Grace and Writer’s Block

By

Douglas Kaine McKelvey and I managed to live in the same city for more than a decade before we met. He was hired by my record label to write a new publicity bio and I met him at a coffee shop a few weeks ago to talk about my new album. We got the required interview stuff out of the way and spent an hour talking books, writing, songwriting, and illustration. I left the meeting with the feeling that I had just made a new friend. Doug has written a lot of songs and a few books, teaches creative writing to a group of high school students, and has a killer beard. We’re glad to have him. –The Proprietor

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The late Walker Percy had a habit of abruptly ending novels just shy of the moment when a protagonist might be expected to finally embrace some sort of redemption. Doubtless that persistent hesitation to describe the actual crossing of the threshold of the holy was what Percy had in mind when he asserted in one of his essays: When it comes to grace, I get writer’s block.

Maybe he was on to something. When I consider our collective history of attempts to translate the infinite mystery and wonder into a few descriptive phrases of prose or song lyric, there’s an admittedly high cringe factor. Somehow, it just doesn’t seem to come off—at least not when you approach it directly. It’s like trying to pluck a magic tail feather from a phoenix. Apparently, you’ve got to be very wily, vigilant and patient and sneak up on the thing from an odd angle. If it sees you coming, it’ll instantly disappear and leave you grasping at empty air.

Even as towering a literary giant as Dostoevsky seems to stumble at the end of the enormously brilliant “Crime & Punishment” when he tacks on a late conversion experience for that murderous rascal Raskolnikov. After all that came before it, the actual moment of surrender in the epilogue comes off as comparably flat and uninspiring.

So if Walker and Fyodor struggled with it, I guess I shouldn’t feel so bad about my own patchy record of trying to communicate mysteries like the incarnation and the movement of grace into human lives. But still I have to ask, what is it about grace that is inevitably so difficult to capture and communicate? Why is it that when we try to portray it or explain it literally and directly in song or film or story, it so often eludes us? Or, to approach it from the other direction, why is it that a metaphoric depiction of encounters with grace, somehow organically rooted in the narrative, is inevitably so much more powerful?

How does one, as a lyricist, novelist, or poet, communicate the idea of grace in a way that doesn’t do violence to the living wonder and mystery of the thing? Is it even possible to do so? Or when we attempt it are we like a child with a dull pocket knife approaching a frog to see what the mystery of life looks like on the inside. It’s going to be very, very hard to do without killing the frog.

But grace, at its heart, transcends biology and all manner of mechanics. Grace is the intrusion of something otherworldly, something foreign to our usual way of doing business. We come closer to actually describing it, I think, if we say that grace is “magical”. Isn’t that how we experience it anyway? It is mystical. It is something that we can talk in circles about, but that’s not the same as finding ourselves swept into and enveloped by it. Maybe that’s why we’ve long sensed that some of the most enduringly transformational works in Christendom have been the fantasy writings of folks like George MacDonald, J.R.R. Tolkein, and C.S. Lewis.

Francis Bacon said: The job of the artist is always to deepen the mystery. Is that what Jesus was doing with his storytelling? Rather than taking grace apart and analyzing the components or the mechanics of it, was he inviting listeners to enter through the door of the imagination, to emotionally live through a story, and to experience what grace might be like, and then to say: “That. That thing you just got a glimpse of. That thing you just felt stirring in you and around you. That was like the movement of grace. That was a glimpse of what love means. Of what mercy is. That’s what the kingdom of God is like.” Was he using story to draw us into an actual relationship with grace, to force us to wrestle with it rather than speak an easy “yes” or “no” to an abstract idea?

 Brennan Manning, in his book Ruthless Trust, issues the call: Send in the artists, mystics, and clowns. Their fertile imagination pours the new wine of the gospel into fresh wineskins. With fresh language, poetic vision, and striking symbols, they express God’s inexpressible Word in artistic forms that are charged with the power of God, engaging our minds and stirring our hearts as they flare and flame.

In our post-christian, post-modern culture, what kinds of images, what kinds of symbols, what kinds of stories, what kinds of songs will we tell and paint and sing and film that will again infuse our culture with the ideas of creation, sin, guilt, brokenness, sacrifice and redemption that are the necessary foundational building blocks for an understanding of this wild and untamable mystery called grace?

It’s a big question—and an important one—and therefore one that I don’t want to abandon indefinitely to the realm of the abstract. While I can’t always say why or how exactly, I do know that over the years there have been numerous works of art and music and literature that have been very real catalysts for epiphany moments, for the deepening of my own experience and understanding of who God is and what He’s about in this world. There have been, in other words, artists and writers who somehow got it right—or at least right enough.

So here’s my invitation to the Rabbit Room community: would it be of interest to anyone to use this comment thread as an opportunity to describe our own encounters with specific works of art, music, theater, film, and literature that have impacted us? I’m curious to know what creative expressions have carried the power to change other people’s lives and thinking, and eager to share a couple of my own epiphany experiences with works of graceful and grace-filled art. Anyone?

The remote descendant of Scottish horse-thieving ancestors, Douglas McKelvey has already bested the dubious achievements of his predecessors by authoring five published books, writing and directing a passel of video projects, and penning lyrics for more than 250 songs recorded by a variety of artists including Switchfoot, Kenny Rogers, and Jason Gray. Under the alias “DKM,” McKelvey co-creates the ongoing “Subjects With Objects” collaborative gallery project. He currently serves as president of International Conspiracy & Trade Co. (This is not a joke, but probably should be…), and is hard at work completing the manuscript for a YA sci-fi/fantasy novel and developing with Ruckus Films a feature comedy-drama based on the shenanigans of notorious car thief Rabbit Veach.


43 Comments

  1. Lori

    OK, I’ll try. I am an unpublished author, and what you describe is resonating with me. It’s the gulf-wide difference between narrating a factual account and allowing the reader to feel the ‘click’ of understanding the impact of what just happened with a character,

    For example, ‘Up in the Air’. When George Clooney is at the door of the house of the woman he finally decides to pursue: When we, the viewers, see that she has a husband and children (!) we groan. We feel so taken in by her lack of commitment to her family. We ache at how badly he must be reeling. All this emotion is ignited by a only second-long glimpse of her family seen through the doorway. Very powerful.

  2. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Doug,

    In reading this I was reminded of Meditation in a Tool Shed from God in the Dock by C.S. Lewis. He saw a beam of light coming in from the sun outside, dust particles floating in the beam, and the beam was casting light on a few things in the shed. But when he went to the beam and looked up it, along it, he had an entirely different experience; he saw leaves, sky, brilliant sunlight. Looking at and looking along are two different experiences, and I think sometimes we try to get outside of grace and look at it rather than describing what it is to look along it. Looking at it can be useful, but it is not so descriptive and poetic as actually being inside it and describing it in real-time experience.

