Tuesday, June 05, 2007


twin tulip

In a post called Tension, Charity explores the secret of balance in the writing life, but concludes that it cannot be achieved. A more apt term, she asserts, is tension.

Last week, I commented on her post, saying that I had experienced "tension" that very day, by giving up a precious writing night to respond to an unexpected crisis with a relative. Yet I had SO needed that writing night to work on a big talk for this week. I ended by saying, "Another aspect of the tension is sometimes having to give less than I could have to an audience, because other concerns press in hard."

This incident has emphasized something for me. Yes, I am a writer and a speaker. I work with words. In fact, the very talk I prepared during this crisis was on the topic of words— blessing others with words. But words need to go beyond the page. Like Jesus, the Word who became flesh, my words need to become flesh.

In this case, it meant giving up a writing night. Indeed, giving up the whole week to come. I admit that this birth of my "I Love You" words into flesh is not coming easily, just as a real birth is fraught with both joy and pain.

Yet the experience reminds me of something else too. It is God who gives me my words. And when life splits my attentions, and I have been as faithful as I can to both circumstances and my writing tasks, God's Spirit surprises me with the words I need... perhaps even giving me words I hadn't planned to say, to touch some heart invisible to me.

Twin Tulips on One Stem, photo by L.L. Barkat.

Seedlings Invitation: If you write a post related to this post and Link It Back Here, let me know and I'll link to yours.

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Blogger Mark Goodyear said...

And I think sometimes God surprises us with the actions we need too. He gives us strength and boldness that are beyond ourselves.

I do love words, but even Hamlet knew their limitation. Polonius asks, "What are you reading?" And Hamlet says, "Words. Words. Words."

Of course, Hamlet had a lot of trouble turning his words into action...

9:47 AM  
Blogger Heather said...

Great reminder about the Word incarnating, becoming flesh. I too am learning that sometimes I need to be protective of my writing time, and sometimes I need to be generous with it.

10:21 AM  
Blogger Lynet said...

Very appropriate. After all, the 'Word' in John 1 is Logos, which is "thought, meaning, reason" as well as "word". You could almost extend the idea to mean the fluid conceptual aether into which our experiences go and from which our inspiration comes.

1:20 PM  
Blogger Craver Vii said...

This tension is a funny thing. It has happened more than once, where I was forced to rush through one thing in order to be able to be properly thorough with another. And what happens? The rush-job gets all kinds of attention and the thorough prep goes unnoticed. *sigh*

2:43 PM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Mark... well, that's what I prayed for in this case. Because you know what? It seems like it should be easy to make our words become flesh, but the truth is I'm more selfish than I care to admit. Oh, and thanks for Shakespeare (how great is it that I have someone I can count on to bring Shakespeare into the room?) So, great Teacher, could you remind us where that Hamlet section is, and why Hamlet's words held great import at that point? (I bet they did.)

Heather... I think I tend to want to be more protective than generous, so this week has given me some real food for thought.

Lynet... welcome to Seedlings! In a word, how wonderful to have you here. Now, you must give me some concrete example of the fluid conceptual aether (because I'm just picturing an aqueduct, and I know that's not at all what you mean). As far as the Logos meaning "meaning", yes that's quite apt... for bringing flesh to our words surely must be involved in "meaning." (Sorry, so much meaning in one paragraph! :)

Craver... and so it goes. We put so much mental energy towards the things that sometimes matter least (well, to others)! In my case, I felt like both mattered greatly. I owe my relative true love. I owed my audience solid material. I guess that's why Charity lands on the term "tension."

4:04 PM  
Blogger Erin said...

Beautiful sentiment, LL.
I frequently feel tension between the things I'm passionate about and feel called to, and the daily grind... forgetting that the daily grind is also a part of my calling.

I'm so in the dark about how the Lord can make a way for me to do BOTH the passion and the grind.
But somehow He supernaturally pulls it off. I often pray, "Lord, multiply my time."

That's a great picture of the Word becoming flesh. And those who have the Holy Spirit living inside them might also be said to be the Word-in-the-flesh (although a dim representation). I think you made a good call to diversify your ministry last week. There are so many different ways to be Jesus with skin on. Writing, speaking and teaching, cooking someone a meal, sharing a kind word, holding an injured child, praying for a friend...sfiszksb

5:02 PM  
Blogger Lynet said...

