination was meant to be. Maybe in some way beyond my understanding, it’s written in my DNA.
This story came to mind for an assignment in our Wednesday study group at Watershed. We’ve been studying this awesome book called Reading the Bible Again for the First Time: Taking the Bible Seriously But Not Literally, and this past Wednesday, we were looking at myths, the “big stories” of our lives that have shaped us. The myths of the Israelites’ day, such as the story of the Red Sea parting, while not necessarily literally true, still shaped their history and their self-understanding. In preparation, we were asked to reflect on any “larger than life” stories in our own lives. Is there anything of the story that’s still true for us today?
I’ve been thinking about the messy spaces that my Grandmother would leave behind as she trekked out to the writing hut, pen and paper in hand, and I marvel that she had the vision to go against the flow. These messy spaces can feel so commanding for us all, as if there is some kind of warped holy scripture: “Thou shalt” get this all done!” I’m almost hard-wired to become a slave in trying to stay on top of everything. The worst part is how my heart can become messy with a lost perspective. I can’t imagine that I’m alone in this.
But every time I sit down to write, it’s as though I’m joining my grandmother in this vocational place, away from the bustle of daily life. Writing is a sacred activity, one where life slows down as I recall my deepest values. I go against the grain of my inherent anxieties to consider where God has been. I am so very grateful for this place. What usually happens is that those all consuming worries become much smaller and a faith perspective returns. I remember who I am again.
I have silently thanked my grandfather many times for building that hut for his wife. I may not have a handyman husband who can build a literal shed in our backyard, but he did buy me this computer, keeps the software on it updated and most important always supports and reads my writing, so maybe that old story is still alive.
For the last two days, I’ve been at a great workshop called “Voices from the Land”, where we created some art out in nature and wrote
poems to go with them. The presenter, Erik Mollenhauer, asked us at the beginning of the workshop, “Who are we, really? What knowledge sleeps in your soul?” He told us about an experiment where day old chicken chicks ran for cover when the shadow of a hawk was flown across their cage. A less sinister shadow of a goose was flown across, and caused no reaction among the vulnerable chicks. How did they know without being taught, that a hawk would pose a danger?
In the same way, we have knowledge imprinted on our souls, knowledge that shapes us in ways we may not even be aware of. I believe that my soul has been imprinted with knowledge which whispered to me even as a young kid, which said, “You are designed for this.” I’m not claiming to be a great writer by any means, but I do know that it feels like it was meant to be.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told his disciples not to be so consumed with worry as well. “Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions”, he told them. “Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.” (Matthew 6:33 Message translation)
As busy as life has been especially lately, and as often as I have been tempted to get swamped and lose heart, God has been nudging me onward, reminding me of the bigger Story that surrounds our lives.
A poster at the workshop also said it all, and I’ll end with this:
Miracles rest simply upon our perceptions being made finer, so that for a moment our eyes can see and our ears can hear what there is about us always.” –Willa Cather
If you’re reading this today and have lost perspective, I wish you your own sacred places of restoration, so we can all enter into our weeks with open eyes, ears and hearts, to see what is about us always.