That last blog post was pretty heavy, wasn’t it? This will be lighter… and shorter… but I’ll frame it with more wisdom from Metropolitan Anthony Bloom’s words (from Living Prayer): (see Friday's post for more quotes if you missed it)
… we must shed away everything that is not essential to life. Then of course you run the risk of remaining bored with yourself; all right, be bored. But this does not mean that there is nothing left in us, because at rock bottom we are made in the image of God, and this stripping is very much like the cleaning of an ancient, beautiful wall painting, or of a painting by a great master that was painted over in the course of the centuries by tasteless people who had intruded upon the real beauty that had been created by the master. To begin with, the more we clean, the more things disappear, and it seems to us that we have created a mess where there was at least a certain amount of beauty; perhaps not much, but some beauty. And then we begin to discover the real beauty which the great master has put into his painting; we see the misery, then the mess in between, but at the same time we have a preview of the authentic beauty.
He wrote these words about prayer. About communion with God, our Creator. But today I’m thinking about how they also apply to art… to writing and to painting.
My writers group (the Yoknapatawpha Writers Group or YWP) held its monthly critique meeting in Oxford (Mississippi) today… inside at Uptown Coffee, since it was a bit chilly on the balcony at Square Books. (This picture is at the end of the day... on the balcony at Old Venice Pizza.) We help each other do some of the things Metropolitan Anthony talks about… only with our writing, rather than our prayer lives. (Although I'm not so prone to put these things in separate boxes....)
Like shedding away everything that is not essential… unnecessary adjectives, repetitious descriptions, extraneous words. And we have to be willing for things to be messy during the process. As Met. Anthony says, “… it seems to us that we have created a mess where there was at least a certain amount of beauty.”
Sometimes it hurts when someone in the group says, of a paragraph that is beautifully crafted, “What does this add to the story?” or “Delete this.”
But if we trust each other with our treasures, which is why we have come together, eventually we “discover the real beauty which the great master has put into his painting… a preview of the authentic beauty.”
What’s amazing about this process, within our writers group at least, is how much each person brings to the table. We have two poets (one published in some very reputable journals,) three fiction writers, two creative non-fiction writers, and (an overlap here) two to three folks exploring screen or play-writing.
Each time we meet I can see the plaster falling. Off our masks, that is. We are becoming more real. And better writers. And maybe better pray-ers.
Metropolitan Anthony says that the more real we become, the more we “discover that what we are is a poor person who needs God; but not God to fill the gap—God to be met. So let us set out to do this and let us also every evening of the week, pray a very simple prayer:
Help me, O God, to put off all pretences and to find my true self."
With help from these special friends who love writing. And do a great job of gentle stripping away.
And some of us are also artists... like Herman King (pictured here with his wife, Ginger, and some of his works of art on display at Jack Robinson Art Gallery downtown (Memphis) Friday night. It was the Trolley Art Tour night. Herman does metal works with some other artists at the Ornamental Metal Museum. The gentleness and strength needed to forge these graceful birds from iron is truly a work of patience and skill. As are Herman's bracelets and other objects. The exhibit is still up for those who missed the tour Friday night. I couldn't help but wonder, as I met some of the artists and listened to them describe the process involved in their work, how much stripping away was involved... and how many true selves were discovered in the process. Kind of like these words, on the wall at Uptown Coffee where our writers group met today:
(A friendly discussion as stimulating as the sparks that fly when iron strikes iron.)