the holiness of work
the dry spell had been long. the dust, collecting in my throat. the days of wondering where i was meant to be. aching for a path, a sense of how to find the clearing, through the thicket, up the side of the mountain.
some days i swore i’d lost my soul. found myself pounding out tales of how to clear a plugged drain (talk about ironic). oh, sure, i liked the plumbers all right. didn’t mind learning a thing or two about the ways of my sink. but really? i’d left the bedsides of dying children, picked up pen and notebook, to find myself 30 years later, making sure the world knew how to un-plug that drain.
clearly, that was not my steady diet. i spiced it up with the occasional soulful musing. saying goodbye to kids headed off to college. saying goodbye to my own. but it was, more days than i wanted it to be, an exercise in driving me to madness.
i could barely remember those days this week as i sat, morning after morning, in the shifting light. heard the chatter from just beyond the screen, as the sparrows had it out with the cardinals. and no one appreciated the stalking ways of my fat striped cat.
but there i was, red pen in hand, poring over pages that are typed-out vessels from my heart. more like prayer cards, each and every one. it’s called editing, but really it’s distilling. distilling to the essence, paring away excess. cutting to the bone.
it happens to be essential to the craft of writing, but really it’s essential in this odyssey called life.
we are each of us, processing machines. we wander through the day, absorbing this and that, taking in that long tale, and this winding one. if we’re thinking, paying attention, we are always on the lookout for the essence, the gospel take-away, the distillation of heart and mind and soul.
one by one, we take the offerings of the day, hold them to the light, sift and sort. decide which ones serve up sustenance, which ones merely upholstered the day in wit and whimsy.
so that’s the task i’m attending to right now. whittling down page after page, sentence after sentence, to its essence. its holy spark, if there is one. others will be the judge.
and as i slowly turned the pages, as the red pen traced progress in the margins, i found myself bathed in an undiluted sense of the holy. maybe, just maybe, it’s baptism, all over again. a new beginning. maybe after all the years, i’ve stumbled on the deep pure vein that connects me, that i’ve been trying to find for what feels like forever.
holiness. it’s why i set out on my journey long ago. it’s the wind beneath my wings.
and it came up and tapped me on the heart this week. seeped in through the holes in the screen door. filled the kitchen.
there’s work to be done, from now till tuesday, when the next deep round of edits are due. this whole month is pretty much a blur of tight deadlines, one cascading atop another. thank God i live with someone who understands the urgency, and the long long dry spell that preceded it. he seems to know that it’s a prayer i am offering to the heavens. because really that’s what this is.
and it’s the holiest work i’ve ever done.
thank God it found me. i’ve been searching for so long.
so that’s the update from here at the news desk. whirling madly toward the deadline. a dear friend visiting for the weekend, the joy of trying to sustain calm amid deep-down palpitations. so i’ll simply pay closer attention to whatever it is i’m doing in the moment. extract more essence.
and the question: what’s your holy work? and how did it find you?
Ah, the distillation, the ruthless letting go of beautiful, but extraneous words. What was it the old boys at the Trib said? “We edit sonnets.” Distilling down to haiku. I’m sure your book will be pithy and ethereal at the same time.
Holy work: Telling the story of a blind sea lion pup, shot in the face by some fisherman for no reason other than that he was there. And of the Australian lungfish that has been at Shedd since 1933–as far as we know, the oldest fish in any aquarium in the world (he surfaces to breath air!–great adaptation for the 2½-week journey from Sydney to Shedd by steamer and rail). Celebrating a sea turtle so badly wounded by a motorboat propeller that she nearly died and, once recovered, could not be returned to the ocean–but could inspire people to think about their impact on habitats they share with wildlife. Pointing out a fish species extinct in the wild. Embracing Cephalopod Awareness Week to highlight a brainy octopus–and get a chance to feed a nautilus. I get to tell stories of amazing animals, large, small, charismatic and otherwise. And it started 25 years ago with a message on my answering machine letting me know that Shedd was looking for a science writer–at the same time that a dead-end job Holy indeed.
this my friend, is why i adore you. xoxoxoxox you send me to the moon…..
[…] share some words of wisdom from Barbara, an amazing writer and long-distance friend. She just wrote a blog post about finding our passions and writing and editing as a metaphor for life. Well-timed for my own […]
Dear bam, your work here on this blog has been holy for forever. I so look forward to reading your book! I’m not familiar with publishing schedules and all…will it be out in time for holiday giving?
it will be out for NEXT year holiday giving, bless your heart. xoxoxo autumn 2014, is the official pub date. meaning i should see it late next summer.
Well then I’m all set for lots of folks for Christmas 2014! Now I just have to figure out this Christmas. I’m big in to giving books. Mary Oliver’s new book of dog poems? Anne Lamott’s new book STITCHES?
I think our Holy Work pursues us until we stop and listen with our heart and find the courage to take the leap of faith and begin the work. A few are blessed to know and follow their passion early in the life journey, but most of us wander awhile. I recently found this quote and loved it…
The theologian Frederick Buechner defines vocation as “the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need. A vocation is that path in life which calls us out of ourselves, to that place where our gladness meets the world’s need.”
My “mom vocation” would not let me go until my babes came my way via adoption …and my “five year old self” dream of being a nurse finally took hold forty-five years later. Better late than never to stop, listen, and leap. 🙂
as always, beautiful. beautiful. i love the buechner quote….