One of the great things about the house I’m renting now is the big backyard, with a little pond that has fountains in it just outside the back door, and a deck bordered on two sides by flowerbeds. The beds need a little work; right now they contain both a red rose bush that is in full bloom and a couple stalks of corn that have wilted from the recent heat wave here in Nashville. That same heat wave has meant that the back deck has not gotten much usage yet, but one night last week, after reading a comment my friend Andrew posted on twitter – “I would like to recommend that you stop whatever you’re doing and go look at the moon” – I was prompted to move beyond my good intentions to sit out there and actually do so. I was just finishing up work for the night, music preparation on the song This Kiss, orchestrated by Carl Marsh, for a concert Beth Nielsen Chapman will be performing with the BBC Concert Orchestra in a couple of weeks (the song, which Beth co-wrote, is best known for having been a big hit for Faith Hill 12 years ago). After sending the files off for proofing, I closed my laptop, poured a glass of Scotch, and went outside to stare up at the moon and smoke my pipe (another thing, incidentally, that was recommend to me by Andrew).
I spent a week last month out in Santa Fe, NM, at the Glen Workshop, put together by Image Journal. I was taking the “Spiritual Writing” class taught by Lauren Winner, author of Girl Meets God and Mudhouse Sabbath, and at one point during the week Lauren asked those of us in the class what we do to prepare ourselves to write. I mentioned that I have a stunt kite that I like to fly, mostly because it means I’m staring up at the sky for 30 minutes or a couple hours with nothing else to distract me, away from technology and music and noise intended to distract, and experiencing the pure joy that comes from watching a kite dance in the wind. It helps create a space for me to sort out my thoughts. I’ve realized that I love to smoke my pipe for the same reason. I’m sitting still for 30 minutes, outside, away from endless distractions that can deaden the soul.
One book I’m reading right now, one of several recommended by new friends from the Glen Workshop, is Marilyn Chandler McEntyre’s Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies. The book started out as a series of lectures given at Princeton Theological Seminary back in 2004, and was published last year by Eerdman’s. I’ve only had time to read about 30 pages, but it’s been a delight so far. She draws from a lot of other current cultural commentary on language, which I have found quite informative. But my favorite bit came from her “introductory word to readers” where she describes her reasons for writing the book:
If you’ve ever loved and learned a poem by heart, or underlined sentences just because they were beautiful, or labored over a speech about something that mattered, I know we share the concerns and the pleasures of stewards who recognize that we hold a great treasure in trust. It is my hope that a sentence here and there will start a conversation or encourage some of you to speak the truth that is in you, to find a sentence that suffices in a hard time, or simply to listen into the silences where the best words begin.
There it is: I fly my kite, I smoke my pipe, as a way of learning to listen into the silences where the best words begin.