    One of my favorite movie moments is in Castaway, when Tom Hanks is reunited with his wife, who has now remarried and has a child. There is a moment of struggle as their love for one another re-ignites, and the whole time I was thinking, Is this going to be Hollywood’s version of ‘true love’ where she leaves her husband and child? When they both broke off, lovingly, and did the right thing, I wanted to stand up and cheer; they did what real love demanded – love for the husband and child – and didn’t just gratify their self-love. That’s grace. That took a tremendous amount of inner strength.

    When Aslan comes to life again. When Eustace becomes a dragon and Reepicheep becomes his encourager; when Eustace becomes un-dragoned by the power of Aslan. When Puddleglum steps on the Green Witch’s fire and stamps it out. When the Pevensies, Eustace, Jill, Polly, and Digory exit the shadow-lands for the Real World.

    And in the Matrix, when the kiss of the Spirit brings the Son back to life, and Neo stands up, invincible.

    In Bronte’s Jane Eyre, the character of Helen. In MacDonald’s Donal Grant, the title character.

  3. Ben

    I was brought into a process of radical transformation after watching a theater production of Kenneth Lonergan’s “This is our youth”. I was a high school senior, and it was like I saw my life laid out before me if I were to continue running from Truth.

    But still, the threshold you speak of here wasn’t crossed in the work: it was all sin and ache and numbness.

  4. codyvilla

    One of the best films I’ve seen in recent years is Clint Eastwood’s Grand Torino. Eastwood is an unlikely receiver of grace, and it affects him after a lifetime of hatred. The redemption themes are overwhelming throughout the story, and his eventual response to grace makes me think of the Good Samaritan – not the story we know, but what that man’s life might have been if the story continued. I think Jesus might have told the story of the good Korean if he were telling it to post-war vets like Eastwood’s character, and I think he might have told it much like this film did.

  5. Pete Peterson

    @pete

    I’ve got to admit that I love the ending of Crime and Punishment. I haven’t read it in at least ten or twelve years so I might feel differently about it now but I was powerfully affected by it at the time.

    One of the best examples of an explicit depiction of grace is Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. A lot of people have seen the musical, which is amazing, but do yourself a favor and read the book. The musical does a good job of capturing the spirit of the text but the book is even more epic and moving, in my opinion. Trivial Notes: in some churches in France Les Miserables has been quoted with scriptural reverence and kept on the altar next to the Bible and confederate soldiers in the Civil War carried it everywhere they went, calling themselves “Lee’s Miserables”.

    In film my favorite example is Magnolia. P.T. Anderson finds a perfect balance with which to demonstrate real world grace.

    I’ll also mention the climax of Saint Julian by Walt Wangerin, Jr. Julian is a ferryman and goes out in a storm, a raging flood, to help a leper cross the river. Once crossed the leper asks to stay the night with him and Julian permits it. Then the leper goes on to ask for the last of his food and the last of his water and clothing and warmth and each time Julian gives all he has until the leper asks Julian to lie on top of him face to face, limb to limb, skin to skin, for warmth. Julian does so without hesitation and finally recognizes the leper as Christ.

  6. JJ

    The ending of The Bronze Bow. I know it’s supposedly a kids book, but the entire book and especially the end are absolutely life-changing. I think the author made an awesome portrayal of redemption/forgiveness.

  7. JJ

    Oh, and the end of North! Or be Eaten had an enormous impact on me as well. It’s funny, but the ones I find life-changing are difficult to explain. Redemption/forgiveness/grace can’t exactly cut it. True grace-life-changing-ness can’t be fully caught in words, but glimpses of it can, without using the word “grace” even once.

  8. kay morrison

    one of the most profound testimonies of grace that has had a transformative work in my relationship with the Spirit and in my life, is the art of vincent van gogh. place one of his early works, the potato eaters alongside starry night and it is difficult to believe this is the work of one artist. the two pieces seem completely disconnected, one plodding and brown the other bursting with liberty and color. van gogh’s work speaks to me of process and growth, the grace of God at work in my life transforming my brownness into an explosion of beauty. it teaches me to be patient with a God who does not wear a wrist watch at isn’t at all concerned with my timetable for transformation as an artist, teacher, Christ follower.

  9. Clay Clarkson

    A Taste of Grace

    One taste of grace
    Can sate a soul
    Yet stir within
    A passion deep
    For longings yet
    To be made whole
    When wakened from
    This mortal sleep
    To feast on grace
    Forever more

    (CKC)

    I think of grace as an enormous banquet table, filled to overflowing, from which we are free to eat. We can see it all, but we can only experience it and describe it one taste at a time. But even in a morsel from the table, we can taste something of the divine. It fills us, sustains us, and changes us. And, perhaps, frustrates us. It will always leave us wanting more.

    “Grace-filled art” as Doug describes it is what fills the banquet table of grace. In movies, I always think of “The Truman Show” and the taste of grace in Truman’s relentless quest to find truth, and eventually freedom from Christof’s false world. In music, I always think of AP’s “The Queen of Iowa,” and RM’s “We Are Not As Strong As We Think We Are.” There are so many in literature which have already been mentioned. I will never taste many of them, which is part of the frustration, but I can enjoy other’s enjoyment of them here in the RR. Good post and idea.

  10. kelli

    This post and discussion remind me of much of what Rolland Hein says about myth in Christian Mythmakers (which…if you haven’t read it…it is worth searching for!)

    At one point he says…

    “Lewis explained that the term [myth] designates a type of story that has–among other characteristics–a distinct extraliterary component whose presence is detected by an intuitive effect occurring in certain readers. Those who react with a pause and catch of breath, as though something “of great moment” has been conveyed, are encountering the dynamic of myth. They feel as though something numinous has confronted them. It is not so much that they received a message, but rather that they seem to have a fleeting contact with some remote unbroken world, one in which, to borrow a stirring phrase from Flannery O’Connor, ‘the silence is broken only to shout the Truth.’ Much, depends upon the sensibility of the individual reader, and, of course, skeptics will miss the experience altogether.”

