O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, meddling, lust of power and idle talk.
But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love to your servant.
O Lord and King, grant me to see my own sins and not to judge my brother, for blessed are You unto ages of ages. Amen.
I've always struggled with balancing humility and repentance with joy and freedom, so I was happy to find this wonderful essay by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware a few years ago, in the book, Living Orthodoxy in the Modern World. The essay is called, "Lent and the Consumer Society." It's actually where I first read about flying kites on Clean Monday. Anyway, I love his approach to Lent:
We are encouraged to associate Lent with fresh air, with the wind blowing on the hills, with the coming of spring. Lent is a time for flying kites--a time for adventure, exploration, fresh initiatives, new hope.... It also has to do with freedom.... Lent is a time when we learn to be free.... As a human person in God's image, I am not truly free unless I have learnt how to use my freedom rightly, and this process of learning presupposes obedience, discipline and self-denial. Freedom is not only a gift; it is a task....Lent is concerned, first, with the offering of the world back to God in thanksgiving....
I love that. It's not about self-depracation and groveling. It's about seeing ourselves as God sees us. Yes, seeing our sins and repententing of them. But also seeing God's gifts come to fruition as we labor. Freedom means freedom from slavery to self and harmful passions, but also freedom to be all that we can be.
In that vain, I'm going to share some more good news about my work, thanking God for these two encouragements I received in the mail last week:
First of all, the essay I entered in the Santa Fe Writers Project's Literary Awards Program was a finalist, although not a winner. The essay, "Blocked," will appear in sfwp a Literary Journal in the coming weeks or months. (I'll let you know the date so you can read the essay at their online journal site.) The letter I received from Andrew Gifford, Project Director, was just the shot in the arm I needed at this time in my writing. Here's part of it:
We found that your work shows great promise. As you know, writing is a difficult process, and it often takes years to develop the skills and the voice to tell your stories in ways that speak to a reader. Your voice spoke to us, and we listened.... we feel that you have mastered the most difficult element in writing--you captured the attention of your audience.
This will be my fourth essay published since November, and my first one published by a literary journal, so I'm very thankful, and yes, trying to be humble! (But I won't forget to let you know when the essay is available online!)
My second blessing came from Laura Garner, Middle School/High School ELA Coordinator for the Berkeley County School District in Moncks Corner, South Carolina. Laura had read my essay, "myPod," in skirt! Magazine back in November, and wrote to ask my permission to use it as part of the curriculum for teaching creative writing to 8th graders! At first I thought, "eighth graders? what does that say about my writing, if it appeals to 8th graders?" But then I read the letter which she sent me last week, along with a copy of the curriculum unit she created, which included my essay:
Thank you for granting me permission to use your essay, "myPod," in an eighth-grade curriculum unit. The title and subject matter of the piece held obvious appeal for our students, but it was your writing style and the organization of the essay that prompted my request. I found your style to be as warm and spicy as the barbeque I enjoyed when visiting your city for a conference last summer.
Okay, that felt really really good to read. And her curriculum unit is nothing short of amazing. I wish I had been taught creative writing at this level when I was in the eighth grade! KUDOS, Laura! The "Author's Craft Review," used by the students to evaluate each piece, included these five categories, which aren't bad things for all writers to consider as we hone our craft:
1. Position Statement
2. Support for Position
4. Use of Literary Terms
5. Grammar & Spelling
So... as I continue putting together my book proposal and revising sample chapters for the agent who requested them at the Creative Nonfiction Workshop, I'll try to keep these not-so-contrasting elements before me: my Lenten struggle for humility and freedom, and the encouragement I received from the Santa Fe Writers Project and the South Carolina State Department of Education. The structure and discipline of Great Lent are really conducive to the difficult self-discipline involved in writing and revising, and I'm so thankful to be entering into this season of learning to use my freedom in this way.