Category: Inspiration for writers

The Truth of Nature

“That particular moment will never come again.” –Claude Monet

When I attended the wonderful exhibition of Monet paintings at the Denver Art Museum (fall 2019), I enjoyed viewing up close the originals of many of Monet’s famous paintings. He is known, in part, for painting the same scene in different light, different seasons, and from different angles. You may recall his many colorful and dreamy paintings of his water lily pond or of the haystack series (a few of which are pictured above).

“Above all I wanted to be truthful and exact,” wrote Claude Monet in 1880. “For me a landscape hardly exists at all as a landscape, because its appearance is constantly changing… You have to know how to seize just the right moment in a landscape instantaneously, because that particular moment will never come again, and you’re always wondering if the impression you got was truthful.”

Monet’s observation and intuition describes, in a way, how I feel about the seasons of life and nature. I want to live each day being present to and attentive to the subtle changes of light and shadow, color and shape. I want to let them speak to me, let God speak to me through the truth of the moment, always also watching expectantly for the possibilities of the next moment.

I feel this way about writing a poem as well. The desire to be accurate to the feelings and truth of a moment, to seize and distill it in just the right “colors” and interplay of words to give an impression that expresses truth of “that particular moment” that will never come again in the very same light but which speaks of both the imminent and the transcendent.

One year I made a practice of taking a photo of my pollinator-friendly xeriscape garden, from the same angle every month of the year, to document how it changed, and how differently it presented itself and spoke to me. Some plants come up earlier, some later. Some flowers bloom only in spring; others begin flowering in mid summer. Different species of birds visit the feeders and water bowl in different seasons. The colors of the birds’ plumage changes from duller in the winter to vivid in the spring. Light plays differently on tree leaves and pine boughs as it shines direct and bright from above or paints a golden glow from lower in the sky. One season or time of day does not tell the whole truth of the garden. Just as one visit in one setting doesn’t tell you all about a person or a group of people.

God will speak to us in all seasons and show us different perspectives about the situations, events, and people around us. Take time to consider whether (as Monet said) “the impression you got was truthful.”

I had Monet’s words and my own experiences and observations in mind when I wrote this poem:

NATURE DOESN’T LIE

Nature’s truth presents in facets, angles of

perspective,

changing light,

filtering seasons.

Observe in stages or you won’t know its truth.

You cannot know with

one passing click or

fleeting look.

It doesn’t show you its whole self all at once, so

be still,

listen,

feel.

Recognition, Respect, Revealing come in

mutuality….

Knowing

happens there.

Be present to a flower, tree, or pond, and

gradually it will

be present to you

in truth.

~Catherine Lawton

(poem excerpted from the book, Glimpsing Glory: Poems of Living & Dying, Praying & Playing, Belonging & Longing)

Photos/Art: Wikipedia/public domain

Poetry Helps Us Open Our Hearts to God

Poetry Helps Us Open Our Hearts to God

by Catherine Lawton

In our experience of God’s presence, poetry can help us focus and engage our senses and entire being. Poetry can help us process life and emotions—and see ourselves—in new ways, and thus be open to hearing God say fresh, new things to us. Scripture does this also, of course. In fact, much of the Bible was written as poetry. I have long found soul nourishment and renewed perspective in the Psalms. And how can a person read Song of Solomon and not believe God seeks to woo and reach us through the five senses he has given us? The prophet Isaiah wrote often in poetry. Sometimes poetic expression reaches straight to the heart more effectively than prose.

“Poetry, in capturing the moment, captures the soul,” says poet Mary Harwell Sayler.

I believe God still speaks through poets today. Sometimes with a prophetic voice. Sometimes imparting wisdom. Sometimes bringing clarity. Sometimes lifting the soul to hope and love.

Even if you think you aren’t, you probably are more “into” poetry than you realize. Song lyrics are a type of poetry. Along with the instruments and voices, the words of songs can pierce or soothe our hearts as well as our minds.

Voltaire called poetry “the music of the soul.”

On World Poetry Day (March 21) and every day I encourage you to begin the practice of including poetry in your devotional reading, meditative prayer, quiet times, and soul care.

Eugene Peterson stated, “People who pray, need to learn poetry.”

But don’t just take my word for it. Listen to these comments from readers who have found poems help them focus on, and open their hearts to, God’s presence and love:

“In our own seasons of suffering, [these poems give us] words to explain the pain, to cry out to God, or to get a grip on our faith.” –Elaine Wright Colvin (after reading I Cry Unto You, O Lord by Sarah Suzanne Noble

“This book is a steady and wise companion for those who read the Bible with real devotion and honest questions.” –Connie Wanek (after reading Bible Poems by Donna Marie Merritt)

Each one [of these poems] lifts my heart towards God. They have become a part of my morning devotions.–Bev Coons (reader of PRAISE! Poems by Mary Harwell Sayler)

“So many of the poems provided moments of prayer for me.” ~Jimmie Kepler (speaking of Glimpsing Glory by Catherine Lawton)

Poetry, and all the feelings it represents, connects us to all of humanity’s longings and searchings for God. Here is one of my favorite poems of devotion, written by Irish poet Thomas Moore, about 200 years ago:

MY GOD! SILENT TO THEE!

As, down in the sunless retreats of the ocean,

  Sweet flowers are springing no mortal can see,

So, deep in my heart, the still prayer of devotion,

  Unheard by the world, rises, silent, to Thee,

     My God! Silent, to Thee,—

     Pure, warm, silent, to Thee.

As still to the start of its worship, though clouded,

  The needle points faithfully o-er the dim sea,

So, dark as I roam, thro’ this wintry world shrouded,

  The hope of my spirit turns, trembling, to Thee,

     My God! Trembling, to Thee,—

     True, fond, trembling, to Thee.

–Thomas Moore

 

On hopeful paths of prayer and poetry,

~Catherine Lawton


(Photo by Thomas Jay Oord. Used with permission.)

(This post was revised and expanded from one I first published here in 2018. In this form, it first appeared on the Godspace Blog to celebrate World Poetry Day, 2023).

 

 

Moments Morph into Poems

Our lives are built of moments in time and space. And just as one moment of your life doesn’t define you, so one poem doesn’t define a poet.

Some moments of my life I wouldn’t want anyone to remember. Some moments beg interpretation. But not every moment of life warrants being grappled with or immortalized in a poem.

Some of my poems come out of my humanness / humanity; some come from the living workings out of faith; some come out of my searching, listening, and questioning; some poems come out of the sensations of a moment.

Some moments that inspire poems are microcosms of creation’s cosmic array, snapshots of life’s bigger pictures. Some poetic moments are unique flashes or epiphanies that I wish could be repeated but will likely never come again, at least not quite the same. These moments have transformative power if we open our hearts to receive what they have to give. I think that is true, to some extent, of poetry as well.

I don’t sit down to make lines and rhymes, but to use words, rhythms, and metaphors to paint pictures of life’s moments of observing, noticing, being present to someone or something in a new way … of seeing a sometimes-startling new depth or aspect or facet of a fleeting, evocative, life-giving moment.

John Wesley is quoted as saying, “Learn the importance of every moment, which just appears, and is gone for ever!”

Poems come to the poet out of living moments that, penciled on paper, morph into verses of word art that can bring meaning to the reader’s own moments.

~Catherine Lawton

He Restores My Soul

Photo of the Pawnee National Grasslands

Vast solitude under changing skies

On the first day of June we decided to get clear away from office, computers, books, and other projects. My husband and I felt a hankering for bird watching and wildflower viewing. So we drove out to the Pawnee National Grassland, bringing our dog, Jasper, with us. This mile-high, protected habitat on the prairie of Northern Colorado provides nesting ground to a colorful variety of migratory birds.

Some years the grassland—a vast solitude under changing skies—is hot and dry. This time. after a wet spring, we found it cool and green. Wildflowers dotted the native grasses. Prickly Pear had started opening their blooms. And the birds! They foraged in the grasses, perched on fence posts, did aerial gymnastics to catch flying insects, scratched in the sandy roadside, hunted from the sky, and paddled on small ponds.

We walked a little ways on a trail through the grasses. Larry took a picture of Jasper and me:

Pawnee-May30-CandJasper

We identified 25 bird species, including Vesper Sparrow, Prairie Falcon, and Loggerhead Shrike. At one point along the gravel road we spotted a bird that looked like a miniature roadrunner. It ran on the ground with its tail held high. We watched it through binoculars and checked our bird guide (and the birding app on my cell phone, the only technology we used that day). It appeared to be a Sage Thrasher. Then the bird lifted into the air and we thought our chance to observe it was over. But it landed on a fence post just ahead of where we had stopped our car on the narrow road (The occasional approaching car or pickup could be seen miles away, in plenty of time to pull over).

As the breeze ruffled its feathers, the Sage Thrasher lifted its head and sang! And sang and sang. What a show. It felt like a gift to have this bird—uncommon in our area—perch and sing for us. I took a picture the best I could with my smart phone:

102_0790

Here’s a clearer photo of a Sage Thrasher singing:

A Sage Thrasher

Used with permission of sagegrouseinitiative.com

In the wonder of this bird perching and singing so close to us, we felt even more connected with nature around us.

Connection is important. We connect with people, share ideas, express creativity, and conduct business through keyboard, screen, digital images and sounds, artificial light and wifi. This virtual world is full of potential and offers fascination. But experiencing life through technology can gradually drain our souls. One way I know this soul drain is happening is, when I go to bed, close my eyes and, instead of drifting to a peaceful sleep, I see images and text, web pages and video flashing across the screen of my mind. (This is why I generally turn off my computer by 9:30 p.m.)

King David said, “He leads me in green pastures and beside still waters. He restores my soul” (Psalm 23).

Once in a while we need to unplug, go out into a world that engages all the senses, and let our souls be restored. Nature and the rediscovery of wonder offer a gateway to a restored soul. Carol O’Casey, author of Unwrapping Wonder, writes, “I escape expectations … and take a walk on the wild side. Whether exploring field or forest, marsh or meadow, or the edge of the sea, in the natural world I am transformed. There, in the solitude of nature I experience God’s presence.”

That night, after a day of birding on the prairie, when I lay my head on the pillow, I began to realize what a gift I had brought home with me from the grassland. When I closed my eyes, my mind wasn’t filled with a screen through which virtual images came at me. No. Instead, I was still among the Lark Buntings, Horned Larks, and Longspurs winging, swooping, twirling in the air. I was still surrounded by the songs of Meadow Larks, Brown Thrashers, and Mountain Plovers. I was still watching Swainson’s Hawks soar on high and kite in the breezes. I was still enjoying the yellow, blue, and red wildflowers and smelling the sweet grasses. With these images, sounds and smells came a peaceful, delighted and deep sense of Presence—the presence of our Creator, the Restorer of our souls.

Gifts are always better when shared. To my surprise, when Larry got in bed and turned off the light, after just a few moments he remarked, “I’m still seeing birds.” Lying side by side in the darkness, we compared notes and agreed that it had been a wonderful day.

A special sense of being attuned and restored has stayed with me—even as I type this at my computer.


Holding and Writing What Gives You Life

ROCK_CHAPEL

If only we could get away for a while to some quiet, sacred place and find rest, renewal, and transformation. Surely, then, our writing, as well as our lives, could be revolutionized.

But our lives are so daily. Made up of moments piled on moments, experiences both planned and unexpected. Perhaps, though, your daily routine includes habits that you don’t even view as being a “spiritual exercises” but that are gradually giving you the perspective you crave. That was the case for me.

To speak or write effectively to others, in a way that reaches hearts as well as minds, we must speak and write from our hearts. But first we must get in touch with our own hearts. I’m going to share with you a way I found to do that.

Jesus said “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” If you want the words that flow out of your mouth or pen to be purposeful, meaningful, life-giving … then first tend to your  heart. How do we as writers tend to our hearts? In his book, Pray, Write, Grow: Cultivating Prayer and Writing Together, Ed Cyzewski describes his practice of daily self-reflection that “grew into an essential exercise that also revolutionized my writing.”

I have experienced something similar. A few years ago I felt overwhelmed and pulled in various directions by duties, desires, and demands, and I felt a need for focus and clarity, an unbroken sense of the Lord’s presence, and a new release of creativity. At bedtime I began the practice of thinking over my day, and I focused my mind on the best thing that happened that day: the time during that day when I felt the most joy and life. I saw those moments as gifts and drifted to sleep embracing the gift God had given me that day:

  • a child’s laughter
  • sunlight dancing on a pond
  • flowers blooming in my garden
  • a surprise visit from a friend
  • the way the Lord spoke to me in a scripture and came close to me in prayer
  • the way the phrases, rhythms, and rhymes of a poem came together.

These moments I treasured in my heart; they gave me hope and a sense of anticipation for the next day, to see what the next day’s moments would bring.

Then I found a charming little book by Linn and Linn, Sleeping With Bread: Holding What Gives You Life, and I learned that what I was doing was a type of Christian spirituality taught by the Ignatians, called “the Examen.” You reflect prayerfully back on a day (or a week, a year) and ask, “What today gave me consolation and life?” You also may ask, “What took life from me, gave me a feeling of desolation?”

It is good for the soul to embrace and hold to the life-giving, consoling moments of our days. And over time, we can observe patterns and learn what we really should focus our energies on, because God indeed speaks to us through the experiences of our days; He wants us to experience His life and joy and consolation in a way that will flow out of us to others. By practicing the Examen you may even discover your unique gifts and calling.

As a Christian writer, this practice and the resulting insights indeed could revolutionize your writing. Rather than laboring to write something you think you ought to write, or that others seem to expect, write the form, subject, theme, and style that engages and expresses your heart as well as your mind, that fills you with consolation, hope, joy, help, and fulfillment. And most likely what you write will do the same for your readers.

Scattering Books Like Seeds

In my mind, a publisher distributing books is like a farmer broadcasting seeds. We send them out in every direction, hoping they fall on ready, canstockphoto2973557-sowerprepared soil that can and will receive the message and take it to heart.

In wintry times, seeds lie dormant in the ground waiting, sealed. When days grow longer and warmer, the seeds  awaken, sprout and eventually produce leaves and fruit.

Same with books. You may buy a book or be given one, but the season of your life isn’t right yet. The book sits on a shelf, or under a pile of other volumes—or a list of Kindle files—you plan to read sometime. Then one day you pick it up, or click it open, and start reading; and you marvel that these words are exactly what you need at this time.

Casting/sowing seeds or books takes faith and a long vision. A Christian publisher must believe that these books, which contain kernels of life-giving truth, will be carried by the Wind of the Holy Spirit. And when prepared personal soil opens to these seeds, we pray that their message will be watered by the Living Water. The resulting fruit will be minds and hearts growing and encouraged to flourish in hopeful wholeness, spiritual insights, and joyful service.

So I choose the mindset of an under-gardener. My Father is the Gardener. By his grace I purpose to work with God in digging, planting, and harvesting. The resulting fruit may never be fully seen or measured. But I will seek to cultivate wheat, not chaff, and do it with love. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must lick my finger and hold it to the wind.

On hopeful paths of prayer and poetry,

~Catherine Lawton

 

A Checklist to Make Your Writing Shine

A marshy field in Colorado

The marshy field in this photo teems with life. When our car speeds by it, though, we don’t notice or experience the wildlife hidden in the grasses, wading in the mud, singing from the reeds. One day we stopped our car, rolled down windows; looked through binoculars; listened, felt, smelled; tasted the breezes. Myriads of bird life, colors, textures of fauna and flora brought the place alive to us. Good writing does that also: draws in the reader, reveals hidden things, opens possibilities.

I taught from the following list at a recent writers workshop. Afterwards, a couple of wide-eyed writers said to me, “You really want good writing.”

Well, yes, I do! The better-written a manuscript comes to me, the more I like it. Here at Cladach we may resonate with the premise and material of a nonfiction manuscript—we may like a novel’s characters and plot—so much that we are willing to devote the editing time needed to bring the writing quality and style up to these standards. We may ask an author to go back and re-write/revise/re-work a manuscript. Then we also do in-house macro editing, line editing, and copy editing. The following list gives most of the elements of style and “good writing” that we look for in a manuscript and strive for in the books we publish.

Here’s how to give your writing pizzazz so readers will want to invest in it, engage with it—be entertained, convinced, and inspired by what you say. Check your writing against this list to make sure it communicates as clearly and persuasively as possible.

 1.  Have you written from your heart as well as your mind? (If not, read this post. If yes, go on to the rest of the list.)

 2.  Write in the active voice. Choose strong, active verbs.

 3.  Write concretely, rather than abstractly. Show, don’t just tell. Appeal to all the senses.

 4.  In nonfiction as well as fiction, use storytelling as much as possible.

 5.  Stay in a definite, consistent POV. Through whose eyes is the reader seeing?

 6.  Hook the reader on the first page/ first paragraph/ first sentence/ first word.

 7.  Keep the reader’s attention as each word, each sentence, each paragraph, each chapter leads to the next.

 8.  Maintain a logical or chronological flow of thought or action. Use transitions when needed.

 9.  Strive for precision and conciseness. Cut extraneous/ repetitious words and phrases. Less is more.

10.  Give thought to word choices—consider subtleties, connotations, nuances; find the zing and zest of the right word.

11.  Vary sentence structure and length. Use periodic sentences often (as in these examples).

12.  Search for and remove troublesome words that hide like gremlins in your writing, words that are used compulsively but often aren’t needed. (Click here for my list.)

13.  Use your ear. Do the sentences flow well? In fiction, is that how people sound when they talk? Try reading your writing out loud.

A Mountain-top Experience for Christian Writers at CCWC

Mtn-CCWC-2013

If you are a Christian writer, I want to encourage you to attend the  Colorado Christian Writer’s Conference. This great conference is just two weeks away, but there is still time to register. I will be at this conference and I would love to meet you there.  You can come for 1, 2, 3, or 4 days. You can stay in beautiful YMCA of the Rockies or commute. Come if you can! Here’s more information from the conference director, Marlene Bagnull:

Colorado Christian Writers Conference

A note of encouragement from Marlene Bagnull, Director:

  • Do you ever doubt your abilities as a writer?
  • Have you almost given up on getting published in today’s competitive market?
  •  Do you hate the “slush pile” and wish you could talk to an editor one-on-one?
  • Are you secretly terrified of the idea of building a “platform”?
  • Do you feel like you’re all alone in your writing adventure/struggle?
  • Is it really worth hanging in there for the long haul?
  • Is there a desire burning in your heart to write words that will potentially lead others to Christ?

