Posts Tagged ‘gospel’

The Post – Agony in the Garden: If Jesus Needed To Do It, Why Do I Think I Don’t?

April 30, 2008

I was just looking over the “blog stats” page on WordPress for my blog – they’re not elaborate statistics, mostly total page views per day, what pages were accessed, and the list of search terms some people used when they stumbled across my blog. Amazing to me are the number of people who are looking for fiddler crab information. I will have to keep that in mind and remember to pass on any new things I learn, for their benefit.

I also spotted an unusual search term: “the agony in the garden.” My mind flashed immediately to all those Good Friday services in church, reading the various Gospels describing Jesus waiting to be turned over to the soldiers before His crucifixion. One of the things that always caught my ear in those gospels was the number of times Jesus kept asking His disciples to stay up with Him, be with Him, pray with Him, and how He complained to them when they kept falling asleep. I think what always surprised me was that Jesus almost sounded….whiny…scared…..human.

All through the Gospels as Jesus traveled and preached, He sounded wise, patient, compassionate, forgiving, amused, even angry….together. But weak? Frightened? At the end of His rope? Needy? He sounded almost like ….us.

Now most of us can’t stand it when we or the people around us act like that, never mind Jesus. Our immediate reaction is more like “get a grip,” “grow up,” “stop whining,” or my usual comment around the house: “You got a backbone?! Then use it!” I have to admit, I almost felt uncomfortable with this Jesus. He wasn’t ….perfect.

Maybe that was the point. I think He wanted to show us that EVERYBODY has their moments of falling apart. Sure, we can’t go around whining to everybody all the time about every little thing. But you know, life can be hard. Sometimes it can really suck. And sometimes, even grown adults want “Mommy.” They want to whine, stamp their feet, have a good cry, complain that it’s not fair. And sometimes grown adults are just plain scared.

Now the Catch-22 is that they don’t want to admit it or EVER let anybody else see that side of them. Nobody wants another to know our “shadow” side….see those moments when we’re not together, when we mess up, or are just plain needy.

My favorite Stephen King anecdote is when he tells of driving somewhere while his wife read one of his manuscripts. He kept glancing over at her, anxiously awaiting her verdict, until finally she snapped at him, “Will you stop being so goddamned needy?!”

The reality is, there’s not a human being alive who doesn’t have their “locked in the bathroom, crying behind closed doors, convinced you’re a failure, needy moments.” I think Jesus was telling us to stop pretending we have it all together all the time, because we don’t. Even He didn’t. He knew what it was to be human, to freak out for a few moments convinced you aren’t up to the task before you.

The thing about it is, when the time came, He was up to the task. Jesus even had the presence of mind to heal the man whose ear Peter cut off, and to tell Peter to put away his sword. I think Jesus is letting us know, it’s okay to fall apart sometimes…in fact, it’s probably necessary now and then to just break down and cry. Feel your fear, acknowledge your anxiety. Maybe it’s even empowering. Once you have felt those, the only way is up. You get up, you wipe your eyes, brush yourself off, take a deep breath, and get back to being a grownup…get on with the task you thought you couldn’t do. Because you can.

So I guess the agony in the garden was that Gospel reading that gave me permission to “not always have it all together.” Just remember to get back up after you finish crying. If Jesus can have His moments, it’s okay for us too.

The Post – Good Friday…Last Book Chapter

March 21, 2008

It is Good Friday. A day for some reason, I have always loved. That, Lent, and Holy Thursday. Easter itself, I hate. It always seemed like such a noisy unnecessary thing after the sanctity of the soul’s connection to God on Thursday and Friday.

I loved growing up in Catholic school and going to Mass every morning. Six days a week while in grammar school, I was in Mass. Six days a week for 8 years, I listened to the stories of Jesus’s life. They were as real to me as my family, truly meaningful, and enjoyed as much as Nancy Drew. The readings that cycled every year, dictated by the seasons of the liturgical calendar were as much a part of my life and soul as the leaves changing color, skies staying steely gray, and the crisp cold that smelled of snow dictated by the changing seasons of New England.

