Sunday, June 24, 2007

Wendell Had It Right

I remember when I was just a girl, not a little girl, I was about twenty years old, I heard a poem called, "Marriage." And it moved me. I was a speech/drama/film/creative writing/art major when I finally got my head together and dropped back into high school and went on to Jr. college.

Okay. Yeah. I know. My head wasn't too together if I had all those creative arts majors. I may have been flaky, but you gotta admit, I had to have a whole lotta fun in college back in the day. Anyway, this was back when I only dreamed about marriage. I believed in it. Wanted it. Begged God for it. Every hopefull-quickly-turned-to-hopeless touch I shared with men who would not be my beloved burgeoned my sentimental, girlish, "I'm the princess deep down inside. Can't you see me?" hope. I kept waiting, even then, for the one, giving myself foolishly away.

Even then.

I was in an Reader's Theater troupe back then, and we were one of the best in the country. We'd travel all over and compete, and in one of our shows I heard a reader perform a poem by Wendell Berry.

You know how sometimes you hear somebody's work, and you just know, without knowing, that you'll come back to that person--that artist. It may be years later, but one day, he or she will be important to you. That's how I felt about Wendell Berry. I didn't know who he was back then. I was 20 years old. Well read for a ghetto girl, but I was no scholar, and this was more than twenty years ago. But I remember clearly, the name of the poem was "Marriage." I remember the lines that moved me as if I wrote them myself. I remembered that I'd get back to that Wendell Berry guy. The words so resonated with me, that it was as if my soul nodded yes, took the words, folded them up, tucked them away and saved them in some nook where they would keep. Until this week. I need them like I need water this week.

What a hellish time it's been. The emotional terrain around here has resembled a war torn country this week. You couldn't walk around without wondering if an explosion could spontaneously erupt right in front of you. Or an assassination could take somebody out right before your eyes. I've been walking around in the debris of anger, blame, and guilt of my own making. And his. Lord, have mercy.

And then the words I helds so long shook loose from that hiding place in my soul, and there they were, still folded as neatly as they day I tucked them away. I scrambled around to find a copy of the poem. Just a tidbit on the net. Finally I got a copy of Berry's collected poems. It was even better than I remembered in context with other magnificent lines.

From Marriage, by Wendell Berry

It is to be broken. It is to be
torn open. It is not to be
reached and come to rest in
ever. I turn against you,
I break from you, I turn to you.
We hurt, and are hurt,
and have each other for healing.
It is healing. It is never whole.


That's how the poem ends. Those are the last lines. Those are the lines I remembered all these years. We hurt, and are hurt, and have each other for healing. It is healing. It is never whole.

I'm grateful for that wise and winsome man. That tall Kentucky wonder of a man. I love him. I love him for being that honest and real. He had it right, at least that is how it is for me. This week we hurt, Ken and I, we broke, and we tore open, but somehow, we found our way back to each other, emotionally bruised and battered, soul weary, but once again in each other's embrace. We have each other for healing. It is a mystery. Maybe it is all the prayers. The girlfri
ends have been praying for us! And a boyfriend or two, too. Maybe it is 14 years of loving one another. Or maybe the cost of splitting up a family is just too high. Maybe because I knew way before I ever got married--Wendell told me. It is never whole. Maybe that's why I'm still here. And Ken, he's still here. He has his own reasons. Maybe they are much the same.

Or perhaps, it's just enough that it is healing.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Looking For a Hundred Or So Good Book Lovers


Hello readers! I need influencers. Those are people who will read my books, get excited about them, and tell others about them. It'd be great if you'd review them, too. And I need them for both my publishing houses, Howard Books/Simon & Schuster and David C. Cook. It seems like a long time, but February will be here before you know it. Things are really starting to pick up for all things publishing in my life now. So, lets do this thing y'all.

Anybody interested? If you are write to me at:

claudia.mair.burney@gmail.com

Send me your name snail mail address and I'll add you to my influencer list. I'd like to get at least one hundred people. I have about 30 names so far. So come on. Help me out folks.

You get a free copy of my book, and my deepest appreciation.


Thanks so much.

Mair

icon is Mother of the Word Incarnate, by Fr. William NcNichols

Friday, June 15, 2007

Alter Christus


Tonight I'm in love with St. Francis of Assisi. It's hard not to love him. I know. We're use to seeing him in people's back yards or at the garden and nursery store. But lately I've been watching an awful lot of movies about him. There's the rather groovalicious Brother Sun Sister Moon. He's really cute in that one. And there's the music of Donovan. You get to see Francis cavorting about in fields of flowers a lot to this music by the guy who sang Mellow Yellow. I mean, honestly. The movie is like a Valium, until you get to the part with Pope Innocent, and the scene is actually pretty moving. Truthfully, I thought it was pretty cool. And some of the tunes were quite catchy. I 'm surprised they never released a soundtrack. But of course, I like St. Francis that much.

