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August 31, 2010 / thomcaraway

Sticks & Stones: an examination of “Rock” and “Sling”

By Heather Wallace, assistant editor

Layers of meaning are a thing of beauty and a joy forever. This literary sense is a particular pleasure for those who participate both in the community of people whose souls leap and weep at combinations of syllables and the community of those who acknowledge that in the beginning was the Word. A God incarnate in consonants and conjugations demands the utmost literary effort, a constant deference to aesthetic, and the commitment to listen for truth in story and art—with the kind of patience and love that are lacking when one approaches Scripture merely as an instruction manual or Christian propaganda.

Rock & Sling is a proud home for literary moments of discovering and rediscovering the divine joy and truth hidden underneath vowels and behind punctuation. We are excited to live right at the intersection of wordsmith and Wordsmith. As the journal has moved to its new publishing home and new editors, we have all agreed upon the monumental mission of “Faith and Literature.” But an important part of the transition is to settle ourselves comfortably in our new identity. For me, that moving in began with a question of words: what do we do with the name “Rock and Sling”?

Setting aside the immediate Christian instinct for Bible stories, one first impression might be of a rock climbing magazine—hence my intentional effort to live up to our inherited name. But my first challenge was not the name’s distance from Christian imagery, but its closeness: it required work to clear my mind of the numerous illustrated, dare I say Veggie-taled, versions of David and Goliath that suggest cliché. So how to find fresh meaning in the midst of repetition, in a crowd of Baudrillard’s dreaded simulacra? The answer of course is the first rule of literature: savor the words.

As an advocate of reading Scripture as literature, this meaning-making effort was the perfect opportunity to let literature speak like Scripture. What is certain at the place of Rock & Sling is that God is still using words: words from unexpected places, whether unlikely poets or fictional tales claiming a stake in reality. Using my best tools of subjective response and expository research, I started listening for the truths contained in “rock & sling.” After all, one thousand retellings do not dull the simple beauty of braided twine on a callused palm.

Setting aside the fun plethora of “rock” puns, the first resonance of “sling” in my particular mind involved either neon green casts on broken arms or busy mothers keeping babies nearby. Toss in mischievious little boys with rubberized slingshots to get a little closer to the ancient weapon. But oh what a rewarding trinity of meanings! “Sling” propels me in three directions at once—the patient waiting and healing as bone knits bone new, the nurturing heartbeat that promises future good to new life, and the range of destruction that is possible when flying rock meets flesh. Perhaps everything boils down to life, death, and healing—or perhaps “sling” is just a wildly appropriate lens for literature.

Not a literary journal

I also found that a historical approach to contemplating “Rock and Sling” is rewarding. After all, the phrase does not recall familiar experiences for most modern writers and thinkers, so its full potential requires fleshing out. The shepherd’s sling is an ancient mastery of basic physics, a simple machine that effectively extends the length of the arm and uses rules of centripetal force and tangent to promise accuracy. It is not a weapon of equipment but of skill, requiring only a basic shape of braided fiber and any local ammunition—lead or clay bullets being popular and rocks and stones available in a pinch. A practiced user requires only one rotation to fire a projectile up to 400 meters and can reload in one smooth motion, firing a stone every few seconds. The shepherd’s sling was a low-status weapon, cheap and easy to come by but a priceless tool in hunting and combat.

The sling’s literary tradition is not too shabby either: making an appearance in Homer (Book III, 94); the Roman legends of the slingers of the Balearic islands who had to hit their food with a projectile before their mothers let them eat it; and the oldest known written account of rocks and slings in Judges 20, in the inter-tribal Israelite war that resulted from one of the more abhorrent Biblical crimes. Evidence of sling use can be found worldwide, from concurrent invention or cultural dissemination, with uses as varied as herding alpacas by scaring them with the stone’s thump on the ground. The use of slings to kill is especially poignant in an era of bloody explosions—contrasted with the quiet swoosh that heralds death without a particularly mangled body orsignificant loss of blood. The sling is still a weapon of choice in modern riots, filled with the debris of a modern society.

A literary journal says something lovely with a name that engages skill and caste, war and sustenance, cross-chronological and cultural connotations, weaponry and humor. What better metaphor for writing and literature than a literal rock and sling? Writers are ever eager to dismiss the adage of “sticks and stones.” Words count, and they carry as much impact as any river rock when slung with skill and cause.

The image of “Rock & Sling” braids together strands of Scripture and literature, twine of ancient universal human experience and the modern choice to pick up quiet weapons that stun and bruise. As a community of faith that claims the oft-told story of David and Goliath, how do we employ slings and rocks today? I think here at Rock & Sling we don’t have a method in mind: we’re waiting for the well-crafted words that coddle new life, that wait itchily for healing, that bruise and break the confident boasts of those who know certainly. As editors and readers, we want to be David, want to join our writers as they explore the consequences of combining skill and faith as an underdog warrior against the giants of popular culture. We also want to be Goliath—knocked dead by the way faith and truth fly from unexpected directions.

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