    To name a few that come to mind, that haven’t yet been mentioned (because Ron Block and I seem to be impacted by very similar things)…

    In Lewis’ Till We Have Faces…Psyche entering the realm of the gods, being bathed and burned, seeing the West-Wind…the bridegroom, her lover, her master, experiencing reality

    In George MacDonald’s What’s Mine’s Mine…the two brothers Macruadh, Ian and Alister and the awakening of the Peregrine sisters, Mercy and Christina (really in any of GMD’s books you find these moments of Truth peppered throughout, within his characters)

    In The Fiddler’s Gun…Bartimaeus teaching Fin how to turn the chaos, the pain, to beauty

    In the movie Equilibrium…everyone is required to take a serum daily which shuts off any breath of emotion, beauty, hope, goodness, truth. John Preston, a top reinforcer whose job was to destroy those who showed any sign of feeling, stopped taking his serum and at one point found a hidden cove of color, texture, shape, truth, realness. He turns on a gramophone and the beauty of Beethoven intermingles with the surroundings and drips like blood into the depths of his soul. He weeps. And I can but only join him every time I watch that scene.

  11. eugenia

    *bounce* I COULD go on. I fall back on music a lot. Perhaps sometimes too much. Firstly there are so many worship songs that have spoken to me or in which I have found words to cling on to.

    Majesty – Delirious?
    Waiting for the World to Fall – Jars of Clay
    Salvation is Here – Hillsong United
    Quite a few songs by Brooke Fraser, Switchfoot & Leeland
    He Will Come And Save You – Bob Fitts
    I Can Only Imagine – MercyMe

    I’ve also had a very special experience the first time I listened to ESiCU by Jason Gray in full. I’m not sure if I contextualized it right but uh if anyone wants to take a look – http://alwaysalways.tumblr.com/post/205085629/take-me-mold-me-use-me-fill-me. The turn of events with ESiCU running underneath it …shiveringly amazing. It wasn’t an overwhelming presence but I suppose just enough is all I needed then.

    My all time favourite bit from the Chronicles of Narnia is the peeling of Eustace’s dragon skin in the Vogage of the Dawn Treader – the pain and delight of stripping off. Marvelling at how the stripping is not done by yourself, but tenderly, knowingly. It hurts but yet knowing it’s not dangerous. I feel so loved thinking about it, that Someone would touch me. Physically and past that. Aah kind of similar to Edmund and Aslan’s unheard conversation (in the movie) after his rescue? How great must that love be!

    Last but not least, while The Lion King is pantheistic, I find elements I relate to and am comforted by …I remember to hope. Mufasa and Simba under the stars after the elephant graveyard. That scene means so much to me. When Simba puts his paw into Mufasa’s pawprint and we see how small he is. When Mufasa says gently “I thought I might lose you” instead of punishing him for disobedience. When Mufasa tells Simba that the kings of the past are watching over him from the stars. Redemption when Simba triumphs over Scar and yet knowing that I don’t even have to fight for myself. I remember my Father. If I am so moved by these fictional situations, I can’t even imagine how much greater He is, being infinitely more :>

  12. Margret

    Hi Doug!

    Thanks for a wonderful, provocative, yet encouraging post! In answer to your query, not all my favorites are of the profound variety. Some are simple tales, with bits and pieces of grace popping out to surprise, enlighten, refresh. Take for example, Going Postal by Terry Pratchett. Set on his fictional planet of Discworld, it chronicles the life of someone supposedly killed for heinous crimes yet saved from the brink by the government that sentenced him, only to serve in a governmental post. When a journalist requests a photograph for the newspaper and he refuses (although only because those he previously wronged would then know he was still alive), much to the reporter’s disbelief he denies on religious grounds. Even though it’s an excuse, his reasoning is spot on, “You can’t treat religion as a sort of buffet, can you? I mean, you can’t say ‘Yes please, I’ll have some of the Celestial Paradise and a helping of the Divine Plan but go easy on the kneeling and none of the Prohibition of Images, they give me wind.’ It’s table d’hôte or nothing….” See? An explanation of the most important relationship of all can be found in a story written by someone who doesn’t even think God exists. Another such is The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Raised in a Christian family, something happened in Douglas Adams’ life to turn him away from God, yet he still had the presence of mind to write that the answer to life, the universe, and everything is 42. We know that to be true because there are 42 generations from the promise made to Abraham to the fulfillment in the life of Jesus.

    As to pieces perceived to be classics, I agree with Pete, and list Les Miserables as one of my favorite pieces of literature, even though my experience with it is limited to the Broadway production. My first exposure occurred in 1990, a year after I’d said “yes” to Jesus’ offer of relationship. Although I was incorrect, I could have sworn that in the finale those who’d passed from this life were asking the audience to join them in the battle of the Lord’s, helping to turn everyone to the pathway of love and peace. Many years have passed since that misperception was corrected, yet I continue to find the story an incredible call to live life cognizant of the gift of grace.

    Another of my favorites is the musical 1776. There are so many reasons I love this long production, not the least of which is an accurate and funny depiction of writer’s block. When Thomas Jefferson first sits down to pen The Declaration of Independence, he thinks, he ponders, he starts to write, then scratches out what he’s written. He tries again; with the same result. And again. Then once more. His inability to capture what he’s trying to say has him crumpling up sheet after sheet of paper. In the beginning, it’s after several lines of script, then after a couple of lines, one line, a few words and, as so often happens with me, finally he looks at an empty sheet of paper and crumples it too, discarding the thought before he commits the ink to the endeavor. “Yes!” I holler out, laughing each time I see it. “That’s exactly how it is!” but if I’m watching it with a person who does not burn to express themselves in some artistic fashion all I get is a blank stare. Ah, well….

    As to the printed page, the first hardbound book I recall is Little Women, one of a handful my sisters and I found in the attic of the home we lived in when I was in second grade. That book ignited my life-long love affair with printed works published between 1850 and 1900, and I’m sure it did much to shape my desire to write about the world as I see it. Of course, it also messed me up for eternity because the English language has greatly changed since then, as has the writing style. Nor does continuing to think in my mother tongue (Swedish) assist me in any way. Even when the words themselves are not in my mind, the order in which they appear must always be rearranged before the sentences make sense to the English ear.

    Still, I’m encouraged to continue because I know the stories I need to tell, and the viewpoints from which I experience this life, are granted me by our wonderful, creative God. So I will struggle, sometimes laughing at myself, sometimes frustrated. Why? Because nothing, absolutely nothing, compares to the feeling I have when I know I’ve given my all and, despite my foibles and missteps, the piece sings. As I think about each one, I am also awestruck. “I wrote that? Surely not and yet, if so, only by the grace of God.”

