I think…

…that I would like to paint with words.

I suppose, technically, that would be poetry, in which case, technically, I’m in trouble. For most of my life, poetry has been this obtuse wall of inscrutability, and that’s just reading it, not writing it. But the thought of opening vistas with the flow of words, the thought of evocative imagery, the thought of unleashing springs inside people which they didn’t even know were there…those are intoxicating thoughts.

I knew long, long ago that I would never be an artist in the traditional sense. And, as is the habit with most of us human beings, what I’m not and could never be good at has been largely ignored. But, slowly and sneakily, art has worked its wily ways into my life.

“The Gift of Asher Lev” (CHAIM POTOK) may have been the first time, ever, that I understood the world and the power of artists. Potok (a word artist, I suppose) was able to get me inside the head of artist Asher, and create two longings at once: the longing (hopelessly unfulfilled) of being able to create art which could speak, and the longing (unfulfilled but possible?) to use words to help others see differently. Then I became a dad, and from really early on, Natalie has spoken of wanting to be an artist. So art couldn’t be ignored any longer.

My friend Melanie Weidner uses art as a conduit for worship. It’s her own expression to God, and it opens and inspires worship in others. Tonight, Natalie and I went to one of Melanie’s art exhibitions together, and as we drove home drinking milkshakes from the Burger King drive thru, I realized that a deep longing in me is to paint with words. Melanie asked us tonight, as part of her presentation, to pay attention to what God was birthing in us, what longings are there that we ought to pay attention to. And I suppose this is mine. But I’m not sure I have the discipline, the stamina, the freedom, to pursue that longing.

See, it would take work for me. Writing itself isn’t all that difficult. Not effortless, to be sure, but words flow easily for me. Most weeks, I’m praying and thinking about what words Jesus would have me share with Newberg Friends. That kind of communication, centered on bringing God’s words in the bible to life (“From Palestine to Pasadena”, as Ian Pitt Watson used to tell us in Advanced Preaching) comes easily and naturally. But, to do what is taking shape in my mind, to paint with words, to aim for some kind of poetic prose…that would take a lot out of me. All art does, I realized tonight, as I looked at the many pieces Melanie has created, and heard her stories of how they came into being.

I’ll tell you two things that flashed in my mind tonight. What are some examples, in my mind, of painting with words? In “The Lord of the Rings” (J. R. R. Tolkien) there’s the scene when Theoden and the riders of Rohan emerge from the forest and see Minas Tirith for the first time. Theoden is leading the rescue cavalry, who have already beaten unimaginable odds. He himself has been brought, resurrection-like, out of a spell-induced early onset of old age to lead his people triumphantly to the rescue of besieged Minas Tirith. Merry watches the King, and the horror of despair becomes real:

The king sat upon Snowmane, motionless, gazing upon the agony of Minas Tirith, as if stricken suddenly by anguish or by dread. He seemed to shrink down, cowed by age. Merry himself felt as if a great weight of horror and doubt had settled on him. His heart beat slowly. Time seemed poised in uncertainty. They were too late! Too late was worse than never! Perhaps Theoden would quail, bow his old head, turn, slink away to hide in the hills.


A change comes, a breath of air from the south, and just for a second, light breaks through. Then, a flash…darkness…and a rolling BOOM that the reader knows is the breaking of the gate of the City of Gondor.

At that sound the bent shape of the king sprang suddenly erect. Tall and proud he seemed again; and rising in his stirrups he cried in a loud voice, more clear than any there had ever heard a mortal man achieve before:

Arise, arise, Riders of Theoden!
Fell deeds awake: fire and slaughter!
spear shall be shaken, shield be splintered,
a sword-day, a red day, ere the sun rises!
Ride now, ride now! Ride to Gondor!

With that he seized a great horn from Guthlaf his banner-bearer, and he blew such a blast upon it that it burst asunder. And straightaway all the horns in the host were lifted up in music, and the blowing of the horns of Rohan in that hour was like a storm upon the plain and a thunder in the mountains.

Ride now, ride now! Ride to Gondor!

It moves me always. He looks despair in the face, and has the courage to hopelessly go against it. Tolkien painting with words.

And the other thing I thought of is a blog I’ve been reading lately, a friend of a friend of a friend, who is most definitely a gifted word artist. You’ll just have to look for yourself. But now, I’m long overdue for bed. So there you have it. I’ve told you my longing, and my fear that I can’t do it. Now all that is left is to find the courage to hopelessly go against that fear.

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