Tag Archives: transfiguring

Marriage of word and image

47. Storm clouds gathering

47. Storm clouds gathering

I am discovering that my list of One Thousand Things is becoming more and more visual. I guess that this shouldn’t surprise me as I have always been a visual person. But it took me a while to realize that a list could be both verbal and visual.

I pick up my camera and see the world in a different way. Snap shot by snap shot. When I sit and reflect on the images, words spill across the page. Words challenging me to find the image. Images looking for words. I laugh as I think how long it has taken me to put these two parts of myself together–the visual and the verbal–working in tandem perhaps for the first time. Working toward one goal: thanksgiving to God in all things.

But what of the hard things, the ugly things? The hard eucharisteo as Ann Voskamp calls it. Will I have the courage to include these in my list of gifts? The tiny heart ill-formed? The gut-wrenching absence of the boy-turned man who took his own life? The dark, shame-filled hidden history? The huge chasm between nothingness and pain that feeds the addiction, the loneliness, the depression? The “you aren’t good enough, thin enough, beautiful enough, smart enough, worth enough,…” lies that seep into the mind, into the heart, into the soul?

I believe–no know–that God is present in all things. Even the hard things. He is transfiguring it all. Will I have the courage to glimpse even the smallest of gifts–transfigurations–in these hard, ugly things? Will I be brave enough to offer thanksgiving in heart break? Will I be alert enough to see the light breaking through the darkness? “Thanksgiving always precedes the miracle” (Voskamp).

Lord, make me brave. Give me courage and strength. Increase my faith. And open my eyes to the miraculous. Amen

Confessions of a Bibliophile (A Journey Launched, Part 3)

The following is one of four essays that appeared in the Jubilate Deo, the newspaper of the Diocese of South Carolina, in 2006 and 2007. The publication of these pieces launched my desire and need to write about my spiritual journey.

Confessions of a Bibliophile

By Amy Watson Smith, Department of Christian Faith Formation, Diocese of SC

I confess that I have always loved books. I love the sound of the spine cracking on a new book when it is opened for the first time. I love to feel the weight and crispness of the paper. I love to press the pages to my face breathing in the smell of the freshly printed words.

Holding an unread book in my hands always makes my heart race a little—excited by the possibilities of new ideas, adventure, drama.  However, I think what I have treasured most about reading is that all of life’s possibilities were confined to the safety of the page, and they allowed me to “feel” without the risk of being hurt.

So I started reading a great deal early on. When I was in need of comfort or reassurance, I often resorted to the safety and predictability of a favorite book reading the familiar words over and over time and again. Some rather unfortunate (though not uncommon) events of my adolescence confirmed for me that the world of books was a much safer place than that of many of the relationships I had developed.

As time passed it seemed only natural that my love of books and the safety of their created worlds would lead me to a degree in English literature in college and then to a job as a bookseller in a dangerously well-stocked bookstore. While graduate school did not exactly quell my biblio-obsession, it did refine my tastes and limit the subject matter that I pursued. My graduate degree in material culture and my subsequent career as a museum curator opened an even more protected dimension to the safe world I cherished—historical objects and art work.

Working in and for museums for almost fifteen years, I found myself surrounded by a host of very safe companions—thousands of beautiful and interesting objects that stayed nicely on the walls and in the exhibit cases in which they were placed. The security and reliability of these relationships couldn’t be beat! Furthermore when I was called to the Department of Christian Faith Formation in the diocese (now almost 1 ½ years ago), I couldn’t believe how blessed I was. God may have taken me out of the world of museums and objects, but he had placed me in a position where I was surrounded by hundreds of books and resources in the Diocesan Resource Center. I couldn’t believe it—I was and am actually getting paid to read and evaluate books and resources in order to be able to tell other people about them. What a blessing! I have loved the opportunity to read many of these wonderful resources and relish the idea of sharing them with others. Currently I must have at least twelve partially read books on my nightstand, and, as I look around me now, I am literally encircled by pages and pages of words and ideas. What a joy! Hmmm…let me see…this one looks interesting….

What really surprises me about all of this is that God has been doing something new in me over this time at the diocese and, in retrospect, over all these years. He placed a confessed bibliophile—a down-right biblio-idolator—right in the middle of my ideal setting. And then He reawakened a desire for real relationship in my heart. While I was trying to fill my head with knowledge from my “safe” companions (i.e., books), He has been transforming my heart and preparing me to risk relationship in ways that I never thought possible. As I sit surrounded by the books that I once believed gave me the kind of world I wanted—one that let me experience relationships without any of the danger—I realize now that my heart longs for relationships that are worth the risk. And these relationships come in the form of the loving, mixed-up, sane, messy, unpredictable, wonderful, sometimes uncomfortable, grace-filled people that are the body of Christ. Safety, my friends, is highly overrated. Thanks be to God!