    All of Heaven’s best to you and yours,
    Margret

  13. Pete Peterson

    @pete

    “Although I was incorrect, I could have sworn that in the finale those who’d passed from this life were asking the audience to join them in the battle of the Lord’s, helping to turn everyone to the pathway of love and peace. Many years have passed since that misperception was corrected, yet I continue to find the story an incredible call to live life cognizant of the gift of grace.”

    Why do you say that’s a misperception? In the book, even more so than in the musical, it’s apparent that the story is ultimately one of spiritual rather than merely political redemption.

    Les Miserables is held as a nearly canonical work by some precisely because of its profound spiritual truths.

  14. Lanier Ivester

    Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh. It blew my notions of grace wide open by way of some of the most beautiful language and symbols I have ever encountered in my life. The recurring word painting of the avalanche looming over the agnostic Charles Ryder and the instantaneous ‘white out’ at the moment of the slightest flicker of a response towards the grace he has resisted–and the God behind it–was a piercingly vivid picture of the ‘once for all’ of salvation. And the ‘twitch upon the thread’: that gorgeous image of the relentless Love that will let us ‘wander to the ends of the earth’, if need be, to find our way home.

    The book is absolutely crammed with heartbreaking redemption at work upon characters that have managed to make a royal mess of their lives: Julia weeping over her ‘dead’ God; Lord Marchmain making the sign of the Cross with the last strength left in his body; Sebastian groveling outside of the monastery. I was haunted by the sense of grace that seemed to hover over this book, never heavy or overstated–more like a flicker of movement out of the corner of your eye than an outright revelation.

    E.M. Forster said that the sacred could only be expressed convincingly by way of ‘hints and symbols’ and I wonder if he ever said a truer word. (“Only connect” notwithstanding… ;))

  15. Andrew Peterson

    @andrew

    Thank you for the great post, Doug. That catch of the breath, or lump in the throat, or sudden flush of tears happens when we brush up against the holy Other that haunts the world. It happens when we get a glimpse of truth or glory and it stops us in our tracks. And Buechner says we should pay close attention to those moments in our lives, because God is telling us something. I love reading in the comments all these moments of resonance, because they’re so varied and surprising in their sources.

    One encounter I remember is in Antwone Fisher, Denzel Washington’s film about a troubled young man looking for his birth family. When he finally finds them he walks into a warm house full of people who have been waiting for him. He approaches the grandmother and she opens her beautiful, wrinkled old hands and says, “Welcome.” I got tears in my eyes writing about it just now.

  16. Margret

    Thank you, Pete, for your gentle correction. What I so poorly conveyed is that it appears the lyrics do not literally convey such a message. That said, I have always thought of Les Miserables as a story of grace, with the message of Divine Love shining through it.

    I also want to add that this Web site, and every single exchange found herein (here on?) is enlightening, enlivening, fantabulous, and marvelous. Long live The Rabbit Room!

    All of Heaven’s best,
    Margret

  17. Steve

    G. K. Chesterton said of George MacDonald that, “He wrote nothing empty; but he wrote much that is rather too full, and of which the appreciation depends rather on a sympathy with the substance than on the first sight of the form.”

    I think this “substance” may be the grace being described so beautifully in this post and following comments. I have come upon many encounters in my reading of George MacDonald that seemed almost an awakening to Truth Himself. One such encounter is a short story entitled, “The Gifts of the Child Christ.”

  18. Jared

    Any other LOST fans in here? I have been hooked on this show for awhile and I consider it one of the great artistic achievements of the decade. As the series comes to a close I’ve found myself pondering what makes the show so powerful… and it’s not the smoke monster, polar bears, or time travel. LOST has continued to “deepen the mystery,” to the delight of Sir Bacon and the chagrin of its fans. But at its heart it is a Redemption Song about a number of prodigal characters – a spinal surgeon with daddy issues, a vengeful con man, a drug-addicted rock star, to name a few – who are brought together for a higher purpose despite their shortcomings. The creators of Lost have said “it’s all about redemption and rebirth,” and one of the primary motifs in the show is that “nothing is irreversible.” One particularly moving scene involves a tearful embrace and reunion between Jin and his father, a poor fisherman. Reminiscent of Luke 15, the scene – and the show – remind us of God’s promise to welcome us back with open arms and a feast. They remind us “to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was LOST and is found.”

    Oh, and one of the characters is named Charlotte Staples Lewis.
    😉

  19. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Steve, that is true of MacDonald. Sometimes what he says is so overflowing with substance that it can be hard to understand. But subsequent re-reading, with patience, explodes a lot of spiritual food. MacDonald is sort of like spiritual lembas.

  20. J. A. Roelfsema

    In this context, I must recommend, for those at interested, that you read Dante’s Divine Comedy. Certainly don’t just read the Inferno. If you have, and that’s as far as you made it, pick it up again and make it to the end of the trilogy. It is entirely medieval, yes, but will lead you far beyond our myopic modern age. It is not light reading, though.

    Inferno is Dante, as a character, led through hell by the great Latin poet Virgil. Most literature classes will stop there, especially for undergraduates or high-school kids. But the Purgatory, whether or not you believe in Purgatory, is, to me, the more revealing work. In it, Dante, again as a character, is led up the “mountain of purgatory” through which he is cleansed (“purged”) of sin in order to be “pure and ready for mounting to the stars,” which is the final part, Paradise. The Paradise gets harder and harder to understand as it gets closer and closer to the end where Dante will see, as character, the vision of Christ, the Word of God.

    I am no literary master, but of what I have read, Dante is the grandmaster of poets of all ages. No less a critic than C.S. Lewis ranked him above John Milton, of whom Lewis was a scholar.

    If you decide to read Dante, I highly recommend a recent translation by an English professor named Anthony Esolen. On Amazon:
    http://www.amazon.com/Inferno-v-1-Dante-Alighieri/dp/0679642617/ref=tmm_hrd_title_0
    http://www.amazon.com/Purgatory-Modern-Library-Classics-Dante/dp/0812971256/ref=pd_bxgy_b_img_b
    http://www.amazon.com/Paradise-Modern-Library-Classics-Dante/dp/0812977262/ref=pd_bxgy_b_img_b

    Or, if you are a book store hound, I have heard that John Ciardi’s translation is quite good as well. With Esolen though, you get great notes to fill in the necessary background information for beginners, such as I was.

  21. Hannah H

    The lyrics from the song “I Need Thee Every Hour”:
    “Oh bless me now my Savior I come to thee.”
    really ring a grace/redemption bell to me, because they remind us that God let us come to him, Jesus, through his death on the cross, showed ultimate grace. “Love is annihilation” a Sting song runs–isn’t grace too? Grace was Jesus’ annihilation, or death, on the cross.
    Great post, thanks Mr. McKelvey, I loved it. Hope more like it is coming.

