advent journal: erasing

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Two quotes found me today.

The first is from Meister Eckhart, quoted by Christian Wiman in Zero at the Bone:

Only the hand that erases can write the true thing.

The second is from Jason Isbell, quoted in an excellent article by Taylor Brown in the Bitter Southerner:

Giving other people the ability to harm you is, I think, paramount in developing as an adult. And that is really difficult to do.

The two quotes appear to exist in separate orbits, though there may connections I can’t see. At first glance–or maybe even second or third glance–they don’t seem to have much to do with each other. But one greeted me this morning and the other tonight as I sat down to write my journal entry after an evening with Ginger of looking at Christmas light displays at the convention center in Hartford. In my little mental solar system, they have criss-crossed like comets, intersecting without colliding, and leaving a trail of things for me to think about.

Eckhart is already a significant part of Advent for me because we have used another of his quotes (well, an adaptation) as the theme of the season:

What good is it to us that Mary gave birth to the son of God two thousand years ago, and we do not also give birth to the Son of God in our time and in our culture? We are all meant to be mothers of God. God is always needing to be born.

God is always needing to be born–I wonder how that went down in the 1300s.

As far as his words on erasure, I wished, first, that I had known of them when I was working as an editor. They would have made a hell of an email signature. Then again, I don’t think he was talking about erasing the words of others. He was talking about being willing to change, to learn, to grow, which is where he connects with Isbell’s words about growing to the point as a human being that we are willing to give people the ability to harm us.

One of the books I read on writing many years ago said the best way to learn how to edit your work is to find your favorite sentence and delete it. The logic was if you could do that then you could be a good editor. That might be a little extreme, but it is holds the same idea as Eckhart. I don’t know enough about the chronology of classrooms to know if Meister had blackboards, and I’m assuming he didn’t have No. 2 pencils with erasers on the back end, but erasing carries a strong note of the temporary.

To erase is to trust we have not run out of words. To be vulnerable is to trust we have not run out of healing. Both of them affirm the creative power of life, of humanity, even in the face of doubt and pain.

Since Jason Isbell is one of my songwriting heroes, I have some sense of how hard he works on his songs. That’s a big part of why I love them so much. I’m quite sure it took a lot of erasing to get to these lines from my favorite love song, “If We Were Vampires:”

maybe time running out is a gift
I’ll work hard ’til the end of my shift
and give you every second I can find
and hope it isn’t me who’s left behind

From what I know of Eckhart’s biography, he spent a good bit of time facing charges of heresy, I assume because he kept erasing orthodox ideas and saying things like, God is always needing to be born. Both men chose their words carefully, and I am writing about how much that matters in a blog post that is not much more than a rough draft with a couple of revisions. But what I am chasing here is about more than tweaking sentences, as much as I value a good editor.

As we live these last few days of Advent, I wonder how we can erase the indelible lines of the story we have told over and over and find something as alive and surprising as an infant. As we become accustomed to living in a world (and a nation) that is constantly at war and fear is the common currency, how do we grow into people who are willing to be hurt by others for the sake of all of our healing?

Those are not the only questions; they may not even be the best ones. But they are on my heart tonight until sleep wipes the board clean for tomorrow.

Peace,
Milton

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