The Cistern

(The following is an essay i wrote for Jonathan Rogers’ online writing class. The assignment was to describe a place that shaped me or explains something about me.)


I grew up the daughter of a wandering missionary-hopeful. My parents met at Bible college, and my childhood was shaped by Bible stories and the knowledge that God is real, that His Kingdom is truer than any physical place we could ever see. Because we moved so much, and because we were homeschooled, that reality was much more consistent for me than any town or house.

In our homeschool, my mother used Vacation Bible School curricula alongside math worksheets and penmanship exercises. We learned Bible stories with a homemade flannelgraph. Figures for stories that didn’t occur in the curricula she made with drawings and spray flocking. I suppose most kids didn’t learn the story of Jeremiah in the cistern in Sunday school, but we did at home, sitting on the greenish, worn carpeting of our rented house’s living room, light pouring in the big windows. I was a child with an active imagination who loved stories and lived primarily in her head, and those Biblical figures became real to me. They were my friends, the inhabitants of my inner landscape, just like Princess Irene and Curdie Peterson and the Pevensies and Francis the Badger. I could see their faces in my mind. Jeremiah was straight-backed and bearded, noble and sad, brave in the face of his loneliness.

One evening my parents went out, I suppose to visit our adopted Grandma Strand, the older woman who lived alone next door. My three younger siblings went with them, but my parents decided that at eight years old, I was old enough to stay home by myself. For the first time in my entire life, I was completely alone.

The big house with big windows felt too big, and I was too small. It wasn’t long before being alone unsettled me thoroughly. I knew God was always with me, that Jesus, my playmate, would never leave me. And thinking of that reminded me of Jeremiah. He had also been alone, but he had been able to be brave because he knew he had not been abandoned.

So I went into our bedroom, with the big window facing the street, and held my breath while easing open the closet door. I slipped in and pulled the door shut behind me, and sat on the floor amidst clothes and toys. The closet was small and dark, just like Jeremiah’s cistern. Sunday dresses hung down and brushed my face. I closed my eyes and imagined that I was Jeremiah. And the walls of the closet were like safe arms that held us both until friendly faces appeared at the door.

Busy, crazy, alive

Almost three weeks into my online writing class. Met with my academic advisor on Wednesday. Story Camp starts on Monday. Hosting four write-ins a week this month. My first short story is a whopping 86 words long so far.

i am probably crazy, but what fun is there in sanity?

Thank-you stories

i just had a crazypants, terrifying, exhilarating thought: You know those short stories i plan to write, inspired by the classes i take?

What if i give them to my professors at the end of each semester?

“Thank you, and here is one thing that your class inspired in me while i processed the material and discussions.”

Mangling Scripture

Today’s Writing Close to the Earth homework included a challenge to take a short, familiar, concrete Biblical passage and abstractify it, then guess each other’s passages. (This was based on one of the readings for this week, where George Orwell criticized modern writing by doing this very thing.)

Here’s mine:

“Economic insecurity being a matter of foregone conclusion in the present political climate, one would do well to consider an alternate method of investment which relies less on liquifiable assets and more on intangibles.”

Any guesses? i’m eager to see what the other students come up with. 🙂

Two new endeavors, both slightly terrifying

i haven’t done a great deal of writing lately—maybe i haven’t done any since that essay; i can’t remember for sure. But i have been reading, and reading, and reading. The Princess and the Goblin, The Princess and CurdieThe Warden and the Wolf King (and Pembrick’s Creaturepedia!), A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Smoke on the Mountain, Peace Like a River, The Oracle of Philadelphia (and The Timely Arrival of Barnanabas Bead again, and the Budge-Nuzzard again), My Bright Abyss (although i am not sure i will finish it), King Lesserlight’s Crown, The Best of H.P. LovecraftGilead, Roverandom. And still somehow i have time for Facebook and other forms of time-wasting; clearly, i need more books. (Thankfully, there’s the Rabbit Room for that.)

That last one, Roverandom, i just read this week in preparation for one of the titular terrifying new things i’m attempting this summer: Story Camp.

i run our church’s library, and this year i am finally making good on my years-old desire to organize a summer reading program. Somehow—because i am crazy like this—i decided that this would also be a great summer to have weekly read-alouds in the library (The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic), host a Skype chat with an author (Jennifer Trafton of Mount Majestic fame), and spend all July encouraging library patrons to write their own stories. This will take the form of Camp Nano-style write-ins for teens and adults, but for kids, i’m running a week-long program i’m calling Story Camp, where the kids and i will play storytelling games, read J.R.R. Tolkien’s children’s story Roverandom together, use Roverandom as a jumping-off place for discussions on how to wrangle story elements like character, plot, description, setting, and theme, and then spend time daily writing our own books. i am really excited about this! And also fairly terrified, as i have never done such a thing as a) teach writing, b) teach elementary-schoolers, or c) run a week-long library program of any sort. But the planning is going well, and i will have a helper at least three of the five days, and i think it’s going to be awesome.