  22. Jodi K

    It’s been awhile since I’ve read The Book of the Dun Cow, but there’s one passage (which was quoted here recently) that gets me every time:

    “Chauntecleer watched his own desolation appear in the brown eyes of the Cow, then sink so deeply into them that she shuddered. Her eyes pooled as she looked at him. The tears rose and spilled over. And then she was weeping even as he had wept a few minutes ago–except without the anger . . . he watched–felt–the miracle take place. Nothing changed: The clouds would not be removed, nor his sons returned, nor his knowledge plenished. But there was this. His grief had become her grief, his sorrow her own. And though he grieved not one bit less for that, yet his heart made room for her, for her will and wisdom, and he bore the sorrow better.”

    I read those words in the midst of a deep depression–they were life-changing, hang-on words for me.

    Initially, I felt mildly scandalized when I realized that Wangerin had written a Christ figure into the plot of this story, and this character was a brown cow. This seemed absurdly irreverent, almost gratuitously so. Then in the midst of my discomfort I realized: It would be a greater indignity for God to become a man than for a man to become a cow. I see a shadow of grace there.

  23. Jonathan Rogers

    Thanks for a great post, Doug. Babette’s Feast has had as big an impact on me as any movie I’ve seen. Its vision of art and grace and beauty–and the old boy standing up from his place at the table to speak of truth and mercy kissing–I wish I had the energy this evening to tell what all it has meant to me.

    The art that makes the biggest difference for me is that which stirs up more longing than it satisfies.

  24. Mark Timmons

    AP’s lyric from “Just as I am” (or “What’s that on the Ground” as my two year old calls it):

    “Well it’s time now to harvest what little that grew
    This man they call Jesus, who planted the seeds
    Has come for the fruit
    And the best that I’ve got isn’t nearly enough
    He’s glad for the crop, but it’s me that He loves”

    …that Jesus really loves me and wants to come for me is so difficult to existentially grasp….but listening to this song often helps me grasp it.

  25. David H

    First kiss tingled through synapses,
    current coursing up the spine
    as lips uncertain, clumsy, thick,
    crossed unmapped distance with
    messages telegraphed unconscious,
    unclear, ephemeral perhaps,
    not meant to last a lifetime.
    But shadows of the power remain
    undying in heart and soul and brain,
    background noise to hiss and pop,
    to touch a thought with static shock,
    to defibrillate a heart now cold,
    and bless all things love can hold.

    DPH

    Does anyone remember their first kiss? I mean the first one with someone of the opposite gender? Those swapped with parents, relatives and pets don’t count.

    Perhaps I shouldn’t admit that I do recall. That’s probably not a guy thing. But the truth is I remember that kiss better than I do the girl who shared it with me.

    Her name was Mary. She had dirty blonde hair, played saxophone in my high school marching band, and was a sophomore while I was a senior.

    We developed a mutual interest in each other during summer training for the marching band season. We started sitting together during football games. But it wasn’t much more than casual conversation and mild flirting until an away game in Hershey, PA on one of the coldest days of that year.

    The temperature for the afternoon game was in single digits. It was so cold, brass players, such as myself, had to keep the mouthpieces for our instruments in a pocket because the metal would get cold enough to stick to your lips.

    Fortunately, I had brought a blanket and being a nice guy, I offered to share it with Mary. We scooched together and, me being a very smooth operator, I just left my hand on her shoulder after I draped the blanket around.

    Truth be told, I was so afraid of how she might react to my little gambit that I didn’t even look at her. So, there I was, trying to be Joe Cool on the cold metal bleachers at the stadium, reaching my arm around while studiously looking in another direction. My heart was beating erratically, my stomach was doing somersaults, and I was thinking: What if she pushes my hand away? What if she goes to sit with her friends? What if she gets offended or calls me a jerk?

    She didn’t. But I was afraid. If I wasn’t afraid I might have made my move a little earlier — like in September rather than December.

    What did I fear? That I wasn’t likable, that I would be rejected, that I would be hurt.

    But what about that kiss? It didn’t happen until after the game. I had a job and was leaving for it in the car of a co-worker. Mary was riding the bus back to school.

    She held my hand while I walked to my ride. I didn’t want to leave. I could have sat on those frozen seats all through the night. I felt better that frigid day than ever before in my life. I didn’t think anything could be better.

    As we neared the car, Mary just stopped. I took one more step and she yanked my hand, causing me to turn. I faced her, surprised, and saw that she was crying. I just stood there, completely confused. She grabbed the lapels of my woolen band uniform and pulled.

    She kissed me full on my lips, then turned and ran back to the stadium.

    It wasn’t some long, lingering event. The duration might have been two or three heartbeats — I wouldn’t know because mine had stopped.

    That was it. Something that lasted a second and I haven’t been able to forget since. Something that has not been diminished by anything that came after.

    When I think back on this event, what made it special was the sense — even if it was short-lived — that I hadn’t done anything to earn her affection. I wasn’t cool, I wasn’t hot, I wasn’t particularly popular, I wasn’t anything but plain old me. And Mary liked me.

    Why would I tell anyone this? Don’t think I’m giving myself too much credit, but in that kiss there was an inkling — a taste if you will — of something divine.

    We have all likely heard about the importance of our Christian family; that the love we receive from our Christian sisters and brothers should be like a mother’s love, nurturing, supportive, and able to see through our faults.

    I want to consider a bit the model for that love, and how God’s love and its human counterpart inevitably diverge. I want to tell you why the love of God is so overwhelmingly important and what, if anything, that love expects of us.

    Why is it that the blinding beauty and sweetness that comes at the beginning of most relationships never seems to last? The feelings that came with first holding hands, first kisses, first loves seem so powerful when first experienced. The amazing joy of just being with that special person and the gnawing hunger to be with them more is often only a passing thing.

    We can replace those things with stronger passions, but even the attraction of those can dull with time, over-use, a sense of futility. Is it because we lose our sense of innocence or that our hearts aren’t made to be constantly full of such strong stuff? Is it that everything gets old and as it ages, it changes? Is it that we are inevitably hurt in some way and just the potential of pain taints the future of every relationship? Or is it just that what begins as a surprise, what starts without any expectation, eventually becomes only that: I have my needs, you have yours and everything between us is just a quid pro quo?

    This diminishment doesn’t necessarily kill love, it may just dilute it. And the people who share that love just learn to live with the weaker form.

