Space Walking in Glass Slippers

Do you need glass slippers for a space walk?

Two women walked in space this week (without men) for the first time. This event was scheduled for last spring but had to be postponed when NASA discovered that they did not have two spacesuits the right size for both women.

Really?

For some reason, this detail of the space walk news story made me think of Cinderella. Yes, Cinderella.

Even as a child, I was curious about those glass slippers of hers because I knew that shoe stores where we shopped tended to have more than one pair of each size of each style of shoe. Didn’t anyone else in the whole kingdom wear the same size shoe as Cinderella? And besides that, how can a person walk in glass slippers without breaking them?

What does this have to do with this week’s space walking women? Perhaps nothing. But I am blogging every day in October, and the struggle to find daily content is real!

AND I try to write a news related poem each week to submit to Rattle.com. Rattle publishes one poem each Sunday that a poet has written in response to news stories from the previous week. This is my 69th submission and my 69th rejection.

No matter.

I still wonder about those glass slippers and how the story would have turned out if the lost slipper had fit someone else’s foot before the prince every made it to Cinderella’s house. Or what if Cinderella’s frantic flight from the ball as the clock chimed had shattered both slippers?

But Cinderella’s story is just a fairytale, and this 20th Blogtober blog is no place to unpack such philosophical “what ifs.”

In any case, I celebrate this week those space walking NASA women who heard the stars call their names—and who can now find spacesuits in their size.

Space Walking in Glass Slippers

Do you need glass slippers
for a space walk?

I’m asking for Cinderella,
the woman with the fabled foot
in that magical
once upon a time
from my childhood.

She was lucky, don’t you think,
since the prince only had
one size that didn’t fit all—
one size 
that didn’t fit 
anyone else but her
at the ball.

Yes, she was lucky,

wasn’t she?

unless she 
tumbled
stumbled
down the stairs that night
slippers shattered,
dreams
unfettered
when she heard distant stars
calling out to her: 
“May we have this dance?”

Posthumous Functionality?

Many of us yearn for immortality or at least to know that some residual reminder or evidence of our existence will remain when all that is left of us is our remains.

What remains–

My mother died almost three years ago. We get mail addressed to her almost every week, even from businesses and vendors who have gotten a message from me about her death.

Today when the mail carrier came to our house, our friend John was visiting. John, Sheila, and I were standing on the sidewalk out front. The mail carrier handed Sheila our mail. She thumbed through it, handed me an envelope, and said, “Can’t you tell these people to stop sending mail to your mother!”

I said back to her, “I have already told them–twice. I don’t think we will ever stop getting mail for her.”

John offered sage wisdom in response: “I guess that is the real sign of our immortality.”

We all laughed.

And I began to think about immortality. What else is a theologian to do, after all?

In search of digital immortality?

John then shared a related story about his Facebook account. Not too long ago he received a communication from Facebook asking him who he wants to “leave” his Facebook account to when he dies.

“I guess that is another way to be immortal,” John said.

I Googled “Facebook immortality.” While “immortality” did not score many hits on the search, something else did–a 2015 news headline:

Facebook introduced a new legacy contact feature in the U.S. on Thursday–allowing users to choose who can manage their accounts once they’ve died–and it’s something we should all think about activating. . . Facebook follows Google in providing this type of posthumous functionality, and we expect other sites to follow suit.

Amy Mae Turner, February, 2015
Or posthumous functionality?

Posthumous functionality. Now, there’s a concept to puzzle, if not bemuse, a theologian.

The word “posthumous” is related to “humus,” or ground.

A biblical and liturgical insight comes to mind for me when I hear the word “humus”:

You are dust, and to dust you shall return.

Genesis 3:19, NRSV

The biblical book of Genesis depicts God forming the first human out of the dust of the ground. Then God puts the human in the Garden of Eden “to till it and keep it.”

We are mortal. We are from the earth. Spirit-infused, scientifically and biologically astounding dust but still a configuration of dust. And many of us yearn for immortality, or at least to know that some residual reminder or evidence of our existence will remain when all that is left of us is our remains. Or we ache for our lives to have mattered. Or we hope that when our days come to an end we will have made some sort of difference in the world.