The other thing i’m doing this summer, also writing-related, starts on Monday. i’m taking an online writing class taught by Jonathan Rogers, acclaimed thinker of thoughts and author of the middle-grade Wilderking Trilogy, which combines meaning, action, and the best use of setting and written accents i’ve seen in awhile. He says the class, which is titled “Writing Close to the Earth,” could alternately be titled “Writing More Like Flannery O’Connor,” whom he has written a book about, and i am ashamed to say that i have never read any of her stories (although i have heard enough about them that i can pretend i have a grasp of her style). That class will require weekly writing—essays, and sentence exercises, which i am really excited about. i have already done the first week’s reading—i say that i have started early because this summer’s busyness requires me to work ahead while i can in anticipation of weeks when i’ll have less time for homework, but really i’m just a big nerd and i can’t wait to discuss the reading with other students and have JR tell me why my sentences are bad.

Last night, though, i had a hard time falling asleep because it occurs to me that if i am running write-ins this July, it really would behoove me to actually be writing some narrative fiction while encouraging others to do so. And not only am i going to have a lot of homework to do, plus Story Camp (which occurs during my class as well as during July’s write-ins)—i have no idea what to write about.

Sometimes i do wonder if i have already had all of my good ideas.

But aside from that pervasive nonsense fear (and the more realistic what-have-i-gotten-myself-into trepidation)—i am really excited about this summer.

Essaying

For some months now, i have been grieving Peet the Sock Man. His brokenness. His need. His glory. His inability to hold onto his glory when his failures rise up and name him again and again. His desperation. His aloneness. His unwillingness to let his sin define him, even as he has lost all sense of himself.

Peet says to me things i have not yet begun to understand. Glorious, broken, beautiful Peet.

Themes of brokenness and redemption crack my heart open and hollow me out.

Because my heart is so raw when i read his story, because i know beyond a shadow of a doubt that his story is my own, i have been struggling to put into words what Peet means to me. But i want to know what he means. i need to, because i have a deep sense that what he says, in his sweet gibbering way, is about hope. Hope amidst despair. Hope that shines like the dawn.

The last two weeks i have been reading and rereading things that speak Peetness to me in the hopes that they will help me wrap my brain around my heart and give it words. Giorgio Agamben, an Italian philosopher, was recommended to me as a starting place for thinking about redemption in a pre-Christian world, and i ought not to have been surprised to find Peet there. Darren Aronofsky’s Noah paralleled some of Agamben’s imagery. Hutchmoot addresses by Jennifer Trafton and Travis Prinzi spoke volumes to me; Jennifer’s in particular set my heart ablaze and made new thoughts come out of my ears—thoughts about what Peet, and we, are perhaps becoming. What if the stories are true? In studying Scripture, i was suddenly thrust back into memories of George MacDonald’s The Princess and Curdie, and found such a parallel between Peet and Lina that i wondered how i had not seen it before.

i still don’t know how to say what Peet says to me. But my heart is leaping in holy breathlessness as these thoughts and hopes pour through me.

The fourth and final Wingfeather book is on its way. The public release date is July 22, but Kickstarter supporters—over 2100 of us—will be receiving our copies in early May. My hope was, and is, to make a stumbling attempt to express the hope that Peet gives me before i find out how Andrew would answer the question of what he (and we?) are becoming. But my heart is tangly, and my words so inadequate. i must write; i must—but can i?

i know that Peet must die. But that is not why i grieve him.

On and on and on

Andrew Peterson and his wonderful little family sang this song in an online concert last night, and partway through the song something hit me that has never occurred to me before, despite my knowledge that the new earth that we’ll live in forever isn’t just limbo but life, not some ethereal harp-playing noplace, but a real, REAL, fully-redeemed physical place.

Jonathan and i were talking earlier yesterday about getting older and i said, “i’m so behind.” He nodded and said he feels that way himself sometimes. We’re in our mid-thirties, and he’s in school, and i’m looking to start school, and we’re only just sort of getting an idea of what we’re for, and meanwhile guys like AP are manhandling multiple careers with aplomb, having known who they were from the time they were 20 or younger.

But halfway through this song, these lines (which they’d already sung several times) spoke to me:

And it hurts so bad
but it’s so good to be young
And i don’t want to go back
i just want to go on and on and on
So don’t lose heart
Though your body’s wasting away
Your soul is not
It’s being remade
So don’t lose heart
Don’t lose heart
Your body will rise and never decay
Day by day by day

And it hit me: i WILL go on and on and on.

i think what we do in this life matters immensely, but:

All the stories i don’t get around to telling while in this old body will still be written. The difference is only in who gets a chance to read them (and what measure of grace and what manner of mystery inform my storytelling).

And that does matter—immensely—but there is still hope that who i am will remain; what He’s calling me to do does not end in my death; and i will have eternity to tell His stories. On and on and on.

That gives me a very different motivation to get on with it, and freedom to face the next two thirds of my life with eagerness to write, and without anxiety over whether i’ve done enough.