    I’m not only talking about the love between men and women. We see it happen with parents and children, as well. At its best, the bond between progenitor and progeny begins with total dependence on one side and total service on the other. For a while it can blossom — as the parents see only the perfect son or daughter, while the child worships the infallible father and mother. But babies keep growing and at some point notice what was true all along, mom and dad aren’t perfect (well, maybe I should just speak for myself on that score). And the parents look at their lovely child and wonder where all the faults came from.

    With the recognition by the adolescent that parents don’t know everything and that they sometimes make mistakes comes a change in the relationship. Toss teenage hormones in with the independence that comes with high school, and you can have an explosive mixture. Perhaps only a cold war develops with secrets that aren’t shared, trust that no longer runs as deep. Or maybe you get World War III and a resulting estrangement that can last a lifetime.

    Why does this happen, even to strong Christian families?

    Because the human heart is broken just like the rest of creation. And the love that people can make is only a poor reflection of that true love that comes from God.

    Much has been written about the difference between human and divine love. C.S. Lewis wrote a famous book, called The Four Loves, which breaks it all down into Affection, Friendship, Eros and Charity. The first three are common to people, but the last is the gift-love that can only come from God. It is also called grace.

    Henri Nowen separates things a bit more simply. To him there were just two forms of love.

    “The love that often leaves us doubtful, frustrated, angry and resentful is the second love,” wrote Nouwen in the book, In The Name of Jesus.“That is to say the affirmation, affection, sympathy, encouragement and support we receive from our parents, teachers, spouses and friends. We all know how limited, broken, and very fragile that love is. Behind the many expressions of this second love there is always the chance of rejection, withdrawal, punishment, blackmail, violence and even hatred. Many contemporary movies and plays portray the ambiguities and ambivalences of human relationships, and there are no friendships, marriages, or communities in which the strains and stresses of the second love are not keenly felt. Often it seems that beneath the pleasantries of daily life there are many gaping wounds that carry such names as abandonment, betrayal, rejection, rupture and loss. These are all the shadow side of the second love and reveal the darkness that never completely leaves the human heart.”

    The good news, if you can call it that, is that this love we experience “is only a broken reflection of the first love,” Nouwen said. “That first love is offered to us by a God in whom there is no shadows.”

    Humans haven’t been unfettered in their experience of such love since Eden, where Adam and Eve kept no secrets and spoke directly to God. They also became the first people to live the lesser love.

    In Gen. 2, after the original couple eat of the forbidden fruit, God comes looking for them. Imagine the Creator of the Universe calling out as he strides through the garden: “Adam. Adam, where are you?”

    When Adam is found, he explains his unprecedented reaction to the approach of God in this way: “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”

    In those words we find the essential differences between the first love and the second. The first consists of trust and openness, the second is plagued by fear and hiding.

    What are some other characteristics of this first love? Paul mentions some in 1 Cor. 13:
    4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
    5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
    6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
    7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
    8 Love never fails.

    The love Paul speaks of is inhuman. Sure I can be patient, I can be kind. I don’t envy much and I’m proud to say that I don’t boast. Uh-oh.

    Most of the things mentioned in those five verses are sometimes possible for me. But with God there is no sometimes or even most of the time, as Paul points out with the absolutes that begin in verse 7. Love always protects, love always trusts, love always hopes, love always perseveres.
    If love — true love — ever fails to do these things, then it is not love, because love NEVER fails.
    The difference between the love God has for us and the love we can manage for anything on our own is not in the initial ardor or how long the feeling can be maintained. God’s love is constant, it is consistent, it is pure, and eternal. God’s love never gives up hope in us.

    God knows completely what broken vessels we are. He was there at the breaking. Yet he still loves us so much that he sacrificed a part of himself so that we could again experience relationship with him and have again the first love that Adam left in Eden.

    As for you,” Paul wrote in Ephesians 2, “you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world…. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.

    “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions — it is by grace you have been saved.”

    There’s that word grace again. It is one of the key attributes of God’s love.

    Grace caused God to reach out to us, even though we don’t deserve it. Grace allows God to forgive us our failures even though we keep failing. Grace is what causes God to look down onto this crowded planet and say to me and to you and to everyone, I love you. Not I love you in spite of who you are or because of who you are; not I love you because of what you will do or in spite of what you will do. By sending his son to this world, God made the simple and emphatic statement: I love you.

    Love is the one thing all people long for. From our births we want to be touched, we want to be held, we want to be cared for. We grow up hoping to find that special someone who will see us in a special light and cling to us for the rest of our earthly lives. We have children so that we can share our love with them.

    Almost all of our joys and pains, our struggles, successes and failures, are in some way linked to the love we have, the love we want or the love we will never get.

    In a sense, all people are the woman at the well. Because the love we want, the love we pull from this ground, is love that won’t last. But we as Christians know that there is a true love, a lasting love, a living love, a perfect love. And what we need to do, what we must do, is to show that love and be that love for all of the lost and lonely people in the world.

    Philip Yancey put it this way in the last chapter of his book What’s So Amazing About Grace:

    “I try to recall [the] spirit of Jesus when I encounter someone of whom I morally disapprove. “This must be a very thirsty person, I tell myself.” I once talked with the priest Henri Nouwen just after he returned from San Francisco. He had visited various ministries to AIDS victims and was moved with compassion by their sad stories. “They want love so bad, it’s literally killing them,” he said. He saw them as thirsty people panting after the wrong kind of water.

    “When I am tempted to recoil in horror from sinners, from “different” people,” Yancey said, “I remember what it must have been like for Jesus to live on earth. Perfect, sinless, Jesus had every right to be repulsed by the behavior of those around him. Yet he treated notorious sinners with mercy and not judgment.”

    By accepting Jesus we have made ourselves vessels for his love. Our commission — the job for which we have been remade — is to let that love fill us to over-flowing and then carry ourselves as a brimming cup to everyone who is thirsting for love.

    How I have done that job, how I have seen it done in so many places, is the great tragedy of this world. What I so often carry to those around me and what the modern Christian Church as an entity has become identified with is not the love of Christ. What our faith has become known for is rules and regulations, the very judgment and condemnation of which Yancey wrote.

    There are valid reasons, perhaps. You can’t look out into the world and not see sin. It is everywhere. It is offensive. It needs to be eliminated.

    In response, many Christians set their minds, their hearts and their pocketbooks on stopping sin. They enact laws, extol the last eight of the 10 commandments, picket abortion clinics, speak out against gay marriage, fight against the teaching of evolution, and elect candidates who are for family values.