This is not the first time in recent weeks I have wondered about what might happen in the future to all of our digital artifacts. Will technology change so much that photos and other memorabilia stored in the cloud will one day just become incompatible and irretrievable?

But I digress.

For those of us who are dust and will return to the dust, what is our posthumous functionality?

Really?

Sustaining life
Photo by Sheila G. Hunter. Used by permission.

Classical theological discussions of immortality come to mind here. Immortality has to do with what happens after physical death, with eternal life in some traditions, with the afterlife as it is understood in diverse religious traditions. Immortality has something to do with what we believe about what happens when we die.

My thinking today about immortality took a different direction as John, Sheila, and I stood on the sidewalk at the end of a workday. As we talked about never-ending junk mail and everlasting Facebook accounts, another word came to mind for me–“sustainable.”

What if we yearned for sustainability–of the earth, of communal well-being, of relationships–rather than for immortality?

I am still reflecting on what this idea means for how I live day to day. I use my Facebook account quite a bit, and I have numerous photos and documents stored in the cloud. I am writing these ideas on my WordPress blog, and I have a YouTube channel. Where will all of that data be in a decade or two? Who knows. And who knows what the digital “me” will look or sound like when the dusty me has expired.

Called to till and tend

For today at least, I find myself hoping that I can do my part toward sustaining this humus, this speck of cosmic dust we call earth–tilling and tending it so that it is healthy and life-giving for future generations. And I believe that sustaining the earth and our human community requires that I do what I can to engender justice, compassion and reconciliation in the places where I live, work and play.

John didn’t say how he responded to Facebook’s “legacy” invitation. What I know about John’s legacy is this: he lives a life of kind generosity, and I consider him kindred.

And my mom? Well, she lives on in quite a few direct mail databases. But more than that, her life is sustained in and through mine, and for that I give thanks.

dust

I am dust; to dust I shall always return.
But don’t assume as you disturb my rest

with your omnipotent kitchen broom that
I am mere debris to be swept up and away.

Remember. We are interfused, you
and I, suspended in each other,

vestigial particles of endless galaxies,
diminishing and becoming, deposited

but for a moment amid yesterday’s dinner
crumbs and dog hair. Tomorrow?

I am cyclonic, whirling through dry valleys;
And I am the cadence of the soil, eternity

dug up in a spade and sown with ordinary
mystery. Still, don’t assume I am magic either,

or that you are, except when in a distant
sun-soaked garden we tango with the departing

light and time’s muted colors bend onto our
backs and we carry life across ancient seas

to fertilize the future. Remember. You are
dust; to dust you shall forever return.

Why the Begats Matter

People’s lives are at stake.

if we want to stand for justice in our world.

Atatiana Jefferson was murdered by a police officer this week. She is the most recent victim of murders of innocents. I lament her death, but lament is not enough to stop the madness. I have a responsibility to see her as my kin. The Gospel demands of us this radical reconstrual of our identities, attitudes, and behaviors.

The Christian New Testament’s Gospel of Matthew begins with “begats.” Genealogy matters in the recorded story of Jesus.

Genealogy in the New Testament is also a bit peculiar as genealogies go. The Gospel of Luke’s begats are different than Matthew’s. Why is that? Did the two writers have two different family Bibles (and thus two different versions of Jesus’s ancestry)?

Scholars disagree on why Luke’s and Matthew’s genealogies differ, and this essay is not the place to muddle through the scholarly debates. What is clear is that genealogies held value for both of these ancient writers.

Genealogies say something about who we are by saying something about who our ancestors are. They also set boundaries between insiders and outsiders. Who has the right bloodline to inherit this or that name or property or authority? Who begat whom with whom and from whom? Genealogies set parameters for personal, social, and political life stories.

What do Jesus’ genealogies tell us about his identity?