Every year there was a constancy, a rhythm, something you could count on to return to. No matter what else happened in life – those were my touchstones. Raking leaves into piles you could jump into, short days and long nights, cold Halloweens with orange full moons in costumes bought at the discount store, my grandfather bringing pails of sand/salt mix home from the Town Garage, the rhythm of those happenings matched the Advent wreath candles and the church readings as we marched toward Christmas.

The anticipation of Christ’s birth matched the anxiety of waiting for Santa Claus. Midnight Mass in a candle-lit church, boughs of pine branches decorating the walls and door arches, being with all those old Slovak immigrants I knew so well, who built that church, even the way they filled the pews inside – old men on one side in the back, old women on the other side in the back, the younger families (unsegregated) in the rows in front of them – all those images and happenings was as much loved and needed by me, as going home to open presents. In looking back, I think actually, that those moments in the church surrounded by those people, those images, those sights, sounds, and smells, are what I remember more than going home and opening presents.

While the church images are crisp, the presents are kind of a fog. A few stand out: a Jon Gnagy art set, a microscope with dissecting kit, a map-making set, my Dick Tracy machine gun with Marine Corps helmet, canteen, and pistol, and in ironic contrast – soft warm new flannel pajamas, and a plastic carrying case with new pretty underwear each one labeled for a day of the week. Perhaps the ones that stand out in my memory are there because they connected with those parts of who I really am. …as to the days-of-the-week underwear…maybe that’s why I love planners???? 🙂 But the bottom line is that if I were told today that my memory was going and I could only retain certain memories and lose the rest, it is those memories of early weekday mornings in church, and holidays spent there, that I would choose.

So it is that same connection that continues to influence me throughout the rest of the year’s happenings and the rest of the year’s liturgical seasons. While I hate Easter – always HATED having to go buy a new dress and coat, then stand around like a china doll with an itchy crinolin slip, shiny shoes, straw hat and purse, and gloves (gloves – why wear something you always have to keep track of, in a season where it’s no longer cold enough to need them????), unable to run around with the boys in the backyard and have fun – I LOVED Lent, Holy Thursday, and Good Friday.

Lent itself was about focus, commitment, ritual and stories. You focused on something – the coming trauma Jesus would go through. You gave something up – allowance money, candy, gum, whatever, for something bigger than yourself. (Though in our house, you were allowed to indulge on Sundays) You did the ritual of the Stations of the Cross around the Church, every Friday and listened to the gospel readings. For both of those, it was about “story.” Each station was a painted picture on the wall that told a part of the story of the crucifixion. The gospel gave the whole story.

Holy Thursday nights were processions in church, long litanies recited in Latin by visiting priests, the smell of the hyacinths we carried as we marched, the sense of being together again in that place where everyone I knew was going to be, and…the stories. The story of the Last Supper, the Agony in the Garden, Jesus being taken to the Sanhedrin and to Pilate, Peter denying he knew Jesus. I loved the stories. They were like old friends.

Good Friday was a time to hear the whole long, VERY long gospel, so long that halfway through, the priest would stop reading, turn and kneel silently for a minute or two, then stand and finish the rest. It was a day when my mom would make us turn off the radios and TV and keep things “quiet” so you could honor what that day meant. It was a time when the church was stripped bare to symbolically represent the loss of Jesus, and to contemplate what that meant. It was a day to think about a story’s march through rising problems, crisis, and climax, with the relief and resolution Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday would bring.

So here it is today, Good Friday again. I was standing in the bathroom this morning talking to my husband about what I was going to get done today. I said that originally I was going to go to the gym and swim but that I canned that idea. I wanted this last chapter revision of my book finished today, no matter what. I said that it just felt like it needed to be today. He made a joke about it being like our son’s birth- our son was two weeks late, wouldn’t leave even when I started eating Mexican food, had to be induced, and during the last stages of labor I literally remember telling him to “Get out!”

