Jesus, Lord of my Beginning Origin of all I see Hear me as I cry to You Come beside and comfort me Tell me who I truly am Remind me of the name I lost Keep my heart anchored in Yours Because on rough waves I am tossed.
Jesus, Lord of all my Wanderings God of the Middle too Upholding all things with Your Word Nothing exists outside of You Lead me through this present darkness Illuminate me with Your Light Hide me in Your Secret Place Where there is found no more night.
Jesus, Lord of where I’m Ending All Creation rests in You Show me more than merest inkling Tell me all that You will do Speak words of Consuming Fire That will cleanse and purify Pull me close and keep me sheltered As we live life eye to eye.
Show me who I’m meant to be So You alone I glorify.
This is a good thing because, as both an avid reader and a writer, I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about words, studying them, breaking them down, and finding that perfect word that says exactly what I want to say.
Finding that perfect word isn’t always easy because the meanings of words change. Language is as fluid as a river and meanings can change over time or be forgotten and a word is now used to mean one thing when it was, at one time, used to mean the opposite.
Take the word “individual”. I have always believed this word to mean and have used it in my writing to mean: single, separate, distinguishable from others, unique. This is how the word is used almost exclusively today. And, the definition is not wrong: my Webster’s New World Dictionary does offer up “existing as a single, separate thing or being” as the second definition of Individual. And yet, I was reading a teaching by J. Preston Eby where he wrote that Individual meant “not divisible”. I had to look that up and, sure enough, the first definition of Individual is indeed “not divisible; not separable”.
Which is the correct usage? Does the fact that the second definition is used the majority of the time render void the first?
Everything in me revolts against sameness. What do I mean by this? The best fictional example I can think of is in “A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeleine L’Engle where she shows her readers the planet of Camazotz (which, if you’re interested, is the name of a bat god from Mayan mythology) The people of Ms. L’engle’s Camazotz are ruled by a single mind and are forced to be exactly alike, down the the perfect bouncing of balls during play time. Anyone deviating from what IT has decided is the norm is harshly re-educated. On this world, the first definition of Individual is paramount in every negative sense of the word.
I see this pressure towards sameness in the real world. Why? I get that there is safety in numbers but, historically, it’s the odd man or woman out who makes the discovery, solves the equation, writes the novel, and composes the masterpiece. The Individual is important. While I do not claim brilliance for myself, I am aware that I am unique. There is no one like me. There has never been anyone like me. There will never be anyone like me. I am an Individual and I hold as precious my sense of being a unique being. This being so, do I then believe the second definition is more important than the first?
No. I believe both definitions are equally important because, while I fiercely guard my own individuality, I am aware that every other human being on the face of this earth is also an Individual: as unique as I am. I think J. Preston Eby says it best:
“We speak of ourselves as individuals. Someone says, “I am an individual.” By that he means that he is separate from everyone else. We think, “I’m not like other people. I’m me. I’m something different. I’m special. I’m unique. I’m an individual.” The English word “individual,” however, comes from the Latin word individuus meaning indivisible or not divisible. It’s not that which is separate — it’s that which cannot be separated! It means that if I am an individual I am not separate from the rest of humanity. I am simply a unique expression of everything humanity is! It’s not separation from; it’s identification with!”
Identification with. Not separate from. An Individual yet part of an Individuum. How are these two seemingly opposite definitions reconciled in me? How do I live with my certainty of my own value without feeling threatened by the equal value of my fellow beings?
One of my favorite scriptures is Isaiah 30:15 specifically, “in quiet and confidence shall be your strength.” I have meditated on these words and, while there are many nuances of meaning, I am convinced that these two attributes are essential to my living in peace with myself and with everyone else. When I know that I am an Individual-in the words of J. Preston Eby “a unique expression of the word, of the spirit, of the mind, of the substance, of the totality of the being of our heavenly Father”-I find quietness and confidence. There is no turmoil in my spirit because I know how my heavenly Father sees me and I don’t have to compete with anyone nor assert my individuality. Seeing myself as He sees me gives me a confidence that can’t be shaken by anyone or anything so I don’t have to regard my fellow humans with suspicion.
I guess that, ultimately, the word I’m looking for isn’t Individual after all. It’s Identity.
I finally have a post. Things have been going awry with my laptop and then my internet connection so I haven’t been able to get online long enough to post. I am working on a poem that occupied my mind during my last walk at the reservoir so, while I consider iambs and rhythm and rhymes, I thought I’d post about poetry.
Poetry plays an important part of my reading and writing life. The musician in me likes reading poetry and likes reading it aloud so I can hear the rhythm and beat the author chose. Reading aloud also allows me to attempt to feel what the author intends for me to feel. I do the same when I write poetry. I read my own aloud because every syllable is deliberate. I am composing rather than writing as I attempt to put together words and rhythms that paint not only a picture for my reader but introduce them to the song I am creating. One of my favorite poets is a master at this. When Edna St. Vincent Millay writes “nor yet a floating spar to men that sink and rise and sink and rise and sink again”1, I know how it feels to be adrift in the sea: overwhelmed, unable to set my feet on anything solid, struggling to keep from drowning.