Most genealogies in patriarchal societies focused on male ancestors. That is what makes Jesus’ genealogy in the Gospel of Matthew so striking. Note some of the names recorded by the writer of Matthew as part of Jesus’ family tree:

Tamar (Genesis 38)
Rahab (Joshua 2)
Ruth (The Book of Ruth)
Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11)
Mary (the mother of Jesus)

Women are included in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus, even some Canaanite and Joabite women. So-called “outsiders.” Women who were deemed scandalous. The genealogy even includes an unnamed woman, “the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” We know her as Bathsheba.

Surfacing “subjugated knowledge”

Matthew’s genealogy brings to mind for me the work of French philosopher and historian Michel Foucault. Foucault constructed “genealogies” of contemporary practices and institutions. His aim was to show how present power dynamics emerged out of struggles, conflicts, alliances and power plays that are too often buried or forgotten.

Foucault sought to surface “subjugated knowledge” that is routinely muted or disqualified by dominant or more powerful voices.

Matthew’s Gospel disrupts the usual bloodlines and histories to include the stories of outsiders in Jesus’ genealogy. If Jesus was born to remake the world and transform the human story, then he needs a subversive and radical genealogy that includes those routinely discounted. Matthew gives us that.

Who do we name in our genealogies?

Why does this subversive begatting matter? The reason, for me, takes the shape of a question:

Who do I name in my genealogy? I have my family tree, of course, the one that Grandma recorded on those pages in the center of the Crainshaw Bible. I have a responsibility to be aware of my family’s history. Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus urges me to take this a step further. Matthew’s genealogy urges me to pay attention to whose names are not recorded on those glossy family tree pages.

The presence of the women in Jesus’ genealogy signals that Jesus’ life-story will inaugurate a new and unexpected identity for the people of God, one where subjugated knowledges, bodies, and stories are respected and embraced as kindred.

A call to radical kinship

Too many people in our communities today face violence, danger, and even death because of their race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender, economic reality–in other words, because they reside in realms of “subjugated knowledges.”

The time has come for those of us who claim kinship with Jesus to reimagine our genealogies. Who are the Tamars, Rahabs, Ruths, Bathshebas, and Marys in our communities? In our life stories? Where can we encounter those whose wisdom and voices have been subjugated or denounced or destroyed by the powers that be.

Whoever our Tamars, Rahabs, Ruths, Bathshebas and Marys are, we need to name them, lament the pain they have experienced, confess our participation in the injustices they have endured, and do whatever we can to celebrate our kinship with them in the beloved community of God.

And our responsibility does not end with lament, confession, and celebration. People’s lives are at stake.

Jesus calls us to stand with those relegated to and endangered on the margins, even if we risk our own security and privilege by doing so.

The begats matter in the genealogy of Jesus. They matter for us too as we work to extend radical hospitality and inclusivity to others. And they matter if our lament over Atatiana Jefferson’s death is to move us to everyday actions that, because we are her kin in God’s beloved community, resist injustice in all of its forms.

When Wisdom Is Silent

It’s noisy out there. And in here (in my heart). So hard to know what is real. Authentic. True.

Listening for Liturgy’s Strange Voices in Speech-Saturated Public Spaces

Note: I am giving the Aidan Kavanagh Lecture at Yale’s Institute for Sacred Music next week. This is a draft of the introduction to my presentation. Or perhaps it is a draft of the preface to the introduction, the primary word here being draft :).

Is that true? Really? Come on, now. That’s a Babylon Bee article, isn’t it?

I can’t believe I just spent that much time reading that post. 

How many views did I get? Only half as many “likes”? Why didn’t those other people “heart” my photo? 

It’s noisy out there. And in here (in my head). So much static. Interference. Meme-omic chatter.

Permutations and op-ed combinations “to infinity and beyond” (or so it seems).

Anybody and everybody talking about anything and everything on any and every platform.

Traffic honking. Politicians fili-blustering. Information speeding down super-spyways.

News headlines blaring. Guns firing. Sirens wailing. And people too.

It’s noisy out there. And in here (in my heart). So hard to know what is real. Authentic. True.