I said, no it wasn’t about labor, but something about the fact it was Good Friday. And I wasn’t sure why. Just felt for some reason, the “season” of my book, needed to match the liturgical season of the day. I said, “I don’t know why but it just feels like this book NEEDS to be finished today, like today is the right day. So the hell with the gym, I’m just going down in the garage (where I work) and finish this damned thing today. At the end of today, I just want to be able to say that this draft is finished.”

Now, I’ll still have “polishing and cutting work to do in the next draft but that will now be a whole different process, almost fun. This draft, like draft # one, was like giving birth, like creating and writing from scratch. Now, I can “play.” The agony of the creating and writing from scratch phase will “be finished.”

As soon as the word “finished” tumbled out of my mouth, the lines from the Gospel of John flashed in my brain:

“After this, Jesus knowing that all was now finished, said, to fulfill the scripture, ‘I thirst.’ A bowl of vinegar stood there; so they put a sponge full of the vinegar on hyssop and held it to His mouth. When Jesus had received the vinegar, He said, ‘It is finished’ and He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.” (John 19:28-30)

So today is Good Friday, a day I have always loved, though I cannot tell you why, other than to say that always on Good Friday, something in my soul has felt complete. So today, I will honor the silent moments of the liturgical season, with the silence of completing my book. If it takes until midnight, I will finish today, so that the two stories shall meet in the single line: “It is finished.”

The Post – Under the Pier: Research Part I – Turning the Dream Into Flesh and Blood

March 3, 2008

According to the Gospel of John, “In the beginning was the Word…and the Word was made flesh.” (John 1:1,14) Something similar happens when performing a science experiment or writing a novel. First there is the idea. But before the idea becomes a scientific paper or a book in the hands of a reader, a few things have to happen. Again, given my science background, I’ll define the process in terms of the scientific approach.

The scientific approach involves a series of steps:

1) Define your hypothesis – the question you are trying to answer or the idea you think you want to prove and a rough idea of how you will do this

2) Outline the procedures and supplies to be used

3) Research your idea to see if it has merit, if there are any invalid assumptions, or new information out there

4) Run your tests and record the results

5) Do a preliminary analysis of your results

6) Re-test anything soft or questionable and make any changes or additions to the experiment

7) Analyze the data and draw conclusions

8) Write the report

Now the same steps adapted for writing a novel:

1) Define your premise – the deeper story question you want to answer – and create a rough outline of the story plan you will use to do this

2) Create your research plan and to-do list: what areas will the research cover, who can you talk to, what information should you collect, where can you find it, what places might be good to visit

3) Do any interviews, phone calls, site visits, library visits, obtain books, pictures, maps, DVDs, music, anything to “put the reader” in the story. Look for any new or unusual information that could add a twist to the story

4) Refine the story framework, such as plot action points or chapter structure then write some sample scenes, character descriptions, dialogue, and chapters

5) Review what you’ve written to see if the characters, emotions, and setting ring true, if the rules of your story world hold up, if the path you’ve taken will in fact answer your story question, and if the pacing is correct. Read any scenes, dialogue, or chapters out loud to see if the voice sounds real or fake. Decide if the point of view is correct

6) Make changes to the story framework such as adding, deleting or rearranging chapters; If needed, add, delete, or change characters, scenes, dialogue, setting, voice, themes, story action, point of view, or pace.

7) Review your plan and tweak where needed

8) Write the first draft

Before I go on, I’m going to put one disclaimer in here. My computer shows #8 on both of these lists with a smiley face. No matter what I do, I can’t get rid of it. I didn’t put it there and it annoys me, but I’m not wasting any more time on trying to get rid of them. If your computer doesn’t show the smiley faces, that makes me happy.

I’ve already covered item one. I know that my story question involves the theme of connection: Do you run from yourself and others or risk connection? The setting includes the worlds above and below the pier in a fictitious New England port town, and there are dual protagonists – a 12-year-old girl and a hermit crab – each with a predicament that forces them to answer this question. I’ve already roughed out a chapter structure and a story line with plot action points, crisis, climax, and hopefully, the correct resolution. This post introduces the next step: Your research plan and to-do list

Research is a kick. In fact some authors will tell you they love it so much they can get lost in it. They have to literally pull themselves out of it and force themselves to start writing. Research unearths specifics, those delicious details that bring the story world alive. They besiege the readers’ nose with pungent smells, their skin with sticky salt water mist, their hair with humidity-generated curls, and their ears with the dull moan of foghorns. They answer questions like: How DOES a fishing trawler catch fish and why does it use cookies and rockhoppers? Can a child operate an ROV? WHICH seagulls are in Narragansett Bay and where?

Specific details make the difference between a man “on a beach looking at the ocean,” and a man “staring longingly out over the east passage of Narragansett Bay, while slipping on black-algae coated shale next to a tide pool containing blue mussels, orange-striped anemones, Northern rock barnacles and red-gilled nudibranches, at Brenton Point State Park, in Newport, Rhode Island, on a steamy August afternoon, just before the black cumulus clouds erupt into a violent thunderstorm.”

Research helps answer “why.” Why is the character looking out over Narragansett Bay instead of Long Island Sound, the Gulf of Maine, Buzzards Bay or the Outer Banks? It explains why the story action is set in January and June instead of July, and why the fish you wanted in your story can’t be used because it’s not in Narragansett Bay near the shore in June.

This story required LOTS of research, and I had a ball with it. All the research really fell under two categories: Characters and Setting, though in some respects, setting can be a character too, but for simplicity, I’ll keep them separate. I will deal with each of the two categories below more extensively in separate posts, but for now a general summary of the approach for researching characters and setting issues. Like the journaling phase, you start with questions:

1) Characters/Creatures/Place as character

First you need to know who you have. In this story, for both people and animals, there are primary, secondary, and background characters. Real people and animals have lives. Good characters – human or animal – have back-story. What’s the story behind each primary and secondary character?

Since there are animals, there need to be rules of the story world. No Suzy Squirrels, no ducks in clothes, no seagulls driving cars. There are long-clawed hermit crabs, hydroids, slipper snails. common periwinkles, Atlantic oyster drills, dogfish sharks, winter flounder and Northern lobsters – in short, real animals, specific to the location. But do they talk? To each other? To only certain animals? To certain humans? No humans? No one? Do they understand “human talk”? Do they know what boats, piers, fishing nets, and otter boards are? Is the human world totally foreign? Do they think?

Regarding place as character – are there particular places in the story that are characters in their own right? Why? What do they feel like? What is THEIR backstory?

2) Setting – This story has a dual setting – under the pier and above the pier. The setting issues include the “broad picture” – what is the surrounding area like, and the “narrow picture” – what is the protagonist’s home turf like? For example, what is her house like, or what is the hermit crab’s tide pool like? What kinds of neighbors do they have? What places do they like? Avoid? Why?

Topics to investigate include things like: topography, geography, geology, climate, the natural flora and fauna above and below the pier, environmental issues, financial and sociological concerns, local economy, business and industry, higher education and research universities, military installations, availability of technology, an educated populace, the effects of prevailing attitudes, ethnicity, and superstitions on the types of jobs, housing, architecture, food, dining, shopping, churches and civic institutions there, the effect of the area’s history on its attitudes, the incorporation of historical buildings or artifacts, legends and myths as part of every day life, and whether historical values influence current day life at all.

Once you’ve brainstormed about all the possible areas to look into, what questions to ask, what references to get, who to talk to, and where to go, the next step is start digging. In the next three posts I’ll show how steps 2 and 3 were applied for my character and setting research.

Coming up Next: Under the Pier – Research Part II: Human Character R&D

Soon to come:

Under the Pier – Research Part III: Animal Character R&D

Under the Pier – Research Part IV: Setting as Character

Under the Pier – Test, Review, Retest, Analyze, Conclude

Under the Pier – Write Your first Draft

General Writing Journey Topics – Broken Bits, Writer Sanity, The Writer’s House – That Swarming Bacteria Proteus mirabilis