Wandering Through the Wasteland…


By Lucia Mudgway

When I was a young girl, around eight years old, my father said to me, You don’t need friends. All you need are books, books, books! They can be your friends. He had said this in the context of a situation at home in which I was upset because instead of spending one Saturday morning playing with my school friends outside, I was cooped up at home helping my mother clean those notorious Venetian blinds which surely are the best dust collectors ever created. As I looked out the window, I could see my friends playing and having fun as a tear trickled out of my eye.

I was brought up in a home full of books, and parents who encouraged me to read from an early age. A love of literature was something I grew up with, and as the years went by, I realised that although I had a need for friends, most friends came and went. Books became a far more permanent fixture in my life than any friendship. Maybe, my Dad was right in some way about books.

It was from this realisation about books having a real value in my life, that I discovered that I not only enjoyed reading books, but that I also wanted to write them. Thus, I have arrived at a place in my life where my journey is all about books.

During the course of my research this semester, into how poetry and literature can attest to a Christian world view, I have gained an insight into how poetry, even that of a non-believer, can still intersect with religious themes and biblical imagery. It became evident to me that literature, broadly speaking, and poetry especially, entails, wittingly or not, a search for the sacred. In her acclaimed book, Walking on Water, Madeleine L’Engle helps explain this by telling her readers that artists/writers work in God’s time, which is called Kairos time, as opposed to Chronos  time which is clock time, such as minutes and seconds. Thus, working in Kairos time – which is qualitative, as opposed to Chronos time which is quantitativ – inspires the artist to be guided by a force other than themselves, a spiritual force that guides one into a search for truth and something sacred. Many artists have felt that something transcendent overcomes them as they work on painting a picture or writing a poem. L’Engle points out that artists “become what we are called to be as human beings, co-creators with God, touching on the wonder of creation”.

I found examples of this search for the sacred in many poems written throughout the ages, especially by poets such as George Herbert and Yeats. I was especially surprised to see evidence of this yearning for transcendental meaning in the work of Allen Ginsberg, a secular poet of the counter-culture of the fifties Beat Generation, who in his masterpiece Howl revealed connections to religious themes, biblical imagery and prophetic speech. In the footnote to Howl, Ginsberg takes on the voice of the psalmist when he cries out, “Holy! Holy! Holy! …The world is holy! The soul is Holy! The skin is Holy!” I found it interesting to read that Ginsberg considered his own work divine, and that his decision to become a poet was inspired by a vision he had about William Blake whose work he admired.

Since the Age of Enlightenment, Christian writers, including poets, have tried to connect with an increasing secular audience. One of the most important, and most discussed and studied poems, written in post Enlightenment times, would surely be T.S.Eliot’s, The Wasteland. One of the significant features of Eliot’s classic poem is the vision it presents of our contemporary “life without God”. For Eliot, the experience is that of wandering through a wasteland. This insight is something that we can relate to in present secular times as we observe the consequences of life without God. For without God in the picture, we are all just wandering through the Wasteland, which according to Eliot is an empty desolate place full of despair and hopelessness.

T.S.Eliot describes The Wasteland as a terrible place, a godless world, full of spiritual dryness and unfulfilled hopes. For me personally, this reminds me that when we abandon God, life becomes a desolate and bleak place, just as Eliot describes it in Part V, What the Thunder Said.

The question is How do we escape from this Wasteland which is evident in a secular life which at times does not even acknowledge the existence of and the presence of God? The answer is clear. We need God to restore this world into a place where there is hope, and love and peace. How long will we witness wars and death, and rumours of wars around us creating more Wastelands? For Christians, any answer to such questions and our response to sin and suffering, is always informed by a wider, eschatological viewpoint. This viewpoint is based on the belief that Jesus will return again at the Second Coming and restore the world and mankind to the way in which God intended us to be in the first place before the fall of man through sin. This belief enables Christians to look beyond the temporal suffering and conflicts we encounter here and now. Through suffering there is an opportunity to live out, rehearse and proclaim that saving love of Jesus Christ. For Christians, Jesus empowers us to live as transformed beings who through the power of God’s grace and love and forgiveness are able to find our ultimate fulfillment in Him. Without God we are just wandering through the Wasteland.

