This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil, Hebrews 6:19 NKJV
In Praise of Dancing
I praise the dance, for it frees people
from the heaviness of matter
and binds the isolated to community.
I praise the dance, which demands everything:
health and a clear spirit and a buoyant soul.
Dance is a transformation of space, of time, of people,
who are in constant danger of becoming all brain,
will, or feeling.
Dancing demands a whole person, one who is
firmly anchored in the center of his life, who is
not obsessed by lust for people and things
and the demon of isolation in his own ego.
Dancing demands a freed person, one who vibrates
with the balance of all his powers.
I praise the dance.
O man, learn to dance, or else the angels in heaven
will not know what to do with you.
In my younger years, I danced in ballet and tap classes, and during college, I took a modern dance class. The pictures of me in a tutu and ballet slippers lay in a box with other photographs.
I still dance while doing the dishes or only to express my joy.
This expression, this dance — my Lord of the dance has sustained me, has been my anchor during the dark days of today.
Put on your ballet slippers, tap shoes, or whatever footwear you have (modern dance uses your bare feet) and express your joy in the Lord in an upside-down world.
For we also have had the good news proclaimed to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed. Hebrews 4:2 NIV
Broadside ballads were the street literature of the time. The news of the day and ballads – sometimes illustrated with woodcut illustrations – lined one side of the printed page.
One gentleman expressed his outrage, however:
The vulgar ballads of our day, the “broadsides” which were printed in such large numbers in England and elsewhere in the sixteenth century or later … are products of a low kind of art, and most of them are, from a literary point of view, thoroughly despicable and worthless.1
Though the ballads were considered doggerel, the broadsides did document the culture of the time. The performance and publishing of street art are timeless and tactile. No matter the era.
No matter the means, no matter highbrow or lowbrow, God works through it all. Proclaim away!
1Francis James Child from The English and Scottish Popular Ballads.
So Hanun seized David’s servants and shaved off half of each one’s beard. He cut the lower part of their robes off so that their buttocks were exposed, and then sent them away. 2 Samuel 10:4 NET
Wilfred Owen is best known for his WWI poem “Dulce et Decorum Est.” (Latin for “It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.”) However, he also wrote the poem “Exposure,” which details exposure to the elements during a time of war.
When we write poems about war, we bear witness to what we feel and experience. War is not just kinetic. Our wounds can be inflicted by words or actions that are meant to shame and humiliate us.
King David’s army lost the battle, but they won the war. We win our battles by acknowledging the God who fights our war.
It is a fearsome thing to be dealt with by the heart of the Lord.
One recent weekend (I reserve weekends for guilt-free R&R), the Lord swung a punch to my psyche.
I profess no practical knowledge of the publishing industry. All I know is what I have read in books, online posts, and magazines. I do have experiential knowledge with blogging — my first weblog (an older, shortened term for web log) in the 90s was called My Hearthstone. My prodigal blog title returns home.
When I was writing my weblog – back before social media became popular – I was just proud that I was writing posts using HTML 3.2. I shared my views, one referring to Elton John song lyrics, another on Y2K. Technorati, a precursor to likes and follower counts, displayed popularity results for the world of weblogs.
Enter Twitter in 2006, the year I bought Twitter for Dummies and drove in.
Twitter, and a few others, paved the way for the interstate highway system of social media, bypassing American’s Main Street of weblogs. All the action entered the highway of social media, and our blogs became homing places. Our websites, our hearths, had been bypassed by social media companies that circumlocuted our blog posts with algorithms and AI. Wisdom congealed into building platforms first then writing books afterward.
A few weeks ago, the Lord, acting as a traffic cop, stopped me with the dastardly deed of AI and algorithms. In my human wisdom, I had gone looking for other writers to follow instead of working on my writing projects. I was looking for conversations, as limited as they are on social media, with other writers for some semblance of a give-and-take encouraging environment.
This behavior was outside the AI algorithms that Instagram had decided for me. I was locked out of my account immediately for suspicious activity and asked for a cell phone number to receive an SMS message containing a code to reenter. Which I don’t have.
Now mind you, I had 11 followers, mainly family and a few others who were interacting with me through my posts and comments. But they meant something to me. I had read and underlined a book about blogging on Instagram using captions. I shed a few tears.
He had been dealing with me for months to write first and demote social media platforms to a second-place priority. Telling me that my local isolation is a blessing in disguise so that I can concentrate on my writing. As Eudora Welty wrote in One Writer’s Beginnings, “My temperament and my instinct had told me alike that the author, who writes at his own emergency, remains and needs to remain at his private remove. I wished to be, not effaced, but invisible….”
Another lesson I believe the Lord wanted me to learn was to write steadily on a schedule and as Isak Dinesen said, “Write a little every day, without hope, without despair.”
But beyond the pain of losing what I was trying to build on a small level (for many followers would swamp me) was the pain of knowing I was not writing the way the Lord meant for me to write – a long Psalms 119 type poem and venturing to write longer, thoughtful blog posts. And I abandoned the joy of writing itself.
Writing is my God-ordained baptism. A dying to self in front of a blank page. I never would have thought the desire of my heart would be used this way.
I had a vision a few months ago: I was sitting down writing and had so much paper that it was floating all around me, no supply issues here. I know that meant my drought days of writer’s block would be over, but I can’t help but wonder if the vision did double duty and showed me how different the coming days would be regarding how we published our works. I don’t believe the paper in the vision meant an old-school return to book-only publishing, but I do think it might have signified a change.
On a national level, I see around the corner which we are turning now, as do many others, a total upheaval of our society. Social media and publishing companies are not exempt. Even though my Instagram account was taken out prematurely, I know it was a matter of time before censoring companies are taken down, regulated, or for all practical purposes boycotted.
I don’t want to see the Internet go down. I know that is primarily the only way my works are going to be read by those that God sends my way. And I know I am not alone in this. I want to see it cleansed.
It doesn’t have to be all or nothing – variety is the spice of our literary lives. I chose Substack because of the melding of the social media aspect with the newsletter format (and because they don’t censor). My blog before h. renell’s Hearth was with WordPress because of the ability to have a community of followers. And my aforementioned Instagram account.
Many years ago I read Thomas Merton’s book Seven Storey Mountain. The Lord prompted me to revisit it. In the epilogue “Meditatio Pauperis In Solitudine.” Merton records the Lord’s message to him regarding his popular published poetry and his conflicting desire for solitude.
I will give you what you desire. I will lead you into solitude. I will lead you by the way you can not possibly understand, because I want it to be the quickest way…But you shall taste the true solitude of my anguish and my poverty and I shall lead you into the high places of my joy and you shall die in Me and find all things in my Mercy which has created you for this end…And your solitude will bear immense fruit in the souls of men you will never see on earth.
Building a literary life with God, me, and the eyes that God sends my way has become the joyful practice of my weekdays, done in His way. Writers usually don’t see most of the hearts that they touch. For the work is ours and the reach and glory are His.
It is because of the Lord’s lovingkindnesses that we are not consumed, Because His [tender] compassions never fail. Lamentations 3:22 AMP
When you think of poetry in the Bible, the Psalms usually come to mind. However, the book of Lamentations is a poetry of the psalms too — a poetry of grief, written by Jeremiah after Jerusalem’s destruction in 586 B.C.
Sometimes grief enters a national stage. Many poets over the centuries are known as national poets writing grief on a national scale. America’s poets from war-torn times include Walt Whitman’s Civil War poems and Philip Freneau’s Revolutionary poems.
Jeremiah, even in his lamentation, wrote a psalm of hope. Amidst all the doom and gloom, the poets also should be the counterweight of hope.