RetreatingI attended a funeral last week. A sudden, random, unfair death robbed my friend of her son.

The service was beautiful—not glib at all, yet still daring to offer hope. A hope that my friend knows but probably can’t yet feel.

As it happens, I also spent time at a Retreat House last weekend, and I think in some way my friend’s son’s funeral helped prepare me to explore some grief and loss in my own life. It was an interesting time, and I left understanding that sometimes it is necessary to retreat in order to advance.

In my solitary room at the house, at the tiny desk where I spent time journaling and praying, this small, framed poem silently affronted me:

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.


Now, I believe that this poem cannot speak to my friend yet. Her pain is too fresh, too enormous. All she can do is retreat for awhile.

And I, with my lesser losses, will also have to retreat now and then. It takes a unique courage to see change and grief approaching and still “meet them at the door laughing.” It’s even more impossible when they show up unexpected. And no one wants “some new delight” when we are deeply connected to the old delight we’ve always loved.

My prayers are with my friend and her family. I know that healing will eventually come, but it will be a long, slow journey of advancing and retreating.

God be with you in that journey.


Using your senses


Use your sensesAn old writing exercise encourages you to be aware of all five senses—not only while you’re actually writing, but also while you’re researching. If you are interviewing someone, for example, you need to pay attention to the words he is saying, but also take note of the sights, sounds, and smells that are part of the experience, and take note of how they make you feel.

This doesn’t mean that every news release you write will begin with an adjective-laden description of the setting; but paying attention to details gives you resource to draw from that can make your writing more layered and rich. By using your senses when you gather information, you can invoke your readers’ senses when you are conveying the information to them, in whatever form you choose.

For example

To illustrate this, I’ll use a poem I wrote many years ago when I first joined the family at Living Springs Community Church. It’s a very literal interpretation of the five-senses exercise, and my goal was to use physical senses to describe an intangible reality.

My God,
You look like a crinkled smile on a familiar face,
aaaa like hands raised in the congregation.
You feel like a hearty handshake
aaaa or a child’s hug.
You smell like warm earth, cut grass, and spring blooms—as well as
aaaa candle wax and smoke.
You taste like a church potluck—
aaaa variety and familiarity and surprising spices and old favorites
aaaa in an atmosphere of laughter and prayer.
You sound like harmony and solos and just-right tempos
aaaa in praise songs both memorized and spontaneous.
My God,

Would this work for you?

Would an exercise like this strengthen the kind of writing you do? Are there certain types of writing—novels, brochures, ads, poems—that are more appropriate for this kind of exercise? Or does it work mainly for poetry?

How conscious are you of your senses when you are writing? Which of the five senses do you tend to overlook in your writing?


No Scar?
(a poem by Amy Carmichael)

Amy Carmichael was an Irish Christian whose faith story includes serving the poor of Belfast and the abused of India. I have loved this poem of hers—No Scar?—for more than 20 years, but I have not been able to learn the story of when she wrote it or why. If you know, I’d love it if you’d post a comment.
no scarHast thou no scar?
No hidden scar on foot, or side, or hand?
I hear thee sung as mighty in the land,
I hear them hail thy bright ascendant star,
Hast thou no scar?

Hast thou no wound?
Yet I was wounded by the archers, spent,
Leaned Me against a tree to die, and rent
by ravening beasts that compassed Me, I swooned:
Hast thou no wound?

No wound, no scar?
Yet as the Master shall the servant be,
And, pierced are the feet that follow Me;
But thine are whole: can he have followed far
Who has no wound nor scar?