Wonderful to be here :) I'll try to explain the idea I couldn't resist introducing into my previous post. I apologise in advance for the length

The "fluid conceptual aether" is a sort of concept space. It contains all concepts I'm capable of creating in the same way that a three dimensional vector space contains all possible three dimensional vectors -- sort of bleeding into each other without obvious boundaries. It's grown as an idea, but the earliest root of it that I can remember came from trying to understand metaphor in school when I was ten. If you're reading something metaphorical which doesn't have an obvious meaning, you can't catalogue the impression you're getting in defined, digital format, so if like me you like to be conscious of your own thought (am I doubly conscious, watching my own consciousness?) you have to find some other way of explaining what is going on in your head when you understand poetic language.

I started out making my mind blank, reading the words, and seeing what sort of feeling arose. Somewhere along the line, I started to imagine that I had this vast substance that could form any fluid, analog (as opposed to digital) concept that might be required. In my head it's iridescent, every colour and none, and it slips through your fingers as soon as you try to grab it. You take this great ocean that is concept space and you chuck the poet's words at it and see what forms.

You can also use concept space to hold a thought before you try to express it in words. You have a vague strand of concept-stuff before the words pin it down and define it. Shakespeare puts it beautifully, of course:

And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.

The "fluid conceptual aether" is, I guess, my way of referring to the airy nothing -- because it's not actually nothing, you know. Concept space is constructed out of everything you've seen and heard and felt and read, along with all the vague connections that you make between those things. From that you understand others' words, and from that you shape your own concepts that need wording.

I guess the third thing it's useful for is when you have some new experience that you know is going to change the way you are in some way you can't define (like viewing an artwork, or being kissed for the first time). Rather than trying to figure out consciously what it means to you, you chuck it into concept space and leave it to ferment...

5:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of Wendell Berry's comments about tension that I love so much is that we are tempted to avoid the tension so that we can do one thing perfectly. The problem is, even in just doing one thing, perfection is unrealistic.

I love your thoughts here, LL. They so resonate with my heart today.

5:36 PM  
Blogger Ted M. Gossard said...

L.L., Very good and one I must ponder. I want my life to be a word from God, really of the Word himself. And part of that are the words I think and say, words being a big part of who I am.

This deeply hits me and I want my life to be a love letter from God himself in Christ, full of grace and truth. What a tall order! And like you say, even as I think it as a male, like giving birth.

8:00 PM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Erin... as I muse on your words, I suddenly feel that the "grind" is perhaps our bigger text, though we writers often function the other way around (or is it just me who suffers from Writer Prima Donna syndrome?) The words I write may or may not be read, but the word I live, enflesh, well it has continual impact. And, now, you must tell me... what is sfiszksb? I believe I need help with that "word"! :)

Lynet... okay, I think I'm getting a sense of it now. So, in a phrase, it is like "chilling out," or "letting something wash over us"? It seems to me that when we encounter that which we don't yet have a schema for, we must let things bathe us; indeed, do we even have a choice, since we don't yet have a way to fully process the experience? It makes me consider what it must feel like to be a baby, where everything is new.

Charity... ah, clarity! Yes, yes, how true that we deceive ourselves into thinking even one thing, fully focused on, could be done to perfection! Wonderful point.

Ted... I like the image of your life being like God's love letter. And, I wonder, what male image might we come up with (anyone feel free to answer here) to communicate the same sense of that "tension" that the birth image gives us?

8:41 PM  
Blogger Andrea said...

What a great post, L.L. And your talk worked out just fine. :) The last little bit I managed to see!

9:20 PM  
Blogger Martin Stickland said...

Lovely tulips, I can alsmost smell them....atichoooo!! (sorry hay fever!)

6:29 AM  
Blogger Erin said...

I saved my fortune from a Chinese restaurant once, it said, "Often to do many things at once is to do nothing at all."

Loving Charity's thoughts on the elusiveness of perfection. Perfection is saved for one Person alone. Although that doesn't mean we shouldn't offer our best. We just ought to be realistic.

Writer Prima Donna... hilarious! Yeah, I'm a prima donna in my own way. Except of course, when it comes to embracing the daily grind. I leave that to the little people. I have more important passions to pursue. Higher callings and such. ;) (Yadda yadda yadda.)

I think that last bit was my word verification gone awry. Apologies.

12:12 PM  
Blogger Every Square Inch said...

