Yesterday morning I sat on my livingroom floor with scissors and tape, cutting up an essay that I've been working on for four months, and then trying to tape it back together in some semblance of sense and order. In between the cutting phase and taping phase, however, was the despair phase in which I was quite confident I'd been deceiving myself all along about the viability of this would-be essay. The little snippets of white, representing chunks, paragraphs, sentences, and even single words, were like so much litter along the highway.
Anne Lamott says there are really only two prayers: "Help me, help me, help me" and "Thank you, thank you, thank you." Theologicially, I'm not sure I really agree with her, but practically speaking, she is on to something. My audible prayer on the floor was the first variety. Then like a game of solitaire, the moving of snippets began. Uncountable chunks of tape later, thirteen consecutive sections emerged. Order from chaos, and so was triggered the second variety of prayer. I don't want to give too many details about the essay's subject matter (after all I will want readers to buy the book someday :)), but it's a braided essay with strands related to a meal at a Chicago restaurant and to an icon exhibit at The Museum of Russian Art here in Minneapolis, among other things. I'm now hopeful about the essay, although much work remains to be done on it and a little voice inside nags that those thirteen sections might not really make sense when I take them out again next week.
With my scissors and tape put away, and the taped together streamers of words in a pile on my desk awaiting another day's revisions, I decided, rather impulsively, to go a movie matinee, "Rachel Getting Married," a movie I knew little about other than it was starring Anne Hathaway and involved a wedding. Many times in life there are occasions of coincidence and I tend to regard them as moments of grace. Little--or not so little--nudges or benedictions. A good way into the movie there is a scene of the rehearsal dinner. Wedding party and friends squeezed into a single long table in a small private room. The camera (the entire movie is shot with a hand-held camera) circles the table and the room over and over in this very long scene, stopping to focus on faces and conversations and speeches. The room holds all kinds of people, relationship messes, past embarrassments, future hopes, terrible grief, joy. I was fascinated by the dynamics of all this, and then I saw it: along the perimeter of the room, on all four walls, hung a row of tightly placed icons. There was hardly a shot of a face without an icon or two or four in the background. Part of the theology of Orthodox icons is that they represent divine presence. My eyes welled up when I saw this encircling of the room, not just for the "coincidental" affirmation that my essay may actually be on the right track, but for this stunning visual depiction of humanity and the presence of God. And so was triggered more of that second variety of prayer.