This is a day of snow and hammers. Since Portland is ill-equipped to handle icy precipitation, and I am ill-equipped to drive in it, I am stuck in my house while men tear up the unit across from mine. So headphones and background music it is, while I sit at my desk, alternately typing and staring out the window–at the snow on the roof, at the muted gray sky, at the bare-limbed trees trembling in the wind. Play your violins, Pale White Moon, and I will sway to “Heirlooms.” Chant to me, Rose Ensemble, and I will intone “Rex Virginum.” Fill my head, white noise, and I will close my eyes and cover up all I don’t need to hear or see.
E.B. White said, “A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.” And what’s ideal? Not being unemployed and watching what little money I have get siphoned away. Not stalking job sites and waiting to hear back from potential employers. Not listening to construction or washing machines or hollering. Not winter weather that necessitates constantly having the heat on, making my lips so dry I have to bathe them in Vaseline every twenty minutes. And certainly not a brain that wants to dwell on anything but writing, nor a heart that’s wrenched towards friends in distress, nor a soul that’s dying for a faith that assures.
But ideal is not something that happens on this earth, at least not in more than isolated moments, and so I sit my stiff and aching body on the chair, shove in the earbuds, turn up the Gregorian chants, and open my new novel. What else can I do? Hello, Carmela, newest character and love. Let’s see what we can make happen today. Even if I can do nothing for no one else, not even myself, she needs me–I am her creator, and so I dig my hands into her world. Paul told Timothy, “Do not neglect your gift,” and I believe this was a command from God. And perhaps tending to my gift is more important now than ever.
Faith, like craft, is something that has to be learned, and without practice, it will never increase. But there are times, both in writing and in faith, when the wilderness you find yourself in looks awfully bleak, and you wonder why you’re here, why you’ve been charged with this task, and when you can expect to be lifted up. I remember, while I was earning my MFA, so many times, I wondered what I was doing. Why was I writing, since it seemed like I was never going to get any better? But I kept writing, and I did get better. Somehow, I did. I can’t say how or when–and I’m not saying I still don’t have much left to learn–but it happened, gradually. While I was hemming and hawing, crying and yearning to go back at every turn, change came, soft as snow.
In Romans 9:20-21, Paul says, “But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? ‘Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, “Why did you make me like this?”‘ Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?” I’ve talked back to God. Many times, I’ve asked Him, “Why did You make me like this?” Or, “Why are You doing this?” But so often, the “why” isn’t for us to know. That’s where faith comes in, and it is much easier said than done. But if living this way were easy, it wouldn’t be faith. And if God’s instruction always made sense, we wouldn’t need faith.
It shows up in the Bible time and time again: “Your faith has healed you,” and “Your faith has made you well.” But also: “So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief,” and “He did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.” And so, I keep thinking, “But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.” Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.” So on I go–through the wilderness, I’ll breathe just to keep walking, to remain faithful to God and my gift. And to trust that, when the time is right, I will look up, and without even knowing how it happened, I will find my world transformed and blanketed in white.