Great discussion! It turns out that "tension" is on my mind as well with a different twist. On my blog, Mark Goodyear highlighted the "tension" [my description] between pursuing success and becoming more like Christ.

Not having read Charity's blog, I posted an answer to Mark's question this morning...for me, it's about desire and reward. This discussion has given me more to think about.


3:00 PM  
Blogger spaghettipie said...

Whoa, some deep thinking going on here...

First, I LOVED the picture. It's just gorgeous.

Your thoughts (and everyone else's) around what it means for our "words to become flesh" give me something great to chew on. It made me think about how my actions reflect my true words - whether spoken or not. Sometimes what "is flesh" may help me to realize my unspoken words.

11:37 PM  
Blogger Lynet said...

So, in a phrase, it is like "chilling out," or "letting something wash over us"?

Not really. I mean, clearing your mind before allowing something to wash over you is one way to access it, but what I really mean is the whole complex of background knowledge and subconscious understanding from which our concepts form.

I suppose the idea really came into its own for me when someone asked me if I was a verbal thinker or a visual one. Because I tend to think in words, but I can do pictures if I have to (useful for mathematics!), and on top of all that I have some ideas that don't necessarily have a word attached ("fluid conceptual aether" is one -- I just made up that description to refer to it as I was writing the post -- although admittedly the nearly equivalent phrase "concept space" has been around in my head for a while). So the question arises "If it doesn't have an associated word, and you can't necessarily picture it, what is it?" It's raw concept.

It's quite startling, trying to explain this, to realise how incredibly complicated the idea actually is. I never really properly looked at it before.

Anyway, the reason I thought of it, reading your post, was because when you say things about 'words becoming flesh' you're not just talking about the words, you're talking about the meanings and concepts behind the words, and that, for me, is the realm of concept space and the fluid conceptual aether from which all concepts arise.

And then I thought about what it would mean for Jesus to be the Word in the sense of meanings-behind-words, what it would mean if you considered Jesus to be all your meanings and the source of all your understanding. Which is, I note for the sake of completeness, incompatible with my own perception of "concept space", because I think each person has their own space concepts they are capable of forming from their own experience, and if Jesus was my concept space and your concept space then we would have the same concept space. But if you wanted to make a theology (should that be heresy?) out of this I suppose you could postulate that we each develop our own Platonic reflection of the Word (logos, reason, meaning) that is Jesus in our own head.

And then this atheist decided maybe she'd better go hide under a rock, because the idea of believing such a fundamental, universally swamping part of yourself to be inextricably allied with some aspect of a Supreme Being has shades of a religion that it would be hard to get out of, and that is a Really Scary Thought.

Of course, technically each person's fluid conceptual aether contains a lot of evil as well as good, so it's probably not Jesus. Phew.

8:44 PM  
Blogger Ted M. Gossard said...

Good question, L.L. Nothing quite as painful or evocative as giving birth. Even Paul used that analogy concerning his own concern for the Galatian professing believers (I think in ch 3).

The process to becoming more and more like Christ and partaking of God's holiness is wrought with some very difficult places in which there can be deep grief and darkness, followed by the light and joy of God. This being so as we deal with heart issues and really do so by the Spirit and the Word and within community, as well as between ourselves and God.

9:29 PM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Lynet, I'm going to have to admit that my concept space isn't quite merged with your concept space yet, on the concept of concept space (is that a record use of the word concept in one sentence?) But I'm thinking you'll find this to be good news, as a convergence of concept space might imply some kind of universal connection, which might imply some kind of Divine?

Anyway, this is to say that I humbly admit that I don't understand. Still, I have a question... could you and I have a similar concept space about, say, broccoli? Or maybe dandelions? (Sorry, Craver.) Or is concept space reserved for things no one has yet experienced and named?

Okay, and a question that may sound loaded but which I also humbly ask... what is it about religion that is so scary? And must Jesus necessarily be as scary as religion? (Does somehow considering Him equal considering religion?)

Oops. That was more than one question. (Not a cool mistake to make in the company of a mathematician!)

10:12 PM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Ted, so I'm thinking maybe "volcano" could be a masculine image that communicates the same thing. In other words, there is great destruction paired with great construction of new earth. The "pain" of earth's rupture in exchange for the building of more earth with more life in the future. Sorrow and joy in one event.

10:16 PM  
Blogger eph2810 said...