I think part of the noisiness is because so many of us are searching, hoping, longing, yearning for, even scrambling for–something. Maybe we long for what my mama used to call the “gospel truth.” Of course, she didn’t realize that her use of the phrase harkened back to a time when to tell the “gospel truth” meant to speak a “truth” as undeniably believable as, well, you know–“the Gospel.”

Let’s Google that. Google what? The “Gospel truth.” What is the “Google truth” about “Gospel truth”?

Truth that is undeniably believable? Undeniably believable for whom? And which Gospel? Aren’t there four in the biblical canon? Four perspectives. Four voices. Four contexts. Four portraits.

Gospel truth. From the Old English, God (good) spel (news) truth? Good news truth. Good tidings truth, as some dictionaries suggest. I like that. But who talks about “tidings” these days except at Christmastime?

And where do we look–or listen–for good tidings truth in today’s speech-saturated public spaces?

Thus the title for my presentation–When Wisdom Is Silent: Listening for Liturgy’s Strange Voices in Speech-Saturated Public Spaces.

I am curious–ironic, isn’t it, that “curious” is from the Latin, curiosus, or “careful,” from cura, or “care”–I am curious whether and how worship practices can infuse speech-saturated spaces with good tidings that disrupt the clang and clamor of the truth and knowledge power-brokers-that be. How can our liturgies be places where estranged voices can be heard and respected as proclaimers of good tidings wisdom?

[An aside–a comment, if you will–curious is related to curate which is from the Latin, curatus, which means “to take care of” which also means “spiritual guide or priest.” I Googled that, btw. A curate is a priest? To curate the truth is to “priest” the truth? Is that true, really? How does liturgy curate truth?]

Over many years, I have pondered the relationship between Wisdom Woman and the Strange Woman in Proverbs. They both call out in public places. One is praised; the other is vilified. Is it possible that liberating and healing truth is both wise and strange? That God is both wise and strange? And how do we have ears to hear either through the cacophonous discord of our public speech-making?

Thus ends this prefatory draft. Stay tuned. I know I am. Indeed, I wait in hope for the next words and sentences to be revealed…

It’s the Great Pumpkin Season, Charlie Brown!

I have a different theory altogether about the origins of manufacturers’ efforts to pumpkin spice the world at the start of each September.

Pumpkin Season is here!

…pumpkin spice lattes
…pumpkin spice bagels
…pumpkin spice donuts
…pumpkin spice pound cake
…pumpkin spice pancakes
…and, yes, even pumpkin spice Cheerios

Photo by Sheila G. Hunter. Used by permission.

But wait. Am I misrepresenting the season? Am I on the verge of doing a terrible disservice to the noble pumpkin that hales from the Cucurbita genus and is therefore a great aunt to cucumbers, melons, and squash?

Yes, I can almost hear the exasperated eye-rolls of the pumpkin season deniers and pumpkin purists. The 65,900 acres of pumpkins harvested in the US in 2018 (according to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service) were not grown in soil seasoned with cinnamon and cloves. None of the more than 1.5 billion pounds of pumpkins that turned those acres orange last fall tasted or smelled anything like a latte.

That’s because pumpkin and pumpkin spice products are connected in name only, right?

A Matter of Taste
Photo by Jill Crainshaw.

Five spices make up the addictive (at least to some people) flavors in the famous (or is it infamous) “Pumpkin Spice Latte” (PSL): cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, and allspice. These spices, mixed together in various proportions into coffee or cake batter or ice cream, somehow make some of us think “pumpkin.”

And I have to admit that even to a pumpkin season devotee like me, this is something of a curiosity. Like my friend says, “Pumpkin itself has no taste—lots of nutrients—but no taste.”

Well, I suppose the whole debate over Pumpkin Season actually is a matter of taste. And I have to admit, while I think pumpkin does have a taste, a pumpkin picked from my backyard garden and baked in my kitchen oven doesn’t taste or smell like a PSL.

Over the Harvest Moon about Pumpkin Spice Everything
As pictured online in an advertisement.

