Words That Speak to Me

August 9, 2017 by

I’ve been collecting beautiful words for years. I have several once-blank books into which I have copied prose and poetry, good journalism, and single sentences that made me catch my breath in sheer awe. From Shakespeare to Saroyan, from Robert Penn Warren to Cormac McCarthy, Hemmingway to Marilynne Robinson, writers who create art with seeming effortlessness hold my highest regard. Who wouldn’t want to be able to say this:

I went back to my own innocent little chores and sat in my office as the fall drew imperceptibly on and the earth leaned on its axis and shouldered the spot I occupied a little out of the direct, billowing, crystalline, consuming blaze of the enormous sun.
—Robert Penn Warren, All the King’s Men

Or which parent doesn’t see the naked truth here:

That is how life goes – we send our children into the wilderness. Some of them on the day they were born it seems, for all the help we can give them. Some of them seem to be a kind of wilderness themselves. But there must be angels there too, and springs of water. Even that wilderness, the very habitation of jackals, is the Lord’s.
—Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

And one of my favorites, just because:

Standing there, staring at the long shelves crammed with books, I felt myself relax, and was suddenly at peace.
—Helene Hanff, Q’s Legacy

These collections reflect a lot of who I was (and am), and where I was in my life – and when marriage and children took my attention and time, the collections grew a little slower. In those years, for ease and access I began saving these findings in various files on my computer. And later, provided a handy mechanism for compiling favorite paragraphs or sentences, and an irresistible way of sharing such gems with reader-friends. Unfortunately there is little logic to my collection, and while I know what I have kept, I don’t always know where. But, leafing through these books and scrolling through files, I always remember what prompted me to want to keep each excerpt.

Even that wilderness, the very habitation of jackals, is the Lord’s.—Marilynne Robinson

It’s not only imagery and literary perfection that fills my scrap books. Powerful insights from Christian leaders of the last centuries – including Johann Christoph Blumhardt and Eberhard Arnold – are in there as well, thoughts and ideas that have shaped my own thinking and choices. Plenty of George McDonald, too. For it was seldom only the brilliance of a passage that attracted me. Many times what was being said was in some way directed at me, and where I was in my life.

So this morning, when I was looking for something entirely other, I found a Word document titled “Obedience.” The file date was 2006, and when I opened it up I remembered saving it, and why. Eleven years from that save-date, I needed these words again.

Voices blog readers may remember that two years ago my husband and I came from the Platte Clove Bruderhof in the Catskill Mountains here to Asunción. Although I have grown to love the city, I had some adjusting to do. The change was dramatic; the mountains are hard-wired into my psyche. I used to sit at my window and watch the never-ending shift of light and shadow on the flanks of the three peaks that I could see without moving. Now I see the high walls that surround every home. I used to take a daily walk up to our reservoir, the well-maintained trail enabling me to keep my eyes peeled for the oriole, or deer, or even the black bears we had in our mountains. Here, broken sidewalks require careful attention and a misplaced step can end in a painful sprain. The sounds of streams and of wind in the trees have been replaced by screeching motors, sirens, and the cacophony of a city.

mountains in sunset
Platte Clove Bruderhof

I didn’t know how dependent I was on four distinct seasons, and the dramatic weather events of the escarpment. Endless, blazing days of heat and white light exhausted my mind and body. I missed the silence of a deep snow. Not least, I missed the people with whom I had shared all aspects of my life: work, leisure, worship. I’m not complaining, just sayin’…

So when I tried to read this poem to my husband this evening, I couldn’t get past the second stanza. I handed it to him to finish. To be completely honest, I don’t always feel the “light divine” shining over our path – some days I hardly see the path. I don’t consistently feel God’s hand on mine, the way I remember feeling my father’s large warm hand curled protectively over my own all those years ago. In fact, there are days when I look around me and wonder if God is paying attention. It’s not so much that I feel I need to do something about the sin of the city, as the poem directs. Rather, there is a sadness and a despair in many of the people I see, a resignation to a life beyond their ability to change.

So I was grateful to find this piece again, needed in 2006 and again in 2017, and these words reminded me of my promise to God, and his promise to me. He is paying attention.

George MacDonald
I said, “Let me walk in the fields.”
He said, “No, walk in the town.”
I said, “There are no flowers there.”
He said, “No flowers, but a crown.”
I said, “But the skies are black;
There is nothing but noise and din.”
And He wept as He sent me back –
“There is more,” He said, “there is sin.”
I said, “But the air is thick,
And fogs are veiling the sun.”
He answered, “Yet souls are sick,
And souls in the dark undone!”
I said, “I shall miss the light,
And friends will miss me, they say.”
He answered, “Choose tonight
If I am to miss you, or they.”
I pleaded for time to be given.
He said, “Is it hard to decide?
It will not seem so hard in heaven
To have followed the steps of your Guide.”
I cast one look at the fields,
Then set my face to the town;
He said, “My child, do you yield?
Will you leave the flowers for the crown?”
Then into His hand went mine;
And into my heart came He;
And I walk in a light divine,
The path I had feared to see.

About the author

Carmen Hinkey

Carmen Hinkey

Carmen Hinkey and her husband Stephen live at the Mount Community in New York State.

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