Of course, I'd watched Reluctant saint, before Brother Sun Sister Moon. That's a documentary. It was a little hard to take the musical version seriously when you see Francesco ravished and crazed by war and malaria in first version, and then skipping through the flowers in the other to hippie music in the second. But the same spirit is there. The same love. The same God hunger. The last movie I got starred, strangely, Mickey Rourke as Frances (Francesco). Ha! That's what I thought! I was still on a heavy duty deadline, so I didn't get to finish it, but I did get to see this scene where Francis was in the ruined church of San Damiano--the one where the crucifix spoke to him. In this particular film, he was asleep, and the cross was cradled in his arms. And I loved that. I loved that he'd embraced Christ in such a physical way. We all need to find our way of embracing Christ. To me, this image was like seeing the priests in the movie Luther laid out in the shape of a cross. In fact, the image from Luther moved me so much it has stayed with me. I used it in Zora and Nicky. I've used it for more than that!

Tonight I saw this lovely icon by one of my favorite iconographers, Catholic priest, Fr. William Hart McNichols. He wrote the most stunning meditation to go with it. I'd like to share it with you. Check out Fr. McNchols icons here. And maybe check out the movie Fransceco. You can get it for cheap here.

Here's Fr. Meditation:

Francis, I first saw you in my little Book of Saints pictured beneath the cross of your dying Lord. Oh, this was long before I knew you graced the bird baths and fountains of every yard and public place as the Holy Fool. And this was long before I saw you cradle the tiny Child in your arms, or tame the snarling grey wolflong, before I knew you as the veritable tree for your precious winged sisters and animals of every pattern and stripe.

I first saw you 'neath the bitter tree locked in embrace with the crucified God who bent down for your tender comfort and most gentle love. Later I was told you stretched your scarcely visible frame to cover even the hopeless and the lepers of your day. And now I see, now I know why He flew to La Verna wrapt in resurrected wings to transfigure, to share the glory, with the one who had spared himself none of the suffering.

This icon of the "Alter Christus," Francis of Assisi with his suffering Lord, is based on the beloved paining by the Spanish Master Murillo and was commissioned by a doctor in New Jersey working with People with AIDS.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ. Hold on to your Lord, even if His blood drenches your side. He will surely hold on to you. And perhaps, like he did with Francis, one day, when you need Him too, He will fly to you in your great suffering.

I love you. I truly do.
Mair

Friday, June 08, 2007

The let me in!


Often people ask me to submit work, and I do it most of the time. The funny thing is, I always assume my work is going to be rejected. I mean, every writer gets rejected. Dave Long rejects me so much I just automatically assume he's going to do it. Well, I used to. I will never, ever submit anything to Dave Long again. Ever.

Of course, one should never say never. I may send him something later on tonight.

Anyway. When I was with NavPress, I was crazy about the Editorial Director Jeff Gerke. We'd volley hilarious emails back and forth, and even now we still keep in touch. He wrote me one morning and told me that Jay Payleitner was accepting submissions for the One Year Life Verse Devotional Bible and that he wanted editors to send him writers. Jeff asked me to submit something.

Me, in a Devotional Bible???

Yeah, right. But I thought about it, and decided to take the challenge.

Have you ever thought about what your life verse is? One of my best friends said her life verse is Psalm 16:6, "The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance." Another friend didn't say that was her life verse, but she was telling me she had a good life. She always felt like her testimony should have had a few more rough edges. I thought that could be her life verse, too. I'm glad for friends like these. Boundary lines that have fallen in horrible places suck. God knows they do.

I knew right away what my life verse is when Jeff challenged me to submit. "Blessed are the poor in spirit; theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Matt. 5:3. Sometimes I know what it means. Sometimes I don't. I think I will spend my whole life learning it. I've spent my whole life so far, just beginning to know it.

I wrote about what it's like to worry when you send your kids to school with holes in the knees of their jeans that child protective services is going to come after you. And you know, it didn't occur to me to sew those pants. I was too depressed to think of that. Or do it, God help me. I wrote about how we always ran out of food stamps before the end of the month. I knew this reality before senators or congressmen "experimented" and found out how hard it is to feed a family on those rations. And I worked while getting the food stamps! Real live jobs. And I have a college degree, beloveds. I still couldn't make enough to live well on, and I'm not alone. We weren't living in luxury, either. Well, we were compared to people in other parts of the world. This is American poverty, and it isn't even Appalachian mountains American poverty. But that wouldn't have been much comfort on days when I didn't have much to feed my kids, and I was working. But God always provided. I did feed them, even if it was a lot of ramen noodles. Some people don't get ramen noodles, or even clean water. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. I was rich at my poorest compared to some.