So—what ignited the pumpkin spice craze that led to over $80,000,000 worth of PSL sales in 2018? Why are so many people so over the harvest moon about pumpkin spice everything? And, as an aside, if you will, who is buying that Limited Edition Pumpkin Spice Beard Oil I saw on my newfeed? (Even this pumpkin fan was surprised to discover this addition to the seasonal offerings!)

A 2015 BBC News Magazine author, Vanessa Bradford, sought answers to these questions. She interviewed food scientist, Kantha Shelke, who offered this insight:

“Pumpkin is not a favourite food. Children and many adults often avoid pumpkin as they do rutabagas and some root vegetables. But many of us believe we should be happier (and nicer and more giving) during the holidays and pumpkin-spice products are just one of those things – like juniper and pine and wood burning stoves and fireplaces – that can change our frame of mind.”

Kantha Shelke

Does this mean we can attribute skyrocketing pumpkin spice everything sales to nostalgia, marketing, and social media hype along with a rather bittersweet (which is not a PSL flavor) desire for a particular mind-and-heart-set?

The Great Pumpkin Theory

I, for one, am eager for transformed hearts and minds. But I don’t really think PSLs or other pumpkin-y products are a necessary variable of transformation. (What the necessary variables are is subject matter for another post that in a stroke of irony has to do with “seeing Jesus in a mocha“–not a PSL.)

I have a different theory altogether about the origins of manufacturers’ efforts to pumpkin spice the world at the start of each September.

Last year’s Jack-O-Lantern at my house, carved by Sheila Hunter. Photo by Jill Crainshaw.

Do you remember back in the 1960s when Charles Schulz wrote and produced the animated TV special, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown? In the show, Linus gives up trick-or-treating on Halloween night and stays awake into the night waiting for the Great Pumpkin to come to his “sincere pumpkin patch”?

The Great Pumpkin never shows up.

My theory? Those of us in my generation (I will leave it to you, dear reader, to decide who that is) who sympathized with Linus have spent the last five years filling the void left by the no-showing Great Pumpkin with, well, the spice of pumpkin that doesn’t require an actual pumpkin or even the pumpkin patch.

Spicing Up Life and Sowing Seeds

I love Pumpkin Season. Yes, I know that my frame of mind and my shopping during said season are probably being shaped by the advertising and marketing powers that be. Even so, I relish the first day of Pumpkin Season (September 21 for me, my birthday) and the way it spices up my life rhythms with the promise of autumn.

I also relish the opportunities Pumpkin Season provides for me to sit down in a favorite coffee shop with a friend, enjoy a sip ‘o the season, and delight in the delectable spices we contribute to each other’s lives.

And in those moments of sharing, perhaps we sow seeds (and not pumpkin seeds) that have the potential to transform hearts and minds.

“Harvest Moon, 2018. Photo by Jill Crainshaw.

Churchgoer Sees Jesus in a Mocha

To sip together at God’s table, even with strangers, is to share God’s wide-open, life-altering, cosmos-sustaining love and grace.

well, not really, but God’s Spirit was present in that mocha moment. . .

Note: I first wrote this post in June 2015. My mother has since died, and on Sundays I often think about her and our mocha moments. I revisited this piece for #blogtober. As I reread and revised it for today’s post, I realized—many people are hungrier than ever for a glimpse of the sacred, in particular when it is revealed through justice-making and shared hope.

“Churchgoer Sees Jesus in a Mocha.” Can’t we picture such a headline in our news feeds? We have seen announcements like it before: “‘Virgin Mary Grilled Cheese’ Sells for $28,000.” The now-famous grilled cheese was reported to have an imprint of the Virgin Mary’s face on it. It had been stored in a baggie in a bedroom dresser for ten years before we heard about it in the news in 2004.

$28,000? Are we that hungry for a glimpse of the sacred?

Social media outlets have been abuzz recently about churches in survivor mode. Statistics paint a grim picture of the future of institutional Christianity. What are churches offering that people aren’t buying? 