I agree, sometimes we have to 'live' the words we write. I am often reminded in my daily life that we need to walk the walk and not just talk to the talk.
I love the picture of the split tulip. I have never seen one like it.

Be blessed today and always.

10:09 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

True words of wisdom. Thanks.

As for "tension", I think it is a wonderful descriptor of the Christian life.

And thanks for the beautiful photos.

4:57 AM  
Blogger Lynet said...

Could you and I have a similar concept space about, say, broccoli? Or maybe dandelions?

Yes and no. You and I probably have a similar concept of broccoli and/or daffodils because we relate that concept to the same physical object. However, if I rather like broccoli and you don't, then that would sort of go into our internal conceptions of broccoli, right? So that would be a difference. But yes, concept space includes all concepts, not just the unnamed ones. The unnamed ones are just the area where you have to start talking about concept space rather than just about words in order to include them.

Lynet, I'm going to have to admit that my concept space isn't quite merged with your concept space yet, on the concept of concept space (is that a record use of the word concept in one sentence?)

Well, given that the idea has as much to do with a particular way of thinking as anything else, if you prefer to arrange your mind differently it might be that you don't have a concept space in the same sense that I have one -- although judging by your writing ability this doesn't seem to hamper you much, if so. Which is weird on the one hand, because I tend to automatically assume that other people think in pretty much the same way I do, but on the other hand it makes sense, because I haven't always thought this way and probably won't always think in exactly this way.

But I'm thinking you'll find this to be good news, as a convergence of concept space might imply some kind of universal connection, which might imply some kind of Divine?

Well, in this situation, a convergence of concept space would be a sign that we're understanding each other, no Divinity needed. In fact, unexpected convergences of concept space might be better explained by telepathy, now that I think of it (something which I also withhold belief in, needless to say).

What is it about religion that is so scary? And must Jesus necessarily be as scary as religion? (Does somehow considering Him equal considering religion?)

Insofar as Jesus is possibly divine, yes, obviously to consider Jesus is to consider religion. What's so scary? Um, religion resembles a trap. Admittedly, I would never allow faith to be a virtue, so that part of the trap can be avoided except to the extent that it might subconsciously affect me, but, you know, religions in general only survive if they hold people, and most of them get very good at it.

Humanists quite often think of religion as crushing the human spirit -- no, bear with me! I can see your protest already. Yes, religion grows the human spirit, too -- grows it along very specific lines that to some extent serve the religion's purpose, that bind you more tightly to the religion, that quite possibly ask you to propagate it. If false -- that is, if the religion is false -- then what we're looking at here is the subversion of your own spirit for the purposes of propagating a falsehood. Kind of like, um, excuse the comparison, a parasite taking over your whole self.

I'm a little nervous talking about this. On the one hand, I suspect that my talking about what I dislike about religion is liable to have a similar effect on you to the effect that talk of "eternal damnation" can have on me -- because it's a lengthy exposition of some of the worst possible consequences if you're wrong that contains an implication that there's something very wrong with your point of view. For that I sincerely apologise, and I have to stress that I'm describing an emotion on my part, not an argument for my position -- and I'm only describing it because you asked! On the other hand, recognising that my view of religion has a strong "ick, ick, ick" factor leaves me open to the accusation that the only reason I don't believe in God is because I don't want to. Which isn't really true, because scientific integrity would demand that I accept the reality of God if I had good evidence for it. But I have to admit, I probably wouldn't like it much at first. People are like that.

8:25 AM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Eph2810... indeed, I'm beginning to wonder if we should write any words we don't intend to live (except perhaps in the spirit of reaching towards such ideals)

Greg... yes, I see that... tension in the Christian life. What, do you suppose, is one of the major points of tension?

Lynet... oh! Every time I hear from you I just think we need to go to a coffee shop, or on a great long walk through greening fields. There is more to say and wonder about than a blog seems to have space for. Mostly, I want to say that you needn't be nervous here. You will not offend me simply by thinking your true thoughts and sharing them honestly! (Maybe even throwing in a math equation or two to explain your ideas :)

I can say that I too have an ick, ick, ick sense of much of "religion." But you know what is funny? I don't have that simply with Jesus. With him, it's more like no, no, no! or yes, yes, yes! (Meaning that sometimes I can't bear to think how much is being asked and other times I can't bear to conceive of my life without his questions.)

10:20 AM  

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