Roethke was one of the great American poets. Toward the end of his life, James Dickey, another great American poet, wrote, “Roethke seems to me the finest poet now writing in English. I [say] this with a certain fierceness, knowing that I have to put him up against Eliot, Pound, Graves, and a good many others of high rank. I do it cheerfully, however. … I think Roethke is the finest poet not so much because of his beautifully personal sense of form … but because of the way he sees and feels the aspects of life which are compelling to him.”
One of the writer’s disciplines Roethke developed was to record his thoughts and impressions in a series of notebooks, some 200 in all. “I am always working,” the poet declared, and indeed, the jottings of striking ideas and conversations was constant for him. In his biography of Roethke, The Glass House, Allan Seager estimated that only three percent of the lines of poetry in the more than 200 notebooks were ever published.
In short, Roethke, though he also taught writing to college students, with whom he had a love/hate relationship because teaching kept him from writing, nevertheless achieved that envious condition known as “the writer’s life.”
This has been a dubious achievement for me. I too have a series of notebooks that record some of what a re-reading of them has convinced me are rather self-conscious efforts. The writer (me) observing the wannabe-a-serious-writer (me)! The difference? My efforts have gaps of years—sometimes five years or more. They’re interesting in a journalistic sense—to me at least—as I’m reminded that I have attempted but never been able to achieve that enviable state for the writer; a writer’s life.
In fact, my writing study at home is a neglected no-man’s land piled with disorganized order (I know where to find everything—HAH!). Every time I enter that room, I am reminded of Roethke’s words, “A mind too busy is no mind at all.”
In fact, I have two home studies—one for writing and personal involvements (speaker’s files, travel information, medical records, books on the creative process and pertinent devotional literature), archives of my prayer journals, and my own published materials.
The downstairs study is the household filing system. Gardening information and warranty records are here. The basement bookshelves hold volumes on fabric art, cookbooks, maintenance information, artistic endeavors, art criticism, and shelves of the volumes I loved in my childhood.
In addition, I think about our own Mainstay Ministries; also the world-health organization where I now serve as a board member; the Global Bag Project, a micro-enterprise effort some friends and I started to help vulnerable women in Nairobi secure sustainable income; Hungry Souls, the spiritual-growth laboratory another group of friends and I designed to test tools with the participation and input of live bodies. There’s a whole office that exists to house the desks and drawers and files of all these enterprises.
Obviously, something has to go. Yesterday I picked up the black-and-white school notebook labeled “Morning Pages” and continued praying about those things I must pass on to other folk so that I can do the work given me to do. I open the page randomly to…
February 23, 2004 (Sunday not in church.)
This is a “being” day, not a “doing” day. Things for “being” include:
- Reading and copying out quotes from Robert Capon’s “Supper of the Lamb”—such lovely thoughts on being attentive.
- Walking in the garden in my knee-high boots—amazing green things sprouting; some beds almost ready for raking. Callie (my dog) dancing beside me.
- Listening (with notes) to Bach’s “Mass in B Minor” (the Credo); lovely.
- Reading Adam Zagajewski’s “Without End.”
God, give us a long winter
And quiet music, and patient months,
And a little pride—before our age ends.
Give us astonishment
And a flame, high, bright.
- A walk on the prairie path with David and Callie—a beginning.
Obviously, I have too many “doing” days in my life with lists and desks and files and drawers. In order to regain the writer’s life I desire and do what God is placing on my heart, I must have more “being” days. I must attempt to achieve a mind not-too busy. And I must make sure there are no more ten-year gaps in my writer’s notebooks. This is the work of this next year, 2015.
Award-winning author Karen Mains has long had an interest in spiritual formation and the obedient Christian walk. She has written about the God Hunt in her book by the same name, The God Hunt: The Delightful Chase and the Wonder of Being Found. A hardback copy can be ordered from Mainstay Ministries for $10.00 plus $4.95 shipping and handling. Contact Karen at firstname.lastname@example.org and she will be happy to autograph a copy for you.
Karen continues to write content for her Christian blog, “Thoughts-by-Karen-Mains.” In so doing, she desires to touch the lives of Christian women and men and help them find ways to walk closer with the Lord Jesus Christ. In addition, through silent retreats, spiritual teaching, women’s retreats, Christian vacation opportunities, and other ministry activities, Karen helps each Christian woman and man receive vital spiritual food.
Through her Hungry Souls ministry, Karen serves as a spiritual coach to many Christian women and men, and teaches a mentor-writing class. And, through the Global Bag Project, she is working to develop a network of African women who sew exquisite cloth reusable shopping bags, Africa bags. This micro-finance women opportunity helps provide a much-needed sustainable income for struggling African families. For more information on this critically important project, please click here.
For decades, Karen and her husband, David, have served God through religious communications—radio, television, and print publication. They are the co-authors of the Kingdom Tales Trilogy: Tales of the Kingdom, Tales of the Resistance, and Tales of the Restoration. To find many valuable resources for pastors and congregations at the Mainstay Ministries main website, please click here.
Likewise, pastors will find special resources to help them prepare effective, life-transforming Sunday sermons by visiting David Mains’ website by clicking here.