    They spend their lives building a circle of dikes and levees against a rising tide of sin and don’t seem to realize that even in their righteous enclaves they are neck deep in the stuff. Sin won’t be stopped by us. It is inside us. We are its creators.

    Those who are saved don’t stop being sinners. They just start being forgiven.

    More important, if we focus on sin we can’t help but develop a peculiar form of blindness. Christians stop seeing the people who we have to reach; we stop seeing the sinners in the world as well as the sinners in the mirror.
    C.S. Lewis struggled with this very issue.
    For a long time, Lewis said, “I could never understand the hairsplitting distinction between hating a person’s sin and hating the sinner. How could you hate what a man did and not hate the man?
    “But years later,” Lewis said, “it occurred to me that there was one man to whom I had been doing this all my life — namely myself. However much I might dislike my own cowardice or conceit or greed, I went on loving myself. There had never been the slightest difficulty about it. In fact the very reason why I hated the things was that I loved the man. Just because I loved myself, i was sorry to find that I was the sort of man who did those things.”
    “Christians should not compromise in hating sin,” Lewis said. “Rather we should hate the sins in others in the same way we hate them in ourselves: by being sorry the person has done such things and hoping that somehow, sometime, somewhere, that person will be cured.”

    We can help bring people to that cure, Yancey says in What’s So Amazing About Grace, but only if we see them properly.
    “The Christian life, I believe, does not primarily center or ethics or rules but rather involves a new way of seeing,” Yancey said. “I escape the force of spiritual ‘gravity’ when I begin to see myself as a sinner who cannot please God by any method of self-improvement or self-enlargement. Only then can I turn to God for outside help — for grace — and to my amazement I learn that a holy God already loves me despite my defects. I escape the force of gravity again when I recognize my neighbors also as sinners, loved by God. A grace-full Christian is one who looks at the world through ‘grace-tinted’ glasses.”
    If God so loved me that he sent his son to die for my sins while I was still his enemy, do I have any choice but to pass on that same love to others — without hesitation or reservation or expectation?

    Yes, there are bad things that people do. There are things to which Christians should be morally opposed. But we mustn’t forget that love, God’s love, comes first.

    What do I mean by that?

    If you read the Bible there are many verses that talk about how the wicked live and how the unrighteous act. But what Jesus and the apostles tell us over and again is not that we must change how the wicked act — after all, they are wicked, how do you expect them to act?

    What we are commanded to do is change how we, the followers of Jesus, act toward them.

    Jesus said in John chapter 14: He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. But “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.”

    And what is that teaching we must obey? “Love God above all things. Love your neighbor as yourself. Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

    Luke 6:35-38 quotes Jesus saying this: But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind and charitable and good to the ungrateful, selfish and wicked.
    36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
    37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.
    38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

    Jesus charges us to treat others generously, graciously and compassionately, then these qualities will come back to us in abundant amounts.

    What seems to be lost in so many modern understandings of our faith is that the love we have been given is powerful and life changing. If it changed us and we pass it on, then that love can more effectively change others than anything else we might do. Once someone has accepted that love, then they will want to act as new lovers do.

    They will want to be something that is pleasing to the one they love. They will hunger to spend time with the one they love. They will want to give all they have to the one that they love.

    The obligation is not on the unsaved to act like they are righteous, but on the saved to act as if they are really in love with the one who saved them. The best we can do is to live our lives as if we are lovers of God, doing what is right in his eyes, and sharing the overwhelming love he gave to us without any pre-conditions.

    The group Jars of Clay has a song called Love Song for a Savior. The last verse says: “It seems too easy to call you Savior, not close enough to call you God, so I sit and think of words I can mention, to show my devotion — I want to fall in love with you.

    Think back to those first things in your life. Remember that first kiss, your first boyfriend or girlfriend, your first love. What is it about those things that make them linger in our hearts and minds and souls? What is it we felt for those who cared for us in a new way? What did we tell ourselves we would do to keep that feeling, to maintain that love?

    Did we go where that person asked us, even if we weren’t comfortable or thought it silly? Did we buy them things, even extravagant things, just to show that we loved them? Did we sacrifice time with our friends or give up other interests just to be with our loved one? Did we give all of our attention for a time to this object of our love?

    And did we want to somehow share that feeling of love with everyone around us? Did that love, at least for a moment, seem too big to stay inside, so it spilled out in ways that affected how we saw and acted? Were others able to see the affects of that love in our lives?

    I ask myself: What would happen if I loved God in that way? What would happen if I loved him with all of my desire, but not desire for what he could give me, but for what I would give him?

    What would happen if I fell in love with God?

    I am reminded of the words Jesus spoke to Simon Peter on his third appearance to the apostles after being raised from the dead. Jesus is asking today: David, do you love me? David, do you love me? David, do you love me?

    Our lord, our friend, our savior — the lover of our souls — is asking the same thing of all those who claim his salvation: People, do you love me?

    If you love me, Jesus still says today, even as he did 2,000 years ago, feed my sheep.

    Feed my sheep.

  26. Pete Peterson

    @pete

    Thanks for the great comment, David. I suppose we should call Ron Block and tell him to mail you the longest comment trophy.

    Long comments are awesome, btw. Don’t apologize.

  27. benjamin christensen

    Song:
    David Wilcox-Show The Way
    David Wilcox-Break In The Cup
    Book:
    Sheldon Vanauken-A Severe Mercy
    David James Duncan-The River Why
    David James Duncan-The Brothers K

    Just to name a few

  28. Amy

    Jared–total LOST fan here and I’ve had actually quite a few “moments’ during that show but it might just be fangirliness.

    I had to think about this a bit, (love this post so much) one of the first things that came to mind strangely was that scene in the movie Blood Diamond where the father tells his son who is a child soldier that he is his son and he loves him. Something about that scene redeemed the entire movie for me. I had barely made it to that point, I’m not a huge fan of endless violence no matter what the point, but that was just pure raw love and beauty in the midst of so much of the very darkest stuff of living, the endless grime and filth of life–a transcendent moment so to say. For me, anyway.

    I think I feel this way about my friend Beth Kephart’s books…I’ve been trying to put my finger on why exactly I love them so much and I think the very best illustration I can give is the end of her book, Nothing But Ghosts, when this little mismatched group of people, each beginning to come out of the depths of their sorrow, come together for a meal and in so doing, begin to find healing. It strikes just the right note and is so satisfying and sweet.

  29. Loriann S.

    When Sam Gamgee throws Frodo over his shoulder to carry him to the very edge of darkness so he can carry out the mission for which he has no remaining strength, there lies grace in all its relentless, reckless glory.

