A Burst of Laughter: Some Thoughts About Writing

By

Last night I was up late. After the kids went to bed I climbed the cold hill in the dark from the Warren to my office (which is in my neighbor’s guest cabin), determined to write chapter thirty-two of my new book before I went to sleep. I don’t know why, but that chapter has been exceedingly hard to get my head around.

At about 1 in the morning I pinned it down. Or maybe I set it free. (Both metaphors apply.) I could hardly hold my eyes open, but I managed to perform my chapter-finishing ritual: a) save the document called “Chapter 32”, then b) copy and paste it into the body of the document called “All Chapters” so I can see my word count and page number and c) feel like I’ve accomplished something. It’s a good feeling, and on nights like last night, a hard-earned one. It’s the same feeling I get when I finish a five-mile run, or when I cut off the lawn mower, or when I lean my guitar case in the corner of the family room after a long weekend of shows. Good work means good rest.

The walk down the hill to our sleepy house is the crossing of a threshold. It’s a transition from the world of “what if?” to the world of “is”. The grass under my boots is something I don’t have to work to describe in a story–God did the work already, and I just have to walk. He described it and so it is. What a thing it is to walk on the grass of God’s imagination. The glow I see in the window is from an actual lamp on an actual nightstand, where I know a book is waiting to be read. I hear my dog in the woods. I remember that his echoing baritone bark is made up of actual soundwaves crashing out of his throat to ricochet off the trunks of the juniper, honey locust, and hackberry trees where an actual opossum is trembling in the brush. I sense these things on the cold walk home, and I marvel at this world God thought up. In the words of poet Richard Wilbur, “The world is fundamentally a great wonder.”

I am convinced that poets are toddlers in a cathedral, slobbering on wooden blocks and piling them up in the light of the stained glass. We can hardly make anything beautiful that wasn’t beautiful in the first place. We aren’t writers, but gleeful rearrangers of words whose meanings we can’t begin to know. When we manage to make something pretty, it’s only so because we are ourselves a flourish on a greater canvas. That means there’s no end to the discovery. We may crawl around the cathedral floor for ages before we grow up enough to reach the doorknob and walk outside into a garden of delights. Beyond that, the city, then the rolling hills, then the sea. And when the world of every cell has been limned and painted and sung, we lie back on the grass, satisfied that our work is done. Then, of course, the sun sets and we see above us the dark dome of glittering stars.

On and on it goes, all the way to the lightless borderlands of time and space, which we come to discover in some future age are but the beginnings or endings of a single word spoken from the mouth of God. Some nights, while I traipse down the hill, I imagine that word isn’t a word at all, but a burst of laughter.

Profile photo of Andrew Peterson

As a singer-songwriter and recording artist, Andrew has released more than ten records over the past fifteen years. His music has earned him a reputation for writing songs that connect with his listeners in ways equally powerful, poetic, and intimate. He has also followed his gifts into the realm of publishing. His books include the four volumes of the award-winning Wingfeather Saga.


56 Comments

  1. Amber Leffel

    I just want to be the first. (Still that toddler, yet in the hands of an oh-so-patient and gracious Father…) Amen. 🙂

  2. BuckBuck the Nordic Wonderduck

    “I am convinced that poets are toddlers in a cathedral, slobbering on wooden blocks and piling them up in the light of the stained glass. We can hardly make anything beautiful that wasn’t beautiful in the first place. We aren’t writers, but gleeful rearrangers of words whose meanings we can’t begin to know.”

    wonderful.

  3. Elisabeth

    This is Just so beautiful. You beautifully describe the “transition from the world of “what if?” to the world of “is”.” I think both of these “realities” enhances our appreciation for the other – anyway I know the world of “what if?” enhances my appreciation for the world if “is”. It’s wonderful writing a world into being, but more wonderful getting back to the real world. You desacribe the getting back perfectly!

  4. LauraP

    “Be praised for all Your tenderness by these works of Your hands”

    You and Rich. Lovely, lovely.

  5. Derek

    What a wonderful post! It’s interesting that whatever hobbies and professions one has – running, writing, singing, etc. – we are simply reflecting Him who allows us these joys. I personally never feel more in touch with my Maker than on a cold, midnight run through the TN countryside. Indeed it is a marvelous world.

  6. Goodgame

    This is great, AP. It reminds me of some of my favorite C.S. Lewis writings where the beauty is as much in the writing as the truth being told. Keep it up. Whether through your songs or books or posts, we all benefit from your discipline with God’s gifts.

    Here’s one you reminded me of from Lewis’s “God in the Dock”

    Morality is a mountain we can not climb by our own efforts; and if we could we would only perish in the ice and unbreathable air of the summit, lacking the wings with which the rest of the journey is to be accomplished. For it is from there that the real ascent begins. The ropes and axes are ‘done away’ and the rest is a matter of flying.

  7. Allison

    Thank you. I try to be a writer and I am becoming a scientist and there is something in this post that captures part of that melding: God as Creator, the Artist and the Scientist both displayed in what He has made, and my feeble attempt to follow in His thoughts.

  8. Bruce Hennigan

    I plan to read this EVERY day for the next four weeks as I go through my editor’s suggestions for my first novel rewrite. It reminds me it is the STORY that sings and moves, not the words and letters and paragraphs. Thank you, thank you, thank you for breathing some of God’s life into these words!

  9. Joan Olsson

    “On and on it goes, all the way to the lightless borderlands of time and space, which we come to discover in some future age are but the beginnings or endings of a single word spoken from the mouth of God. Some nights, while I traipse down the hill, I imagine that word isn’t a word at all, but a burst of laughter.” Lovely writing – and a wonderful peek into an amazing future for the believer.

