We ask our contributing authors to consider the role of faith in their work, or in the pieces in our issue. It adds some depth to what is often just of list of accomplishments that lacks any real sense of who wrote a particular poem or essay or story.
This selection from the contributor notes in issue 6.2 highlights the correlation our authors found between the mysterious, writing, and faith.
Jordan L. Adams
If As a Kid is not about Caleb, my cousin. Rather, the narrative grew from the desire to comprehend why my understanding of theology made it hard for me to love Caleb. As I searched for personal clarity I found that transparency in the writing was critical to discerning the truth. Initially I’d actually tried to fictionalize this story – to hide my family from scrutiny – but I couldn’t learn the same truths through the writing process without telling the genuine events. If As a Kid actually happened. We actually used the slurs that are mentioned. Colin actually cried. I actually sent cheesy cards. The story is my own attempt to love both God and Caleb, and not to love them in some wishy-washy, easy answer, political sense. There is mystery in both grace and writing, and for me the two are linked. I can take the Gospel seriously and love Caleb truly. As a writer and a Christian, I’m called to try, fail, rest in God’s grace, and persevere all at the same time. This is my version of a love story, however imperfect, and the writing itself has taught me to love better.
In terms of how these poems connect to each other and/or faith, I think they’re each working a pretty similar terrain: faith, for me, has everything to do with not knowing, with mystery. I’m maybe too taken by the generative qualities attendant to a lack of clarity—objects (paintings or poems or people, whatever) which have flexible meaning are the ones which we’ll never get tired of. I’m also—in each of these, and certainly overall, in my life—pretty moved by the ways we fulfill that old Stafford line: “I’d just as soon be pushed by events to where I belong.”
Everything I have to say about faith and literature—or life in general for that matter—can be summed up in Ecclesiastes 3:11: “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in their hearts, yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end.” Eternity is there in the heart, but the head can’t ever quite get around it.
Ariana Nadia Nash
The poem “The Night of Birds” comes from a collection in progress, titled The Book of Nights, which centers on a psychological rendering of night. The poems depict guilt, isolation, despair, and uncertainty, and find within these experiences the expansiveness of silence. The poems are an attempt to speak this silence but preserve it too—an act of faith in divinity and a deep respect for its mystery. “The Night of Birds” in particular focuses on helplessness, and yet affirms, in the transformative power of the imagination, the weight of even the most empty space.
[I believe] that Flannery O’Connor was right about most things. Like when she said that if a writer of faith “hopes to reveal mysteries, he will have to do it by describing truthfully what he sees from where he is.” This is precisely why I write essays—they are grounded in personal experience, and they seek to make sense of things by asking questions and by telling stories. I find it’s a way to see God in the mundane, a way to understand a bit more about Him that I would have missed if I hadn’t been writing about it. The form is one that wanders, that claims no particularly special knowledge, authority or experience. Cleaning oven knobs is as worthy a subject as any and, since I don’t find myself in particularly death-defying or often even interesting situations, I’m thankful that even the very ordinary can be fodder for thoughtful writing.
A lot of traditional Zen writing tends to be brief and cryptic. Part of its mysteriousness and impenetrability comes from a view that the true relationship between the absolute and the relative can’t be expressed adequately using linear language and ideas. Zen stories and poems are sometimes intentionally bewildering to nudge us toward deeper wisdom. Many Zen poems aim to express deep spiritual truth directly, rather than explain it. My poem “Whence” is written in this spirit, an effort to convey a taste of emptiness as it is understood and experienced directly through Zen practice.