OSOM: August “Negative Space”

Kathleen Norris has helped me a great deal in my spiritual life.  While we are not always on the same page, we certainly speak the same language.  In one section of her book, The Cloister Walk, Norris explores what it means to be a person of faith – the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen  (Heb. 11:1).  Her writing and thoughts are beautiful.  I say that because what I happen to be focusing on here are actually two quotes that she uses…but I promise all the stuff around them is great too!

Norris first quotes Anglican bishop John V. Taylor:

Imagination and faith are the same thing, “giving substance to our hopes and reality to the unseen.”  The whole Bible endorses this, and if believers talked about faith in these terms they would be more readily understood.

And perhaps more influential to me, she cites a term by the sculptor Edward Robinson who speaks of certain encounters as having “an unaccountable remainder…2 plus 2 equals 5 experiences.”

I have experienced that.  The kind of relationship or event or prayer or song or community that is greater than the sum of its contents.  And it is this idea that led me to write Negative Space.  It can be a thing that is daunting, frightening, and even quite depressing.  Absence, vacancy, void.  Those are not terms we find great comfort in.

Yet, as a Christian, I profess to be a believer in this constant negative space that hems me in from behind and before.  To be in communion with the Spirit, the “breath” or “wind” of God.  This negative space is somehow much different.  It is a constant unaccountable remainder.  Although, I might argue, it can indeed be accounted for.

Sonically, my hope was to juxtapose an intimate, up front feel in the verses with a wide, spacious feel in the choruses.  I also tried out several new recording and production techniques.  I varied the mics and their positions on two different acoustic guitars, sang farther back from the mic to get more of the room sound, and manipulated some virtual percussion sounds to create the “bass” and “snare/clap” sounds.

Having walked through this months experience, I feel myself almost swimming through the atmosphere around me.  I almost the air having to part itself to allow my body to move.  Space in the form of physical distance, silence, my sin of leaving things undone, are no longer the absence of something.  They are the presence of life happening between the lines.

I’ll leave you with Deuteronomy 30:11-14,

Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach.  It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?”  Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?”  No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.



Closet Souls: A Prayer

There is tension all over.  We need the hands that heal.  The kind of hands with wounds that know how it feels.  A calming force.  The strength of love.

The freedom of chains felled, of bonds loosed, and debt forgiven.

The heart swelled, the love to choose, the dead arisen.

A reorienting of work to life.  What does it matter after all, if the ones we love are left for the things we do for them.  We are not asked to work harder for gain and prestige, we are asked to love the least of these.

This is a morning that ought to be experienced.

We can’t do as we will at every moment – we are given work to do.  But we were also given hearts, souls, spirits.  And the tilling of spiritual soil is as important as tending to our earthly jobs.

How are we so tied to these tethers that pull at our ankles as we run toward beauty, passion, curiosity?  Will we be freed from these burdens to pursue the joy in our hearts that so often we repress, leaning on the doors of our over-stuffed closet souls.  We mustn’t let it spill.  We mustn’t let the secrets out.  We mustn’t brave the masses and change course.

Lord, we need time, patience, focus, and support.  Bless our work as we seek to bring beauty to our lives and the lives of others, for your eternal, deserved, and perfect glory.  In the majestic name of the Savior and beautifier of all, Jesus Christ.  Amen.


Turmoil and Peace: From Isaiah to Gertrude

Scripture punched me in the gut a few days ago. Perhaps you know the feeling. I came across a verse I had written in my notebook probably six months ago that I found important, and it is still just as striking:

“In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.”

Isaiah sure did know how to put things. I am constantly grappling with the creation, performance, growth, and reception of my music. My thought life is consumed by questions of success, opportunity, and recognition. To be completely honest, it even swells into a temper tantrum before the throne of the King. What I think I say is, “It would be great for you, God, if I had this thing. I’m sure it sounds more like, “I don’t want what you’ve given me and I don’t trust you to take care of me and you’re not paying attention to what matters.”

I come to my senses eventually. It’s probably more accurate to say that He brings me to my senses. By the strength of His gentle, strong arm, He picks me up off the ground, kneels down, looks me in my tear-streaked face, and says, “You are fearfully, and wonderfully made. And you are mine. Sing to me.”

We are creators by invitation.  And so it is our great privilege so serve by creating, as creation, for the Creator.  Our strivings, conflicts, triumphs, and glories as artists are all wrapped up in the Lord’s grace.  We must learn to repent, rest, be quiet, and trust.  Most artists that I know struggle consistently with their work – how it is made, produced, received, and promoted.  But the only satisfaction we find is in the Savior.  And so I will leave you with this quote from a 15th century German nun, Gertrude the Great:

“I profess, and to my last breath I shall profess it, that both in body and soul, in everything, whether in prosperity or adversity, you provide for me in the way that is most suitable…with the one and uncreated wisdom, my sweetest God, reaching from end to end mightily and ordering all things sweetly.”