  10. Ashley Elizabeth

    Yes, Laura P, yes! I’ve been in a Rich Mullins place for several days. All Rich, all the time. It’s been awesome indeed. I realized this morning why I care so deeply for the Rabbit Room/Hutchmoot/et al. I would have loved to been a part of the Kid Brothers of St. Frank. Without sounding worshipful of the gift and not the Giver, I feel like in this sacred space, being a part of something that deep and wide is possible. I so cherish the products and processes that come from the Love found here.

    Thank you, AP.

  11. Tony from Pandora

    “I am convinced that poets are toddlers in a cathedral, slobbering on wooden blocks and piling them up in the light of the stained glass.”

    Could you have written a line like that before being a parent? Because I’m not sure I would have the same appreciation for that line if I wasn’t one. What imagery…

  12. sallie kate

    I love these thoughts. We get so prideful in thinking the works of our hands are so original.
    I feel tiny in the midst of His vastness…and yet He laughs and sings over me, finding me significant simply because I am His.

  13. Kris C

    wow. This was beautiful and pure poetry. Wow. Thank you for such a beautiful post…How true it is.
    Blessings and inspiration to you, as you continue the good work….

  14. KRF

    Reading this is humbling ~ and brought to me, yet again, that God wants me to live in His world of “IS”…

    I’m with Nicole ~ this has hit me in a place that takes the breath away.

  15. carrie luke

    Reading this gave me a deep, quiet, warm, happiness. A happiness with the awareness that all in the same breath…I was created by the Ultimate Creator, to create something beautiful out of His creation. Only a Father’s love could be so inclusive in His invitation for me to leave my hand print in His clay.

    wonderful thoughts, Andrew. And a beautiful hope.

  16. Jessica

    This is beautifully written. I adored the toddler imagery: how good and right that we should be only a toddling reflection of the mature Creator, but how good and right that we should enjoy the act of creation nonetheless, since we are little images of Him.

  17. Aaron Alford

    “I am convinced that poets are toddlers in a cathedral, slobbering on wooden blocks and piling them up in the light of the stained glass.”

    As someone who can struggle for hours to get just a few meaningful lines down on page (or computer screen), hoping that what I write may possibly be beautiful but being willing to settle for “doesn’t stink,” I can’t say I can call myself a poet. But I can definitely relate to the slobbering.

    Maybe its enough, once in a while, to put down the blocks and just stare at the coloured sunlight on the floor.

  18. Susan

    These words are rich; I feel wealthy after reading such a post. I need to re-read, and make another deposit in my soul. Thank you.

  19. Dana

    Reminds me of the triogy written by Chris Walley [Lamb among the Stars]. I was rereading the first book and the main character was describing the world similarly. I highly recommend the books if you enjoy Sci-Fi.

  20. SarahN

    Thanks for this! I’ve spent these last two days in upstate NY snowed in and doing nothing but writing, writing, and trying to write. Your metaphorical “cathedral” is a place I know. Thanks for reminding me to surface and see it for what it is.
    “What a thing it is to walk on the grass of God’s imagination.”
    Amen.

  21. dip rippy

    Your musings reminded me of a passage from one of my favorite books:

    It seems, then,” said Tirian, smiling himself, “that the Stable seen from within and the Stable seen from without are two different places.”

    “Yes,” said the Lord Digory. “Its inside is bigger than its outside.”

    “Yes,” said Queen Lucy. “In our world too, a Stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world.” It was the first time she had spoken, and from the thrill in her voice Tirian now knew why. She was drinking everything in more deeply than the others. She had been too happy to speak.

    in The Last Battle, by C. S. Lewis

    Thanks for your post and for “drinking everything in more deeply than others”.

  22. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    A clear conduit, AP. The best thing your imaging gives me in this post is the idea of unlimited riches and creativity being available; we just have to grow in order to see and appropriate – toddlers in a cathedral have the potential to learn and grow to see beyond wooden blocks and mud pies. In this particular time in my life, that vision of unlimited creative resources is much needed. As I wipe the slobber off my face for a moment, I say thanks to ye.

  23. luaphacim

    This post is a perfect example of why metaphor can do things that are impossible for declarative language to do. The strands of Truth attached to each of your images are much less tenuous and much more useful than the ones in most philosophical or apologetic texts I’ve read lately.

    Thanks for being a willing conduit of the Maker’s message, AP!

  24. Jon CutFromTheSameCloth Slone

    More yummy than rainy-day naps and grass-stain and fondu pots and tater tots and Star Wars Death Star Space Station boxes and stick guns and summer vacations and back to school shopping and original jams and 8-track players and kick balls and lemonade stands and Tee-ball practice and leaping from a swing and noon-time reveries!

    Words are retardedly dope! And you sir maneuver them around a foolscap backdrop with the best of them!

    Galatians 6:14

  25. Kalen

    Words have such incredible power. The power to build up. The power to tear down. The power to open our eyes to that which we couldn’t see before. The power to narrow our thinking or broaden our perspective.

    Your words help to shape and broaden my perspective of God. What a wonderful God we serve.

  26. Joy C

    Re: “Walking on the grass of God’s imagination…”
    I was just listening to a teaching by Allister Begg on Isa 66, where God says:
    “Heaven is My Throne and the earth is My footstool” and I got laughing and thinking:
    “Could I tickle Your feet?”

    Oh yeah, and “toddlers in a cathedral, slobbering on wooden blocks…”

    Yes, and the last paragraph. I do think you’re right. It’s a burst of laughter.

  27. E

    AP,

    Late to the ball on this one, but thanks for writing this and for sharing it with us.

    Your music nudges me to songwriting. I don’t have your gift there, but it’s still a lot of fun.

    Your words nudge me to write. You really have a knack for sparking the creative tinder in my own heart. I suspect I’m not alone in that.

If you have a Rabbit Room account, log in here to comment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *