My Small Span of Ardent Life (A Guest Post)
Spring is for new life.
I have twelve baby chickens and trays of green seedlings in my basement. I have a teetering stack of new books by my chair.
One of those books is by Hilary Yancey. I’ve shared her beautiful words in this space before. She writes with rare wisdom and lyricism, and I look forward to digging into Forgiving God: A Story of Faith as much as I can’t wait to dig into my garden. This is the story of Hilary’s pregnancy with her firstborn, Jackson, and her journey through his diagnosis with craniofacial microsomia at a 20-week ultrasound. It’s a story of working to believe in miraculous healing, and confronting God when the miracles don’t look the way she expected.
It’s a story of learning to leave behind old expectations to make room for something wider, and wilder.
I am so glad to host Hilary’s reflections at my home online today.
I am not one to despise Your gifts.
May You be blessed
Who spread the riches of Your sweetness
For my zeal…
Let my small span of ardent life
Melt into our great communal task;
To lift up to Your glory
This temple of sweetness,
A citadel of incense,
A holy candle, myriad-celled,
Moulded of Your graces
And of my hidden work.
– “The Prayer of the Bee” by Carmen Bernos de Gasztold, translated by Rumer Godden
When I was in high school I was once described by a new friend as doing a kind of “butterflying” – from person to person, subject to subject, leaving conversations half-finished or always to be continued. I had, in the thoughtlessness of a fifteen year-old experiencing peer acceptance, jumped from lunches to free periods and neglected her. I hadn’t realized that she moved more carefully, finishing each thing before taking up the next one. I apologized profusely, and we went on to build a friendship in chemistry classes and after school theater. But I vowed to myself that I would change, I would abandon my butterfly ways. I would be slow, I told myself. I would be wise.
Have you ever kept a promise too well? Have you ever been so good at becoming more like someone else that you left yourself behind?
Three years later, at the start of my freshman year of college, my mentor told me that I was too flighty. I came in, as she once called it, in “a gust of disquiet.” I was so anxious to prove that I could be a quiet soul. I remember trying to practice daily prayer in the windowless study room of my dorm, growing bored in the words even as I willed myself to practice, practice, practice what I assumed she meant by stillness and calm.
In trying to become wise, I have been trying to become someone else. I assumed wisdom was sturdy, like wood, that you had to carve in yourself a space for it to live. I assumed I was the wrong shape for it, that to acquire it, to be the better friend and the wiser soul, I had to sand down and rework the architecture of my heart.
During the day, my daughter sleeps in fits and starts—fifteen minutes, thirty minutes, a rare hour—waking with a surprised widening of her eyes and then a smile that slowly creeps across her face, indenting at her dimples that echo her brother so strongly. Her waking hours stretch and bend, winding like a river through our days. She is never asleep that long, she is always looking for a reason to wake up.
My son gallops through the day, racing from backyard to coffee maker to puzzles and books. His energy is just barely contained by the limits of the sun going down and coming back up. He is a tidal wave, dancing to a record or to the NYC Ballet’s Nutcracker movie, and he thunders his life around me. He moves so fast, and I feel the stretch of my body and mind to keep up with him.
Perhaps the shape of wisdom isn’t always wood. Perhaps sometimes it’s water.
My children echo back to me parts of myself I put away back when I assumed that remaking myself was the way that I could honor God. But of course, God doesn’t ask us to become other people, even other wise people. God asks instead that we become ourselves.
Lord, I am not one to despise Your gifts.
And I am the bee, the scattered heart, the wave. I am built for movement and for restlessness, I am built with too many loves which always feel like too few. The other day I told Jesus I want to learn to play the banjo. The other day I told Jesus I want to study the structure of our immune system. The other day I told Jesus I could spend my days rereading Richard Wilbur’s Collected Poems out loud. Perhaps this is you, this restless movement. Perhaps you are more like a tortoise or an owl, perhaps your wisdom is in how you keep watch or how you pace yourself through the world. Perhaps you are built for a different kind of movement.
Lord, I am not one to despise Your gifts.
I wrote Forgiving God because there was a book in me and it was bursting to come out. I wrote it to search for God, to find a way to confront him and a way to lean on him. I moved restlessly then, writing twenty minutes here, ten minutes there. I labored, I hope, like the bee – gathering hope from a thousand flowers to build something up.
But this I hope more than anything else – that this book, this small span of ardent life—melts into the task before us all: that together, we lift up for God’s glory something holy and beautiful. That we, in the many ways we might be wise, whether slow paced or ceaselessly moving, whether more like a tortoise or more like a bee, we live ardently. That our tasks come together to offer something fragrant and good.
And wisdom can be like water, and it can fill all kinds of hearts.
Hilary is a student of the surprise hidden within the every day. She explores the challenges and blessings of marriage, motherhood, and a life of faith–and how these are expanded and changed by disability. Hilary is also a Ph.D. candidate in philosophy at Baylor University and lives with her husband, Preston, and two children in Waco, Texas. Her blog can be read at www.hilaryyancey.com.