An intimate conversation with sacred experience

Category: Faith and Imagination

Faith and Fairies

fairy“I believe in fairies,” Gwyn tells me.

“Me, too,” I respond.

In our house we tell stories incessantly, and they’re all true.  They began with Special Baby, Gwyn’s imaginary friend when she was two years old.  Special Baby could do everything Gwyn couldn’t, like go to the library when it was closed and eat extra servings ofdessert.  Then came Lilly the Lilac Fairy who lives in the gnarled lilac tree over Gwyn’s sandbox and who is too shy to show herself to grown-ups.  Continue reading

Write, or Be Written

Here’s what excites me about our climate crisis:  It invites us to change.  “We face a choice that is starkly simple:  We must change or be changed,” writes Wendell Berry.  “If we fail to change for the better, then we will be changed for the worse.”  Okay, so the alternatives are either exciting or terrifying, but still:  Dire circumstances give humans the opportunity to create something new, and this fills me with hope.

Berry’s words remind me of a novelist friend who signs her books, “Write, or be written.”  I don’t think Elissa’s trying to make authors out of her readers; rather, she’s suggesting that everyone has the choice to accept the stories our culture tells about us or create our own.  The climate story our culture has written is dictated by consumption and profit at the expense of the earth and the poor who live close to it.  It’s a story written with highways and billboards, farming practices and diets, the movement of our money and the absence of money.  It’s a story most people don’t question.  We’re too immersed in it.

When I read the stories Jesus told and when I think about his life as a model, I see Jesus asking of us something similar.  We can accept the dominant stories of our culture—“an eye for an eye,” for example, or a morality determined by the law rather than our hearts—or we can participate in a radically different story based on love and humor and subversion.  Jesus doesn’t simply call us to believe in God’s realm; we have to create it, with thoughts and words and deeds.  Write, or be written.  Change or be changed.

These are tumultuous times, and, as every artist knows, creativity comes out of chaos.  As Christians, can we pioneer a new story based on justice and kindness and faith?  Let’s get to work.

–Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew



Bucket List

A friend explained to me yesterday why she, a born-and-bred Catholic, is faithfully attending adult education classes at her UCC church, asking hard questions, giving the pastor blunt answers, and otherwise being a rabble-rouser.  “I want to know what I believe before I die,” she said.  “I don’t want simply to fall back on what I was taught.”

My in-laws call the list of things they want to do before they die their “bucket list.”  I admire anyone who thinks through what might bring their life fulfillment and then sets out to achieve those things before they “kick the bucket.”  I like the intention of a bucket list, how death helps us put life in perspective and encourages us to manifest dreams, live our values, and seek out significance.  The majority of people who hire me as a writing coach give some version of this explanation:  “I’m not a writer, I don’t know why I’m writing this, but I have to create something of this story before I die.”  Our mortality goads us into hard but meaningful labor.  I like working with people who have death at their backs.  The stakes are high.

My friend’s bucket item strikes me as particularly rich.  Christianity gives the impression of being a set of doctrines that believers must claim and adhere to, but in fact the opposite is true.  Reciting a creed or falling back on what we were taught or accepting without question any of the church’s teachings is simply not a life of faith.  But engaging whole-heartedly in meaningful questions, and staking your actions on your beliefs, is.  “Who do you say that I am?” Christ asked the disciples, and continues to ask each of us.

We answer with our lives.  Some people find Christianity a gruesome religion, but I like how Jesus’ story puts death at our backs, and so makes our seeking significant.  What’s in your bucket?

–Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew

Whutif and Howbout

From the moment her eyes pop open in the morning until that instant of surrender at night, Gwyn emits a steady stream of imaginative possibilities.  “What if I’m a hermit crab?  How about we live on the beach?  How about you’re my crab mom?  What if I have a shell?  A shell, Mama—we have to make a shell!”  Which is why I stumble through the basement at 7 a.m. looking for cardboard.  An old lawn sign makes a cone-shell; stapled construction paper make claws.  The game lasts an hour and then she’s onto the next possibility, the next revision of her world.

Meanwhile, Emily retreats to the office to develop dance curriculum for seniors and I escape to write books and help others write books.  Or we plan the garden, decide what to have for dinner and cook it, consider our weekend options, nurture our friendships…  What if?  How about?  Every moment of every day is a dynamic interaction between dream and manifestation.  What’s possible resides in the territory between what we can imagine and the physical laws of the universe—although perhaps even these are porous.

With a December birthday, Gwyn will spend a third year in preschool, which has meant that Emily and I spent the last few months debating where.  Does she need more to challenge her, to help her transition to kindergarten?  She’s been in a Waldorf preschool, where there’s no instruction and play is central.  At age three, play meant knocking over other kids’ blocks, but now she’s moving into prolonged, interactive fantasy:  The kids are squirrels building nests and harvesting nuts; they are fairies in a rainforest they create with hanging scarves.  Another year of this and Gwyn will have the skills to imagine a complex scenario and work with others to bring it about.

I don’t know whether this will prepare her for school, but it’s sure good preparation for life.  And, for that matter, for the life of faith.  So much of faith is imagining what’s possible, believing in it, acting from that belief, and creating that new reality with others.  When we believe in God, we’re believing in playful, interactive possibility.  We wake up and ask, first thing, “What if?  How about…,” then go searching for the cardboard or magic markers or whatever else will bring God’s realm into being.

                                                            –Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew 

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