7 Top Reasons You Need to Come to the May 11-14 CCWC

  1. Master the craft of writing. Okay, no one will ever achieve that lofty goal. There’s always more to learn. But as one conferee said, the Colorado Christian Writers Conference is equivalent to a semester college course in writing. A faculty of 56 editors, agents, and authors will provide instruction for wannabe and advanced writers of fiction from Christian speculative to historical, point of view and voice to making a scene. Nonfiction writers will find help for writing Bible studies, memoirs, articles, and much more. With 59 workshops and 8 continuing sessions to choose from, there really is something for everyone.
  1. Learn how to sell your work to potential publishers or explore the how-to of indie publishing. Whether you’ve received more than your share of rejection slips or have yet to get your first, two of CCWC’s eight continuing sessions that will provide the answers you need are: “Indie Publishing Boot Camp” and “Writing a Winning Book Proposal.”
  1. Face to face opportunities to pitch your work to editors and agents. In today’s publishing world the only way to connect with many agents and editors is through meeting them at a conference. Those who register for Thursday through Saturday are entitled to FOUR 15-minute one-on-one appointments with the faculty of their choice. You’ll find lots of helpful info on how to prepare and make the best choices by clicking on One-on-One at http://colorado.writehisanswer.com.
  1. Learn the craft of marketing/promoting your published work. Yes, it’s a craft, and not one that comes naturally to most writers. I’ve often said that the reason I quit Girl Scouts was the stress of trying to sell cookies. Whether or not you enjoy marketing, though, you hold the key to the sales of your book. And the good news is that marketing can be learned. We have a track of six hour-long marketing workshops and a continuing session on “Thriving in Today’s Publishing World.”
  1. Friendships with other writers. Writers connect deeply with one another faster than I ever have in the chit-chat before and after Sunday-morning worship services. A key verse that I’ve sought to follow is 1 Thessalonians 5:11, “Encourage each other to build each other up” (TLB). It happens every year at CCWC!
  1. Inspiration and encouragement to keep on keeping on. Louise Looney is well qualified to teach the workshop, “Still Climbing – Not Over the Hill.” Since turning 75, she has written four books.  Allen Arnold’s continuing session, “From Overwhelmed to Creative Breakthrough,” will provide a refreshing journey for anyone who feels disheartened. And, of course, we also offer eight inspiring keynote addresses and times of worship.
  1. And the Number 1 Reason to come to the Colorado Christian Writers Conference: Renew your faith and passion to “write His answer.” Each year Father meets us on the mountain and challenges and equips us to write about a God who is real, who is reachable, and who changes lives.

There’s still time to register and to request appointments. Housing is still available at the YMCA – Estes Park Center. Thanks to the Y’s spacious classrooms, none of the workshops or continuing sessions are filled. For much more info and secure online registration go to http://colorado.writehisanswer.com. If you need time payments or scholarship help, please ask. Email me at mbagnull@aol.com or call 484-991-8581.

Writing is good for spirit, soul, and mind

 

Today I’m sharing a guest post written by a friend, a retired pastor who writes encouraging, daily meditations for his Facebook followers. This kind of writing takes discipline and a heart that is attuned both to the Lord and to people and their real needs.


Writing is good for spirit, soul, mind. I don’t mean texting or e-mailing. I mean paper, pencil, and eraser writing. Because it’s slow. You have to be thoughtful. There is time to choose words, create effective phrases, eliminate unnecessary words, refine thoughts, evaluate what you are saying.

Things written penetrate deeper, with more impact, and last longer. Proverbs 7:13 advises writing God’s wisdom and instruction deep within your heart. Hebrews 8:10 records God saying, “I will put my laws in their minds and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.”

I think it was my friend, Jim Copple, who said to write something every day. In writing, spirit, mind, and soul get to breathe deeply. A spark of thought grows into a flame, and I grow. Having lighted a candle, I may pass the little flame on to whomever may need or find it useful.

Write something every day. No, not a “to do list.” Write a prayer, a personal note, a journal entry, or even just random thoughts. Paper and pencil have advantages over lighted screens and keyboards. A writing, praying, thinking place in your home is also beneficial.

What could it hurt to give it a try?

~Larry Lewis

Larry Lewis and his wife, Frances