I wrote about Jesus entering into poverty with me, and gathering my harvest of sorrows to Himself, always beckoning me to come to him. He is rich, but became poor for our sakes. For all of our sakes. He knows what it is to have less than is expected of you. Yeah. Let that penetrate your mind. Come on, what is more humbling than the incarnation? God in a diaper.

Anyway, I wrote my short entry for The One Year Life Verse Devotional Bible, and then I got back a cryptic email six months later that told me a whole lotta nuthin'. So, I assumed I was out. I always assume I'm out, but tonight I got a "final" email that said my entry was selected. In my bio I said I was "a second generation welfare mother struggling to get out of poverty with grace--and a little chuzpah." Ken will have a stroke if he ever sees that bio. But it was the truth at the time.

You know what? Things are different now. I'm not on welfare at all. I actually am a rare bird. I'm a CBA writer who makes a living, a lean living, but a living just the same, writing novels. I remember when I met my agent, Chip MacGregor. I said, "Help me get off of food stamps." In less than a year he did. I am free, by God's grace, and maybe more than a little chuzpah, from any government assistance. I am praying the cycle of welfare dependence stops right here and that my kids will never have food stamp cards or babies born on Medicaid--unless we live in a country where all citizens have Medicaid, which I believe we should.

I'd change that bio, but it reflects where I was when I wrote it. Maybe it will give hope to people who are broke and broken that they too can be chosen to write devotionals. Ha! I don't know. I just think we all need a voice. It just can't be the middle class white folks saying they're piece. And that's what it is too often in the CBA. Lord, help us. Anyway, Jay Payleitner said the book was going to the typesetters, and if I tried to change the bio now he'd probably have a stroke. At least I'm here to take Ken to the ER. I don't know who Jay has around to help with medical interventions.

Anyway, that's just a bit of newsy news from my big fat literary life. You can pre-order the Bible at this ridiculously long link:

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/search-handle-url/105-9066054-9530030?%5Fencoding=UTF8&search-type=ss&index=books&field-author=Jay%20Payleitner

Here's the blurb:

Is there a verse from the Bible that has special significance to you? Maybe it’s one piece of Scripture God used to inspire, challenge, or rescue you at a turning point in your life. Maybe it’s a verse you learned as a child from a grandparent. Or one you recite each morning to begin your day. The One Year Life Verse Devotional contains stories of well-known authors and speakers, athletes and entertainers. Uncover how these key verses helped define people’s role in God’s plan--whether they are Bible characters or ordinary people. Discover God’s revelations to his people through Scripture, including your very own life verse.

Hey, tell me what your life verse is. Or what you think it could be.

I love y'all
Mair

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

One Proud Mama, One Fine Son


Lumumba
Class of 2007

with Honors...

I'm feeling all kinds of purple pride tonight. Watched my baby graduate with pomp and circumstance, and I just cried. Me and my sister Penny. Penny is good for crying with. She'll cry at anything, so I didn't have to cry alone. My niece Kimmie called us wimps, but I earned those tears. My first born. Lord, have mercy.

You don't know what I've been through to be with him. And here we are. He's gotten two scholarships, too. I'm so proud of him. I love him so.

I remember when I found out that I was pregnant with him. I told the first person on the street I saw. I was so young. I didn't know how young I at the time. I do now! I remember buying undershirts for him for the first time. Little bitty white undershirts. I recall with startling clarity the details of his birth. His first cry. His newborn scent.

A million moments with this child. When I broke his heart--again and again. And when he broke mine.

I remember losing him. I remember people telling me I'd never get him back. Trusting that God would return him to me, despite it taking a really long time. I also remember standing in my room one after noon saying, Lord, when are you going to bring my baby home? And two weeks later the excitement I felt on the telephone with a stranger saying to me, "We have your son, and would you like to have him back?"

"Yes, I would. I've been praying to get him back for ten years."

So much has happened since that time when I picked him up, frail and broken in spirit, much smaller than he should have been for his age. He was no bigger than Kamau, who is all of four years younger. His sister Abby, two years younger, was bigger.

Seems like a long time ago, but it wasn't. It was just three years ago. He grew. Crammed high school, when he'd never gone to a regular school at all, in just a few years. He learned how to play several musical instruments, and the brotha finished his classes in early, chilled (literally, it was January), got a job, and today we celebrated him.

And do you see how good looking that kid is??? Of course, there's an African proverb that says a boy who looks like his mother is a blessed boy. [wink]

"You made me so happy, God
I saw your work and shouted for joy.
How magnificent your work, God!"
Psalms 92:4-5

So much to celebrate!

Happy Birthday to Ken, my love! And to Carlean, my sister! Let's have a big ol' blog party, complete with cyber-gifts. We can drink all the cyber-wine we want and drive home safely.

See you at the party!