NOTES FROM THE TILT-A-WHIRL
Last week an editor friend sent us two books. Wish all my friends who are editors had the generosity of our friend Felipe, who lavishes us with the printed word from his consideration and production for the Refugio library! (These gifts will reach and provoke so many more readers and possible writers). The first was Michael Reeve’s doctrinal introduction to the Triune God, which enlarges one’s understanding of grace and the glories of God’s being. The other book surprised and boggled my hunger for beauty in writing on things long known and loved, presented in unique, almost unbelievable ways—about creation and destruction, belief and unbelief, and everything imaginable in between time and eternity. I had never heard of N. D. WILSON. His Notes from the tilt-a-whirl hooked me with its dizzying, reelingly real story of life in relation to eternal life. With every enticing word woven through, I wondered, in my sinful writers’ jealousy, why I had never imagined such art-laden metaphors. Discovered that Nathan Wilson is a very young (younger than my youngest son) Fellow of Literature and novelist who has made his mark with children’s books which I’m dying to read and pass on to my grandchildren. A sample of the amusement park disequilibrium grown-up unbalancer:
This universe is a portrait in motion, a compressed portrait in motion, a miniature, inevitably stylized, for it is trying to capture the Infinite. The galaxies are each one fraction of a syllable in a haiku of the Ultimate. On the human level, attempts at taking a sunset from the small frame of the horizon and putting it on a postcard; taking a blues riff, the rhythmic vibration of strings, and capturing a sense of loss; marble, chiseled and shaped until it shows nobility; a cartoonist’s frame, grabbing at six-year-old boyness, grabbing at laughter… What is the best of all possible things: That which is infinite, always present and undecaying. That which is both many and one. That which is pure, ultimate, and yet humble. That which is spirit and yet personal. That which is just and yet merciful. Yahweh, God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost... What is the best of all possible Art. That which reveals, captures, and communicates as many facets of that Being as is possible in a finite frame [Notes from the tilt-a-whirl, N.D. Wilson.
: Thomas Nelson, 2013, p.108]. Nashville
Both books gifted are about God and how he defines and hones the artist in his image-bearing creatures who “communicate in finite frame”. They got me to thinking how trite my own communication is, even as I try to make what I write spring from and overflow with coram deo reality.
Despite the admonition of Dorothy Thompson, my ancient teacher at Palavra da Vida 45 years ago, to “be balanced”, despite my wealth of years in communicating Christian life, I still totter and sometimes fall flat on my face. Take the tilt-a-whirl condition Paul bemoans in Romans 7:
I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do-- this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God-- through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin (vv.18-25).
This conflict between the good I crave and the evil I am has been with me since I became a person. The greatest thinker, church-founder and writer Paul and a lopsided attempter at thinking and writing Beth Gomes—both assert that there is no getting away from our human condition. It is exemplified in all aspects of our life.
Take the double edged sword of writing/translating. My heart’s desire is to write well, be read and recognized as someone who has something to say and says it with graceful sharpness. I do not yearn for riches or even best-seller status—just want to share life experiences in a way that touches many others. I want to know Jesus better and communicate with women and men, young and old, how he touched and transformed me. His story, my stories, the stories of people all over the world, of inner struggles and outer battles of those both extra and ordinary, with pain and exultations (the power of his resurrection and fellowship of his sufferings, Philippians 3:10), are all part of what I want to write.
How I want to write? Well, with beauty, simplicity and poignancy. Practical stuff, the stuff of love and life—without stuffiness—and learning out of the mouths of babes, utterances of unforgettable women and men.
What do I write? I have several projects, and though sometimes fear there are too many irons in the fire, have proposed five for the next few years: 1) Joint project with my husband on Life Changes in letter to Philippians; 2) Flesh out a textbook for a course on Women`s Issues in Counseling; 3) Write a storybook-cookbook on Refúgio cuisine, its preparation, presentation and provision; 4) Fiction – a novel based on missionary and native Brazilian life. This has been in my mind for twenty years and is two-thirds written—must complete, query and submit to US publisher; 5) Fiction based on the oft-told story of Esther, weaving Persia and its endangered Jewish diaspora population, with women in Iran who search for meaning in the God who sought and wooed them with an everlasting love.
Okay, so those projects should keep my arthritic fingers dancing. But besides what I will write there is the fact of what I am doing now. Last year I translated Kevin De Young’s Crazy Busy, which was a thirty-nine lashes admonition for me: don’t fill my life with busy-ness. But translation—that copycat activity which yields some cash for expenses not covered by being a wife and/or being retired, gobbles up a huge serving of the day. Work in translating Christian books has numerous advantages: 1) I learn from authors admired, acquiring knowledge, understanding and abilities of men and women with multi-perspectives; 2) I make the word available to people of cultures different from those original authors, building bridges and consolidating Christian lives in places I could never personally reach; 3) I learn to discern: spiritual, intellectual, practical keenness.
After a hundred translations to my pen, I’ve lost count, and the advantages of plodding through books good and bad, and making them into good reading in another language, are too many to enumerate, so, let me now mention a couple of disadvantages. 1) I’ve already hinted at the fact that my time is sequestered: when I’m translating someone else’s book, I am not working on my own. No matter I’m learning, making good books available, building bridges and consolidating Christian living as well as enhancing keen discernment—my own production is impaired and stymied. 2) As translator, I flit from heavy to ultra-light, from Carl Henry, Michael Horton, D. A. Carson or Nancy Pearcey to Dave Powlison or Ed Welch or Paul Tripp or John Piper (these last four are not light in content, but in pleasurable delight even with heavy themes.) My own thinking can become not only Poythress’ multi-perspectival but Beth Gomes’own multi-mixed up! 3) Sometimes what I have translated becomes incorporated into my own work in a way that I forget to attribute something to an author I have worked on, and replay the text as my own. I am in constant need of revision, to see again what I say and make worthy reference to my predecessors.
Wish there were paid sabbaticals for freelance writers! Along with my life companion Lau and with Paul of old, I have learned to be content in every situation, be humbled or exalted, in need or well-supplied (Philippians 4:11). But sometimes I wish there were time and money to purchase more books and write my heart’s stories instead of other people’s doctrinal teaching! I know I grow with giants and great reads—at times I groan with the insufficiencies and inadequacies of my own life. Yet—this is a wonderful word I must always share—I press on, I press toward the goal, reaching forward to those things which are ahead!
In some ways, I am the same girl who wrote eighteen chapters of her first novel at age thirteen and never got it finished; in others, I know I am the mature woman who continues to see writing as unfinished business, a challenge to faith, hope and love. Pressing on is no drudgery!