What would possess a person to scatter – or, as some versions put it, to cast away — stones? A memory that comes to mind is how I behaved when forced to make garments in grades 7/8 sewing class. I’d start with a glam picture of how the finished item would look (on an idealized, svelte image of myself), cut the pattern, and sew away – until I’d inevitably muck it all up and have to take up the stitch-remover, a nifty little hand tool I ended up using much more than my grandmother’s ancient sewing machine. R-I-P-P-P! would go all the wonky stitches, until the despised garment lay in scattered little pieces on the floor. At which point I’d throw tools, spools, and the whole shebang across the room, screaming with primal rage.
But the project would still be due, and so, being a dutiful student with no money to start fresh, I’d have to gather the pieces and try again. Of course, nothing I made ever turned out like my fantasy version, and when the poor abused garment had finally been hemmed and modelled by the short, unsvelte and unhappy seamstress, the fact remained: I hated sewing. I still do. And I’m so glad we live in a world of ready-made.
Let’s apply the stone-scattering analogy to life. We’ve built something, or tried to, but it’s not working anymore. Whatever downturn our spiritual journey has taken, it’s brought us to the brink. And the mess we’ve made seems unfixable. All we want is to tear it all down and cast the stones in twenty different directions. It feels good afterwards to sit in the rubble and glare at the scattered stones. Maybe it’s their fault (poor hapless stones!) and they deserved to be thrown.
But eventually we realize: this is all I have to work with. It’s time to gather those old stones and start over. Using the same materials but starting from scratch, we might build something completely different this time. Something that fits this new, stripped-down version of ourselves. Something that might transform our frustration and loneliness into a new kind of satisfaction.
For me, gathering stones meant rediscovering the joy of self-expression through poetry.
I wrote a lot of poetry as a child. In fact, I was apparently quite the poetic prodigy at the tender age of seven, according to my father’s recollections (and my father is not one to lavish unmerited praise on anyone). But I abandoned poetry writing, along with other artistic pursuits, when I hit rough waters in my teens. And while I’ve always secretly yearned to be a writer, I wrote little besides journals, classes and study guides during my busy years in the ministry. As my life was collapsing post-HKL, I made scattered efforts at memoir writing, but I was plagued with self-doubt: did I have a story worth telling? If my memoirs were as dark as I felt, would anyone want to read them? Would I only be adding to “the slagheap of mediocrity” — my words from a 2008 journal — in the already-saturated memoir market? (To clarify, there are many brilliant memoirs out there. And there are the others.) And so my self-doubt grew. Anyone who wants to write will recognize that rational, critical little voice inside my head.
But one day the poetry came back. I was driving home from visiting my youngest brother, the “golden child”, as we siblings fondly refer to him, when the lines hit me: “This one got it right” … and a poem was born the following day: a fond, incisive little gem that captured our sibling dynamics just right.
The next day I wrote a poem that started, Restless soul, why do your roam? And I saw that my subconscious was ready to speak. And speak. And speak. For the next many months, a poem revealing my inner life would surface almost every time I sat at my desk. The poems were like birds, alighting each day with a leaf, a flower, a berry, a trinket. I was discovering myself, recovering myself, one poem at a time.
And this I believe: writing poetry saved my life. It floated my boat again. It gave me a healing compassion for myself that had been missing for a long, long time. It helped me see myself in a softer light. It reconnected me to the creativity the Creator had placed in me, before I was even born. It gave me back my voice.
This might seem like my most ambiguous posting, for what am I trying to say? That everyone needs to write poetry? That poetry alone has magic to rescue us?
Of course not. You may not even like poetry. You might feel about poetry as I do about sewing. And that’s fine. But there’s something inside you that wants to come out and play.
I believe each person has his own gift, her own way of connecting to the creativity within. Maybe you already know what arena that is for you. Maybe you have yet to discover and develop it. Maybe you’re already being drawn to whatever new – or rediscovered – pursuit it is that will ultimately rescue you. If you’ve been part of the ministry train so many of us travelled, you probably put your creativity on the back burner, or even in the deep freeze, for as many years as you rode that train. Giving yourself permission to create again, to recreate in the way that moves you most, could be a breakthrough moment. It could be the start of something great.
So take a second look at those stones, and start gathering. They’re all you’ve got to work with. And they won’t move themselves!
Categories: My Story: Turn, Turn, Turn