None can sense more deeply than you artists, ingenious creators of beauty that you are, something of the pathos with which God at the dawn of creation looked upon the work of his hands. A glimmer of that feeling has shone so often in your eyes when—like the artists of every age—captivated by the hidden power of sounds and words, colors and shapes, you have admired the work of your inspiration, sensing in it some echo of the mystery of creation with which God, the sole creator of all things, has wished in some way to associate you. — St. John Paul II
Today I am thrilled to feature my daughter Maria’s writing, with her gracious if blushing permission. But that’s not all! I also get debut the writing of her dear friend and co-vocalist, Ashley. Yes, of the famed Ashley and Maria.
Maria’s poem was written as part of her English class’ unit on poetry. She asked me to read it and then tell her what I thought it was about. I read it quietly. As I read it slowly through, I was delighted by the artfulness of her language and her ability to beautifully structure the meter and rhyme. But when I got to the last line, I exploded out a “WHAT??” and then drained my hyperbolic word bank dry. Here it is:
There for my compulsions of cathartic release
A vacuum for my thoughts ‘til my mind is at peace
The greatest of listeners, absorbing every thought
Unfailingly present whenever you’re sought
Upon your exemplary performance, my success is dependent
With you in my grasp, my thoughts grow transcendent
Transporting me to where my mind is seldom sedentary
I yield to your craft, O slanderer of the ordinary
I immediately knew the moment I lifted that last line from the paper, through my eyes and into my mind, that she was describing the very pen she had employed to slander in this poem! I added to my explosive WHAT??, “Are you kidding me? Majestic! Outrageous! Stupendous! What is this? How did you think of that?”
Then, just when I thought I was safe from any more unsettling provocations, Maria passed on to me Ashley’s poem. Who are these 16 year olds? Where do they come? After having Maria admonish all pen-wielders to slander the ordinary, Ashley the tektōn indulged me in her slandering fest, consecrating raw empirical data into a sacrament of beauty. That’s how it felt! Ashley’s poem is a protest against modernity’s insular vision, against its atrophied imagination, healing her generation’s neurotic fear of punching upward-opening holes in our synthetic ceilings for fear they might reveal God’s downward gaze.
Those eyes! What hue? Azure? Indigo? Turquoise? Zaffre?
As I read “On the Lake,” I was transported into Ashley’s world, drawn through her eyes to envision a landscape of colors I had never seen myself. I even tasted her colors: bitter sweet! And I could hear her heart singing praises to the FarNear God in words that carved new depth into those canyon crags, only to leap up again with joy into the skies.
Let me allow her to speak:
On the Lake//
I want to paint a picture of it, but no painting could do justice to its surreality.
Rusty-colored rock walls, built towards the sky, seemingly endless.
The ground not solid, but a crystal clear lake of blues —
The kind of blues that can only match the color of God’s eyes.
For even the blind man could recognize an aesthetic realm such as this.
The canyon could dizzy and perplex even the most intellectually gifted of men.
It has the kind of beauty I begin to develop a deep nostalgia for even before I arrive, as I
know how I will miss the grace of the natural atmosphere.
It is the closest place to heaven on earth, like a mirror parallel to the blue of the sky-
The reflection of the bitter-sweet color strays before it hits the rock.
It is the land of Aphrodite and Venus, where they sang and danced and laughed.
It is easy to feel free in the midst of the red rock, the same rock that shifts and transforms
and never looks the same, but always maintains its allure.
A land so dry and barren, yet still, I have never felt more tied to the earth, with all its
humbleness and peace and magnificence.
The sun kissed my shoulders, my skin now the same shade of red as the rock walls.
But I didn’t care. How could I? How could I possibly care about anything besides taking in
every inch of the canyon walls? How could I think of anything so extraneous when
surrounded by this insurmountable beauty?
I must let the earth consume me completely,
For in just a few days, I will desperately dream to be on the lake again.
Here’s what I wrote later in my journal:
That’s the true vocation of a writer, isn’t it? To make the familiar strange and the strange familiar; the extraordinary ordinary and the ordinary extraordinary? Maria’s, Ashley’s love of language, and their firm grasp on its potential for beauty, bleeds through their pens. Their voices are inflected with faith, intoning the forgotten power of language to reveal, by refraction, countless concealed beauties.
Faith! I’m absolutely convinced that an imagination captured by faith, hope, love, breathed into us by Christ the Tektōn [artisan], creates a capacious imagination. Faith, i.e. to think in Him who is the Word, the Origin of all beginnings, the Goal of all strivings, the restless resolve of all opposites, the Unity that preserves all difference. He gives to the mind its fullest “breadth and length and height and depth” (Ephesians 3:18)!
He is the Most High slanderer of the ordinary, the Writing God who has chosen US to be, and do, His calligraphy. We are the Scribes of the Wild Kingdom (Matt. 11:12; 13:52), word-smiths who render the mundane, celestial; the stable, an earthquake.
Writers discover, recover, uncover the uncommon in the common, mine infinite ore hiding within a flat wasteland, reveal the surplus of meaning lying latent in every empty space.
I also thought, after reading Maria and Ashley’s work, about the word tektōn, which is used in Mark 6:3 to describe Jesus’ profession. It’s usually translated “carpenter,” but is so much broader. A Greek lexicon says it includes “a worker in wood, a carpenter, joiner, builder, any craftsman, or workman, the art of poetry, maker of songs, a planner, contriver, plotter, an author.” Fabulous! God is a tektōn, all of these things, so of course Christ was also a tektōn. Brilliant!
I thought of the Catechism 2501 — I used it in a talk to musicians once: “Indeed, art is a distinctively human form of expression; beyond the search for the necessities of life which is common to all living creatures, art is a freely given superabundance of the human being’s inner riches. Arising from talent given by the Creator and from man’s own effort, art is a form of practical wisdom, uniting knowledge and skill, to give form to the truth of reality in a language accessible to sight or hearing.”