Writer’s retreat

Next week, i’ll keep a regular 9-5 writing schedule, holed up in a cafe 1200 miles from here. About two years ago, we made this same trek—Jonathan for work, and me along for the ride—and i spent the entire week at the same table in a particular coffee shop, writing and writing and writing. At the time, i felt like every word was taking me another step away from Rixi’s heart, and when we got home i called the entire week a waste—a miserable, expensive waste; i could have sat in our hotel room and read book after book or even watched TV instead of paying rent at a coffee shop. After some emotional and temporal distance, and a few hard editorial choices, i have come to love that week’s work. Rixi and i have been through a lot together, and what at first felt like betrayal has turned into a much-needed lull between storms. She needed that time, and i needed it, but we were both so caught up in heartbreak that we couldn’t see it then.

Now Jonathan’s job is sending us forth again, but this time, i am not just along for the ride. i am looking forward to spending another week in that blessed cafe which, even in the midst of the angst, felt like a sanctuary. Since that time two years ago, Rixi and i have taken many steps on this journey—some tiny, some lurching, some leaping, some backward, some sideways, and not a few that traced circles—and now we will sit in that cafe again and write her life, and do so together.

My list of writing tasks for this trip:

  • Comprehensive structuring of the “little e” plotline
  • At least two narrative snippets from Liedend’s POV
  • Re-writes on two other narrative snippets
  • Letters from home

Time permitting, i also have a few non-Rixi writing projects in mind:

  • Essays: One on Peet the Sock Man; one on a pre-Christian treatment of sin and redemption; two on creativity
  • Library blog posts: National Library Week, the new Christ Center Reads program, our next quarterly theme (faith and arts)

This trip can’t come soon enough! i can already feel the sunlight coming through the cafe’s huge windows, dust motes dancing through the wide open space like laughter in motion.

Yes.

Inquiry to admissions department at Denver Seminary

In looking over the degree options available to me at Denver Seminary, it seemed best to begin the process by sending an email to admissions prior to filling out the application. Here’s the email.
 
Hello,
 
For some time I have been considering returning to school, and lately it seems that the time has arrived to begin the process. My inclination is that I will end up pursuing an MA in Old Testament, but aside from my love of the Old Testament and a desire to study theology, I have some specific reasons for wanting to engage the Old Testament, and I wonder if you would be so kind as to hear those reasons and help me gauge whether or not I am on the right track.
 
I am a fiction writer. My primary genre is fantasy (although I am developing a science-fiction setting as well), and while all the writing I do is in one or another pre-Christian culture, I am increasingly finding myself needing to know how to address the problem of sin with my characters. For the development of themes, I look primarily to J.R.R. Tolkien, who sought to create a world and stories therein which were orthodox, yet pre-Christian. But Tolkien did not address sin as such; his world and stories discuss different themes, and where sin arises the answer seems to be a type of common grace, where one is justified by repentance, but the sin nature is not addressed.
 
As far as that goes, I am comfortable taking a similar tack. I want my stories to have a wide appeal, to slip past those “watchful dragons” and be instrumental in reshaping my readers’ imaginations and affections so as to prepare the way for the Gospel, rather than to preach it in the narrative; a clear Christ-figure is not what I am trying to write. My strong sense is that in our postmodern culture, a subtle approach will be the best beginning for those who love narrative but are antagonistic toward authoritarian presentations of truth. With two of my characters, however, I am at a point where they recognize their own depravity, and they are unable to get past their inability to walk away from their sin nature (not merely their sins), no matter how badly they want to be good and righteous. I have a strong sense that one of them, in particular, is calling out to me, “Who will rescue me from this body of death?” It distresses me that in committing to a pre-Christian world, I have no answer for her, yet I believe I am called to tell such stories—that the pre-Christian setting as well as the themes of sin, brokenness, and redemption are specific to my own gift and calling.
 
This may seem backwards, as a Christian, to look for ways to answer this question without Christ rather than simply introducing Him, and I realize that without the incarnation and sacrificial atonement of Christ, there can be no final answer for sin. I would like, however, to give my characters hope, much like G-d gave Abraham hope, that an answer is coming, and in the meanwhile, discover what the Old Testament and common grace can tell me about what G-d’s answer was before Christ. My fictional worlds do not currently have a sacrificial system for expiation of sins, although that may be part of the answer (yet it does not come close to addressing the problem of the sin nature).
 
So my inclination is to study the Old Testament for clues as to how this might work. My long-term goal is to follow this degree with one in literature, so as to continue deepening my understanding of how to develop themes in my writing, but I don’t want to move forward in that without first having the strong undergirding of Scripture and theology to direct those studies.
 
In looking over the MA/Old Testament course path, I notice that there are several classes included in that degree that I am very interested in, but only one slot for an elective. Looking at the Theology and Christian Studies concentrations as well, I see that either would offer me more elective slots, but do not contain the language studies (which greatly interest me), and the OT track’s thesis option would give me some leeway to develop a particular area of interest outside of electives. Meanwhile, I have identified about twenty classes I’d love to take, all of which would have to be taken as electives (although many are only of personal interest and I might simply audit them after graduation).
 
Sorry to have gone on at such length, and I appreciate you hearing me out. Is there any guidance you can provide as to whether an OT degree is the correct path for me, considering my specific concerns?
 
Thank you very much,
Laure Hittle