The title of this piece is the job description God gave me in prayer before I became a writer. I didn’t take it too seriously, after all, Christians aren’t supposed to have any truck with magic and I was not a natural storyteller. But when you ask God in earnest what you are meant to be doing on this earth, he is equally earnest when he replies. And now every day, I make magic and I weave stories. And the two are so tightly bound up with my prayer life that I couldn’t separate the threads if I tried.
Magic, as it turns out, is a shimmering, intangible, beautiful way of expressing the mysteries of Christ and his universe tapped into by many Christian writers, including C. S. Lewis and Hans Christian Andersen. The latter described being a poetic soul as “..a gift from God, a blessing big enough for oneself, but much too small to be parcelled out to others. It comes like a sunbeam and fills your soul and mind. It comes like a waft of flowers, like a melody you know but can’t remember from where.” (from The Artist and Society).
Some would call this inspiration a muse, but for me, and for Andersen, stories are a gift from God, truly an in-spiring, a being breathed into. I’ve been writing tales this way for a few years now, enough to hopefully make some sort of anthology possible. Writing them feels sometimes like unwrapping layers from around a present, or putting flesh and sinew onto bone, the building of words around a framework, a design conceived within the silence of listening prayer.
At the moment I am writing a daily blog, something I’ve been doing for over two years now, and all of the entries are birthed in prayer. This year they are all very short stories, like fables or parables. This took me by surprise at first, as normally it takes a week to write a story properly (for me anyway). But I am loving it, and every day the newness of the thoughts that are given amaze and bless me, as I hope they do my readers. But what do I mean, “given,” how does it happen?
Sometimes the seed of a story is phrased like a question in my mind, as today’s piece for instance, which was, suppose the sky were bored of being blue? Sometimes it starts as a picture, as in a story about a bluebird, where I saw in my mind’s eye a tiny blue shell hatching in God’s hand. Often it is even a case of almost taking dictation, where the words come thick and fast and I struggle to get them down. But the thing that all these beginnings have in common is the listening, the being open to receiving gift. Clearly the discipline of silent prayer, contemplation, meditation and listening over the past eleven years or so has been a great training for this work; and the two things, story and prayer, are symbiotic in my heart and my life.
Stories are central to understanding spiritual truths and wisdom. Jesus chose not to preach theological sermons in his earthly ministry, but to tell stories. We take in and digest myth and magic far more easily than we do dry academic pronouncements. We are geared to understand things that lie underneath and in-between the words, which work with our God-given imaginations. We want characters we can relate to, morals and wisdom that make sense to us and teach us, but without spelling it out or patronising us. Because that deflates the mystery and tries to calibrate something unfathomable.
I’ve always loved words and writing, but was never any good at thinking up plots. Now I can sit quietly with God and my deepest self, it comes far more easily, to the point where it feels like spiritual flow. I wonder what treasures might come to each of us, not necessarily tales (maybe art or ideas, poems or music), if we all learned to sit with the stories within?
© Keren Dibbens-Wyatt