What are we hungry for today?

A mocha stirred up these thoughts for me. You see, I have been seeing something that looks a whole lot God’s Spirit swirling about in a mocha I have a date with each week. 

The mocha itself is at best mediocre. I get it for free from one of those institutional coffee machines you find in hospitals or convenience stores. I press one of six buttons–hot chocolate, mocha, cappuccino (regular or decaf) or coffee (regular or decaf). The machine ponders my choice. Then it grinds and sputters and spits my beverage into a 6-ounce cup.

This particular machine resides in my mother’s senior adult apartment community. When my mother moved to my city, I was glad that the transition was not as difficult as other parental moves I had heard about. My mother pared down her stuff and moved with some ease from her house of 45 years into a studio apartment. The ascetic quality of her new space suits her just fine. 

More difficult was the change her move sparked for me. Overnight my schedule became tied to hers. My mother’s life became less cluttered, mine more cluttered.

That is how the mocha machine came to dispense more than just a mocha. I organize my mother’s medications every week. I also do her laundry. Once these tasks are done, she and I go downstairs to wait for her lunch hour. While we wait, I sip on a mocha.

I have never been a devoted mocha drinker, but the day the mocha machine was “out of order,” I was too. I had come to anticipate drinking that Styrofoam-seasoned, somewhat chocolate flavored drink.

I sat to wait with Mom the day the mocha machine was on the fritz. The stories and conversations went on around me as usual, and I found myself laughing and joining in. The weekly mocha had helped me in those initial months of transition to sit and listen and hear the wisdom-infused storytelling of my mother and her new friends. It had offered Spirit-sweetened seasoning to my caregiving activities.

Now, even without the mocha, I was connected somehow. Perhaps what many churchgoers seek is not unlike what I seek as a caregiver: moments when God’s Spirit sneaks in to stir up and transform.

If people go to church at all, they go seeking moments when their life stories are heard and held with care. They go wanting to experience something about their place in the human community. They go to encounter and even join forces with a God who is working to end injustice and heal our world. Neither exacting doctrinal analysis nor sentimentalized sacramentality will accomplish these things.

But perhaps cultivating holy “mocha moments” can. Coffee shops are popular these days. Many people love to grab a cup of java with friends over breakfast biscuits. Others go to coffee shops to drink their favorite roast at a solo table while working on their laptops. But even those of us who drink our coffee solo at coffee shops are not alone. Not really. We notice, we regulars, when Susan is not at her usual corner table. 

Could it be that we humans seek everyday community-making rituals and sometimes even embrace them as everyday sacred? Hmm … and could this mean that God is already loose and at work in the world? Does it mean that churches don’t have sole (or even primary) responsibility for naming and managing God’s presence beyond their walls?

I say “yes” to all of these questions.

Churches need to think about how their public and spiritual identities can be born again for our hyper-connected, coffee-shop-community times. Churches also need to pay attention to gifts already present in their worship traditions.

I learned as a child to look for Jesus in a bit of bread and a sip of drink. Before I started partaking of communion or learned anything about communion’s theological intricacies, I watched when folks in our church tipped their heads back to drain those tiny cups. I noticed that when my father returned to our pew after communion he had a different smell. I wanted to taste that drink. I wanted to smell different like he did. I also learned as a child that God loves me and others no matter what. God’s grace is about these things.

To sip together at God’s table, even with strangers, is to share God’s wide-open, life-altering, cosmos-sustaining love and grace.

Churches that will thrive in the future will fling open their doors not only to let God’s Spirit in but also to share physical food and drink with hungry people. They will also offer with determined joy God’s gifts of radical welcome and fierce generosity to all people.

Perhaps to the extent that we learn to welcome all—friends and strangers—to our church tables we make possible more of those everyday grace-filled moments when people glimpse something that resembles Jesus, even in a mediocre mocha.

On Rekindling Your Passion

Some passions keep luring us back into their embrace. Or is it their clutches?

for writing (and other callings to creative work)

I wrote my first novel–well, started writing it–with my best friend in fifth grade, Sandra. Sandra and I lived in the same neighborhood and spent many days after school hanging out together.

