Many atheists deny God because they care so passionately about a caring and personal God, and the world around them is inconsistent with a God of love, they feel, and so they say, “There is no God.” But even when one denies God, to serve music, or painting, or words is a religious activity, whether or not the conscious mind is willing to accept the fact. Basically there can be no categories such as “religious” art and “secular” art, because all true art is incarnational, and therefore, “religious.” Madeleine L’Engle
And the Word became flesh” may be the ultimate mystery of God. At a moment in human history, God changed from spirit to flesh. An idea of the divine became an experience with the person of God. People saw, touched, heard, and even felt Christ’s presence through wedding wine, bread for the masses, and the hem of a robe.
All art, says Madeleine L’Engle, shares that mysterious spirit-to-flesh transformation. Art is incarnational. The song or the poem or the sketch enfleshes an idea and brings it within human reach. Words or images give life to stray ideas. They leave a map not unlike the trail of crumbs Hansel and Gretel dropped to help them find their way home. All artists yearn to use created matter and mold it into a comprehensible form.
“Incarnate” is a better word for what artists do than “create.” They make something out of other somethings; they are the great recyclers of this world. There may not be anything “new” under the sun, but wordsmiths—as well as carvers, painters, composers, and inventors—will forever strive to reshape the clay of their own experience into objects of beauty and truth.
When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha,
“Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?”
“Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,”
Elisha replied. II Kings 2:9
Years before my mother died, I overheard her tell a friend she wished the Lord would take her like he took Elijah—on a whirlwind in a chariot—without dying. For people of her age, the fear of the dying process far exceeds the fear of death itself. My father probably had the same fears, but he died in his sleep, quickly—and, we assume, painlessly. That would be Mom’s second choice of a way to go.
Elijah had been told in advance that he would be “taken up.” He was on his way to meet God along with Elisha, his friend and successor, via Gilgal and Bethel and Jericho and the Jordan. At each stop the old man urged the younger one to go back, while resident prophets reminded Elisha that his mentor would be “taken today.” Elisha vowed not to leave. Finally Elijah asked pointedly what Elisha wanted from him before leaving. Elisha didn’t hesitate: “Your spirit, doubled.”
For my father and Elijah, leaving suddenly was a blessing, but for the Elishas among us, it is torturous. We are looking for a word or, even more, a blessing from our mentors. We have happily followed, but the leader is now going where we cannot follow. Ready or not, the leader’s job passes to us.
When my pastor preached on this text, she reminded me that the double portion is what the eldest son inherited. Elisha didn’t ask for more goods or property—just for more of his mentor’s spirit.
Even though he and I never acknowledged that relationship, my father was my writing mentor. He was not an overt teacher. His influence was far more subtle—much of it dawning on me slowly during the twenty years since his passing. But if I had had a warning of his being taken from this earth, I, like Elisha, would have begged for his “spirit blessing,” even as his second-born daughter.
Elisha received a symbol of his mentor’s blessing—a cloak. “Carry on God’s work,” the hair shirt must have reminded him. I have such a symbol: letters and journals and memoirs, a bundle of writing from my father’s hand. These words I treasure as my “double portion.”
As we were taught, let us teach others with encouragement and an infectious spirit. Amen.
I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds. Psalm 77:12
Read Scripture, pray, write—five minutes each. A great way to start the day, I thought, when my husband and I were spending a sabbatical year in Boulder, Colorado. His work took him and our only car away early and all day, and I continued my freelance technical writing from a makeshift desk in our small apartment. Spartan living to be sure, but less filled with distractions than usual. Involvement with friends and church no longer filled nights and weekends. In this setting, I began the daily practice of meditation.
The first Sunday in our temporary church home, someone offered me a Lenten meditation guide—a small booklet with a text and a thought to complete each day. The setting was perfectly quiet, without distractions, and I was open in ways the press of living sometimes prevents. Soon the blank book became the focal point of each day, and a pattern was established.
How did this happen? I hate routine. I have always felt that days should have their own flavor, not the sameness of the day before. Even devotions, as we always called daily Bible reading, can dull us. But this was different: I was asked to record thoughts the passage brought to mind. Finally I penned down my free-floating half-thoughts. Later, when I read the pages, it was as if for the first time.
My husband faithfully reads a chapter in his Bible before going to sleep, while I’m into The Atlantic or Writers’ Digest. He never wants to talk about what he’s read at that time of night. He doesn’t feel the need to “do something” with a passage or a verse or a word. He may have a better picture of God’s redemption story, but I need to deal with each little picture. While reading, my pen must be in my hand and an open page before me.
Boulder was a center for meditation—very little of it on Scripture. Our next door neighbor led seminars on “Mountain Path Meditation” propelled by the god within. My starting point will always be the Word. By my plodding method I will never read the whole book many times as is true for my routine-loving husband. But I do have something to show for “read, pray, write”—many pages of inspired writing. This kind of reading launched a dialogue of thought, prayer, and listening for God’s voice.
My African-American friends like to talk about “being in the Word.” Meditation keeps me in that place where wisdom waits. Whether my text is chosen at random or comes from the Common Lectionary or a favorite book of the Bible, it captures my heart and won’t let me go until I think about it deeply. And taking all the time I need, then make a record …
Spirit of God,
“Every time I feel the Spirit moving in my heart, I pray …” Thank you for making each day new. Amen.