  30. Kevin

    I realize this comment may be a week too old but I enjoyed this post and discussion so much I had to say something. I recently saw the film “Crash” and had the most gripping and emotional movie experience I’ve had in a long time. What I saw awakened the reality of our broken human nature – amazed at both the awfulness of bad deeds and the beauty of our good ones.. And then as I was sitting there engrossed in the movie I had this overwhelming appreciation for a God who sees all those deeds and misdeeds. A God who looks right down into the rise and fall of human hearts and is moved with compassion to help us fallen humans. It had been a long time since I’ve cried in a movie but this one did it to me.

    Also, to be honest APs music has made perhaps the biggest mark on my heart in terms of understanding God’s grace better through art. I’m sure God’s spirit was working right along with the music when I started listening to it. It helped dissuade the doubts and coldness that had gripped my life at the time. Thanks man and thanks to everyone who is out there using their talents to express truth and grace!

  31. Douglas McKelvey

    If it seems I’m arriving late to a party I invited everyone to, it’s only because the “Grace & Writer’s Block” essay was posted when I was in the middle of ripping out and replacing part of the concrete slab in my basement, and so I didn’t have the luxury of participating in the conversation as it unfolded. I’ll skip references to works that others have already noted, but I wanted to add at least a couple of my own experiences to the wonderful list that’s already been compiled here by everyone else though.

    In terms of a depiction of grace being pretty much “on-the-nose” but still working powerfully, I would cite the conversion of Robert De Niro’s character in “The Mission”. The one where he’s dragging the net full of armor up the mountain and winds up with a knife at his throat (and deservedly so). Granted, it’s probably been twenty years since I first saw the film so it’s possible my take on it would be somewhat different now, but I remember being powerfully moved. I think it probably gave me one of first inklings of what “grace” actually is, though I wouldn’t have understood it quite in those terms at the time. It was a haunting image that grew in depth as my understanding of redemption came into sharper focus over the years since.

    A second experience I’ll share involved a piece of music that had no overt connection to Christian theology, and yet the beauty of it, and the yearning it evoked became a conduit for a grace-filled epiphany moment. I was driving along winding back roads that circuitously linked Kingston Springs, TN with Franklin, TN. We have such roads to link any two points in this part of the country, and if you’re adventurous and don’t mind investing in the process, you’ll eventually find that magic “Northwest Passage” that will allow you—through a series of counterintuitive turns on various rural lanes—quicker travel to where you’re going.

    I was driving alone. It was the Fall of the year. The lane I was following had no other cars anywhere, no houses nearby. The trees had grown completely over the road along both sides so that they met overhead, leaf and limb, like an outdoor cathedral. On the CD player was a song from what remains my all-time favorite record: The Waterboys “Fisherman’s Blues”. The song, “The Stolen Child” is a simple arrangement of a rolling, pulsing piano with Mike Scott’s raspy vocal overlaid. The lyric is William Butler Yeats’ poem of the same title. The poem itself is drawn from ancient fairy lore, a story of a young child being enticed away from their home, and into the fairy world that parallels our own. The refrain (as best I can remember) says:

    Here he comes, the human child, to the water
    Here he comes, the human child, to the water
    With a fairy hand in hand
    From a world more full of weeping than you can understand

    So as I’m listening, and driving through this tunnel of trees, the wind begins to blow, and thousands of leaves suddenly release and begin to fall as if in slow motion, like they’re dancing in some orchestrated way, and time stops for a moment, and I just began to weep with this deep ache inside of me, this longing, this hunger, this wonder that has unexpedtedly welled up. And what I realized suddenly, in that moment as I wept, was that the Jesus I had been taught in churches was not entirely accurate. Because if Jesus was who he said he was, if he was the fulfillment of all human desire, then he also had to be the fulfillment of this desire. Somehow, this beauty and this aching wonder, this mix of sweetness and sorrow not only had to be pointing to him, but it had to be there specifically because it related to some aspect of his person, and of the relationship he desired with me. It had to be, at its heart, a longing for him. And the idea that Jesus, in some aspect of his person, could be what I was longing for when I felt strangely stirred by such longing and wonder, was a new thought. It forever changed my perspective of Jesus. The hunt to uncover this aspect of who he was had begun, and my responses to songs and poems and literature that evoked that sense, I now saw as signposts and roadmaps leading me further into that quest to find the Jesus who could hold even my wonder.

  32. Pete Peterson

    @pete

    Great examples, Doug.

    I often meet people who are not moved by music or literature. They don’t understand what we see in it. Someone I know once told me that fiction is a waste of time for a Christian because it’s not true and we should only be concerned with what is factually true.

    That kind of perspective is utterly alien to me. I wonder if the reason those people think like that is because they’ve never come face to face with a transformative moment like you experienced on that drive. I know I’ve had those moments. I have them in movies, and while reading books, and while writing, and listening to great music, and especially during communion. I crave these moments. I seek them out. And when I stumble upon them I try to be conscious of the experience, I slow down and widen my eyes let them teach me. It’s what Annie Dillard so beautifully illustrates when she talks about “the tree with the lights in it”. It’s a precious and holy thing.

  33. Amy @ My Friend Amy

    Pete–me too. I hear that fiction is a waste of time so often and I don’t know how to explain that fiction helps me make sense of my life and understand people and God. I can’t imagine living without story and music, I don’t know what it’s like to not just live my own life but also be half in the world found on the page….if that makes any sense whatsoever.

  34. becky

    A great example to me is the school principal in the movie American History X. Taking this young man who has hated and killed, and absolutely does not deserve any kindness, and caring for his broken body, heart, and soul; showing him kindness, compassion, and love. Turning his heart away from the bitterness and hardness of the past, to make him a peacemaker and a seeker of reconciliation. Very beautiful.

  35. becky

    Me too, Pete. I think it’s one of my top ten favorites. And what can you say about Edward Norton’s performance in this movie? Just amazing.

  36. James Witmer

    Super, super late to the party, but this article made me think, and it reminded me of an even older interview. Upon Googling the interview, I found it rambles a lot. Here’s the relevant part:

    “Joy is the hardest thing, always, for any artist, for any writer, for any photographer,” Bono says. “It’s the hardest thing to capture because it’s impossible to contrive, whereas despair — you can have a good go at despair.”

    “You don’t have to try too hard to summon it up,” The Edge adds.

    “It’s a little bit too easy,” Bono agrees. “Or melancholy, which we can sometimes suffer with.”

    If nothing about U2 could ever bore you, find the rest at: http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/life/movies/movieawards/sundance/2008-01-21-u2-sundance_N.htm

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