I read poetry as a writer because of the pictures authors are able to paint with words. Sometimes there will be that perfect phrase that shows me how to put in words the image important in my fiction. One of the most sense filled poems I’ve ever read is the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam of Naishapur. I can see myself lounging in a garden-without any mosquitoes and lumpy ground, of course- as Omar Khayyam writes, “Here with a loaf of Bread beneath the bough, A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse-and Thou”2.
And then, I have found poetry to be the perfect medium for connecting with God. I feel what Rabia of Basra feels when she writes, “Prayer should bring us to an altar where no walls or names exist…In my soul there is a temple, a shrine, a mosque, a church that dissolve, that dissolve in God”3. I read her words and my heart knows it is so.
There are so many other poets whose works are on my bookshelves: poets whose works that span the ages. Emily Dickenson, Paul Laurence Dunbar, and Shel Silverstein (because silly verse is important as well), sit beside the Sagas of the Icelanders, Ovid, and Homer. I love that poetry has been a form of expression since before humankind wrote their words down. A cry formed in the human heart and found expression in poetry.
These poems often went hand in hand with music which brings me to my go-to poems: the Psalms. This collection of songs, prayers, and poems (my Amplified Bible even calls Psalm 16 a poem of David) are some of my favorite poetry. Whenever I pick up a new translation of the Bible, I immediately turn to the Psalms in order to hear these poems in a different way. A preacher I listen to recently said all of life is found in the Psalms. That made me turn to them again trying to read them with new eyes and I’ve found what he said is true.
Every expression of life can be found in the Psalms. Exaltation, Despair, Love, Betrayal, Longing, Fulfillment, Anxiety, Triumph: the gamut of human emotion is found in the Psalms. So is brilliant imagery. The writer in me reads and re-reads “Behold, (the wicked man) conceives iniquity and is pregnant with mischief and gives birth to lies. Psalm 7:14” and “He made darkness His secret hiding place; as His pavilion (His canopy) round about Him were dark waters and thick clouds of the skies. Psalm 18:11”. I don’t yet know how these mental pictures will end up woven into my fiction but I hold them at the ready.
As a person of Faith, the Psalms are a way I connect with God. Most of the time I go to them for that purpose rather than as a work of literature but I think they are that as well: some of the most beautiful ancient literature composed before Rome itself rose and fell.
Collected Poems, Edna St. Vincent Millay. “Sonnet XXX”.
Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam of Naishapur. Translated by Edward Fitzgerald and Illustrated by Charles Stewart.
Love Poems From God. Rabia of Basra. “In My Soul”.
Note: All quotes from the Psalms were taken from The Amplified Bible published by Zondervan.
I have recently been enjoying the “Nature is Speaking” series. The message of each of these short videos is that we need nature; nature doesn’t need us. These videos reminded me of a documentary I saw a while ago called “Radioactive Wolves”. It was made to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear incident and is a fascinating study on just how well nature does without human involvement.
25 years has completely changed the landscape both around Chernobyl and within the zone so contaminated with radiation it’s uninhabitable by humans. Cultivated land and the deserted cities have all been reclaimed by wilderness. Man-made canals have been damned by beavers and the same beavers have undermined dykes thus returning drained marshland to its natural state. The area around Chernobyl has become an unintended refuge for endangered species; species that seem to thrive despite the fact that bones of moose test at 50 times normal levels of radiation and fish bones from the area close to the reactor are so contaminated they can’t be touched by bare hands.
Gray wolf, Eagle, and Peregrine falcons are the top predator species that thrive in this reclaimed wilderness. It doesn’t seem like thriving should be possible with the amount of radiation in the soil which is then taken up by the plants, eaten by the large herbivores and then consumed by the predators, but thrive they do. The health of their populations stems from the fact that the area is toxic and thus lost to humans.
And, it is toxic. The documentary referenced a six year study performed on dormice living within the contaminated zone. 4 to 6 percent of every generation shows some sign of abnormality, twice the rate of clean areas. Those rates are unacceptable to humans and with an estimate of Chernobyl being uninhabitable by humans for the next 20,000 years; these species will be able to continue their uninterrupted life cycles without human intervention.
Almost without human intervention. Bison were reintroduced into the Belarus side of the exclusion zone in the late 90’s and that decade saw wild horses being introduced on the Ukraine side. However, wherever there are humans trying to help, there are humans causing problems. Reproduction rates among the wild horses say there should be close to 200 individuals roaming the wilderness but poachers have brought that number closer to 60: a fact that seems to reinforce the Nature is Speaking message. Nature doesn’t need us and, indeed, seems to do much better without us.
Does it have to be this way? If human beings could realize our relationship with the world around us is symbiotic-our ability to thrive depends on the health of our environment-would we start living in balance with it rather than consuming its resources far faster than it can replenish itself? As always, I can’t answer for anyone but myself. I try to make the most responsible decisions I can and living in balance with my environment is an ongoing journey.