We didn’t start out to write a novel on that afternoon when we came up with the idea. For a few days, we had been curious about a vacant house down the road from where Sandra lived. Of course, we didn’t know any facts about the house or its occupants. All we knew was that one day tricycles and a Buick were parked out front and the next day they were replaced by a “for sale” sign. Something sinister must have happened, we surmised.

Our imaginations took over from there. After several days of conjecture, we decided to write a mystery novel featuring the now empty house and its departed inhabitants.

I don’t remember why we chose to record our unsubstantiated theories about the house in a novel. Looking back, that seems like an odd undertaking for a couple of ten-year-olds.

Both of us were devoted fans of 1970s teenaged sleuths–Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, Alfred Hitchock’s three investigators. Our love of reading those mysteries may have inspired our own writing aspirations. We were also avid watchers of “Dark Shadows,” a soap opera that we found to be funny and scary all at the same time. The story we began to imagine about that house down the street was scary–and hilarious–to us. We giggled as much as we wrote as we huddled around the typewriter on those after school afternoons.

I am certain the novel was a success. That, too, is unsubstantiated if success is determined by the quality of the writing or the quantity of books sold. We did not sell or even show the novel to anyone, and I have no idea what happened to the draft we created.

We typed our story on a portable Sears typewriter using typewriter paper we had cut to the size of novels we had checked out from the public library. Those typed sheafs of paper are long gone as is my memory of the plot and characters. Sandra might remember more than I do, but she and I lost touch over 40 years ago. I have a vague notion that she might be a pharmacist now–and maybe a writer, too?

Writing that novel ignited a passion within me. That is why I consider it a success. Ever since those afternoons of pounding out a plot on that manual typewriter on Sandra’s family’s carport I have loved to write.

In the years since I collaborated on that first mystery, I have written sermons, lectures, essays, academic books, blogs, poems, and stories. I have even co-written and published a full-length novel–Come Home Free–with a new writing partner, Sheila Hunter. None of my projects have made bestseller lists. Most of them have been read by only a handful of dedicated fans. Fame and fortune do not characterize my artistic endeavors. But over the years, I have continued to enjoy the writing craft and my identity as a writer. I love imagining myself to be a writer. I love being a writer.

On those days when my imagination has run dry or when I wonder if writing is worth the agony it causes (yes, writing is sweet agony most of the time), that debut novel that never debuted comes to mind. Or it should.

How can any of us rekindle our passion for creative work in the face of manuscript rejections, lack of readers, or just plain old loss of motivation? Three remedies come to mind.

First, we can take some time to remember what first sparked our artistic passions. One day after school Sandra and I jumped in and started writing a novel. We didn’t know how to do that or even have a good strategy for our efforts, but we had great fun spinning that fanciful yarn of ours. Those feelings of desire and enjoyment have never dissipated and have the power bring me back to the keyboard even on days when apathy threatens. Sometimes we need just to dive in and write.

Second, we can reignite our curiosity about the things we encounter in our everyday lives. We might even stoke our imaginations by observing and brainstorming with another artist or friend. I think such brainstorming sessions should always involve a certain amount of giggling.

Third, we can continue to create through the dry spells. It took me a long time to add “writer” to my resume. Through writing, I have developed my voice and gained clarity about what I believe and value. Writing connects me to other people and the world around me. Writing gives me space to follow paths that lead me away from emails and calendars. Sometimes I even write myself down unexpected trails where adventure lurks around the bend. I am a writer. Writers write. And writing itself can rekindle our passion.

I wish I still had a page or two of that childhood novel. I am curious about the voice and imagination of the ten-year-old me. I am also curious about what sort of tale Sandra and I decided to tell about that vacant house down the street. I am sad that those pages are gone. But a few manual typewriters are still around. The next time I hit a writing wilderness–when all else fails–maybe I will sit down at an old Sears and see follow whatever plot my fingers remember.

Photo by Jill Crainshaw