November 2006

Becoming Like Little Children (A Journey Launched, Part 2)

The following is one of four essays that appeared in the Jubilate Deo, the newspaper of the Diocese of South Carolina, in 2006 and 2007. The publication of these pieces launched my desire and need to write about my spiritual journey.

Becoming Like Little Children

By Amy Watson Smith, Department of Christian Faith Formation, Diocese of SC

The first time I ever held a Bible in my hand, I was eight years old.  My father was helping me to pass a rainy Saturday afternoon by cleaning out the large walk-in closet in my bedroom. I remember spotting the unfamiliar dark green, leather bound book with gold-edged pages, and how light the feather-weight pages felt in my fingers as I flipped through each delicate one. Who knows how that Bible came to be in the bottom of my closet? I know that I had never seen it before and to be honest, I had no idea what it was. My father gave me a brief explanation of the book and it must have intrigued me for I promptly sat down on the floor and began to read, “In the beginning God created . . . .” I don’t know how far I read that day—probably not very far at age eight—but clearly the experience left an indelible mark in my memory file since I often recall it when I trace the arc of my spiritual journey.

Over the next two decades, I danced around God—attending church in fits and spurts and reading Scripture sporadically. I had many questions but was too self-absorbed to really seek any answers. Becoming a parent changed all of that for me.

The birth of my daughter was in many ways miraculous. For the first time in my life, I acknowledged that there was a God and that he was gracious and merciful and loving—and had inexplicably entrusted this tiny baby to my care. From the very core of my being arose a feeling of love and protectiveness for her that I had not thought possible. But there was something else there too—a feeling that had been lying dormant for far too long. I had a deep longing to know this God and I knew with absolute certainty that I wanted my child to know Him too. The only problem was that He was a stranger to me. This was uncharted territory. I felt (somewhat) confident that as a parent I would be able to help her learn to sit up, walk and talk, but I had absolutely no idea how to lead her spiritual development. I knew that it involved more than just teaching her a set of rules to follow. I had to somehow share with her this deep longing that I felt for God. As I had no foundation from which to draw, I had to start at the beginning.

Attending church regularly seemed a logical starting point. Since my knowledge of the Bible was almost nonexistent, I began reading to her from the children’s Bible that she had been given at baptism. As I read these simple, child-like stories to her, the picture of who God was and what he was doing began to unfold for me. Armed with this basic outline, I became more confident to study the Scriptures on my own. It was at this time that I began to pray with her—the first prayers I had ever said aloud. Hmmm…I was on to something. I was learning about God alongside and through my child. God had used my child to draw me to Him. Amazing.

Over the years I began teaching Sunday School—not because of my vast knowledge of Scripture but because I discovered that it was a safe and dynamic environment in which to learn and grow. Preparing to teach a lesson, identifying the most important idea and thinking through the activities and object lessons that would best illustrate this idea has been an incredible growth experience for me. The questions that my child has thrown at me from the back seat of the car have challenged me to know what I believe and why I believe it. Together we have searched the Bible for answers to problems, learned about traditions and holidays of the Church, memorized Scripture and learned the books of the Bible in order. She has challenged me to pray more authentically and, more often than I’d like to admit, she has reminded me of Jesus’ command to love others.

Recently as I was tucking her into bed, I had the opportunity to tell her about what my childhood was like not knowing about God or going to church. As I recounted to her the story of finding that Bible in my closet, her mouth hung open in disbelief. It was unfathomable to her that someone might not know about Jesus or the Bible. I explained to her that not knowing Jesus for so many years was the reason I was so excited about sharing my love for Him with her and with others. My heart was so full with Him that I just had no other choice. “Oh, Mommy!” she exclaimed. “I want my heart to feel like that too. Can I have Jesus in my heart too? Will you walk me through it?” (and yes, she did actually say ‘walk me through it’). We said a simple prayer together, hugged and said good night.

As I left her room that evening, I thanked God for allowing me to share this gift—His love—with my precious child. He has entrusted this child to me and has given me the responsibility for leading her spiritual development. But He has also given me the one tool that I need to do this—a passion for Him. It’s that simple. Praise God.

“And he said: ‘I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’” –Matthew 18:3 (NIV)

July 2006