I believe that Eliot’s poem, with its symbolism, as well as biblical themes and religious imagery, alerts us to the fact that we need God, and that without him, we are truly lost in the hopelessness of the Wasteland. This poem is certainly a great work of literature that uncovers so many truths and reveals the desolation of life in a sterile, spiritually bankrupt world. Written after WW1 when Europe was spiritually, intellectually and psychologically as well as morally exhausted, Eliot describes a place that shows us that: Here is no water but only rock.

What I discovered in researching this poem was how Eliot used complex symbols and intricate imagery to give us a labyrinth of messages and meanings for the turbulent times we live in. For example, he talks about the decay of Eastern Europe when he writes, Falling towers Jerusalem Athens Alexandria Vienna London Unreal.

We also hear about the horrifying music of damnation: Tolling reminiscent bells, that kept the hours And voices singing out of empty cisterns and exhausted wells.

With a quick succession of brilliant images, Eliot shows us that hope has been abandoned in the past and the present life in which he lived. He writes: In this decayed hole among the mountains In the faint moonlight, the grass is singing Over the tumbled graves, about the chapel There is the empty chapel, only the wind’s home. It has no windows, and the door swings, Dry bones can harm no one.

However, Eliot finally gives us a glimpse of hope towards the end of the poem when he writes: Only a cock stood on the rooftree Co co rico co co rico? In a flash of lightning. Then a damp gust Bringing rain. The cock appears to symbolize the betrayal of Jesus when Peter denied Him. Then suddenly the Wasteland has a rebirth by the appearance of rain from a flash of lightning. There is some very powerful symbolism and imagery taking place here which reminds us that only Jesus and His presence in our lives can create a rebirth of the Wasteland.

The poem ends hinting that Jesus will set the land in order: I sat upon the shore Fishing with the arid plain behind me Shall I at least set my lands in order? There are layered meanings here, as the fisherman pictured here could be the mythological Fisher King. However, it is more likely than not the fisherman is symbolic for Jesus and His end plan of restoring His lands.

And so it has been through the magic and power of books written by past writers that I have been able to research poetry and in particular this poem this semester. My father’s words seem to have had a ring of truth about them after all. When we look back on life we realize that we may have many acquaintances, but very few real friends. Books, however, can be a much more permanent fixture in our lives. Books can impart knowledge and truths that are essential to providing us with knowledge, meaning and personal growth. It is through poems such as the Wasteland that we are able to see the world as it was in Eliot’s time. And we can see that today many people feel the despair that Eliot felt as he surveyed a world ripped apart by war and moral decadence.

We are still wandering through the Wasteland. In many war-torn countries today innocent lives are lost on a daily basis and hope for peace remains as elusive as the rain in Eliot’s poem. The lack of world peace and the accompanying decline of morality has had a huge negative impact on our lives wherever we live. But most important of all, is the insight which this poem reveals under all its complex layers, that unless we turn back to God, and live lives that include and thus glorify Him, we will continue to be lost and wandering in the empty desolation of the Wasteland.

Stories of Life…

a-chicken-can-make-a-differenceOrdinary PeopleExtraordinary Stories

Due out in November (from Morning Star Publishing), A Chicken Can Make a Difference began as an experiment. More than a year ago a number of us involved in Christian writing, publishing and communication began to wonder what would happen if we asked ordinary people to share their stories of faith. What resulted was the Stories of Life creative writing competition, which drew entries in three different categories: Open, Stories under 500 words, and Youth. The organising committee deliberately chose not to ask for a particular type of story, but simply to ask people to share their own personal accounts of faith and life. We were not sure what to expect.

As entries began coming in we soon discovered what a diverse range of people, writing styles and faith experiences were out there. There was no typical story, and while many of the writers may have seen themselves as ordinary, the tales they told were anything but. We read with interest extraordinary accounts of conversion, answers to prayer, life-changing adventures, and of God’s grace in dealing with illness and loss.

Our three judges for the competition, poet and educator Valerie Volk, award-winning children’s and young adult author Rosanne Hawke, and pastor and writer Nick Hawkes were also struck by the richness and diversity of the entries. Each found it hard to nominate the top three stories in their respective categories, while the task of deciding which stories to include in this collection proved equally difficult. In the end we feel we have come up with a representative collection of the most thought-provoking and well-written stories, which also includes writing by some of our judges and those on the Stories of Life committee who were not eligible to enter the competition.

Deciding on a title was our final challenge. We wanted to take something from one of the stories in the collection—but which one? There were so many intriguing titles to choose from, including two with references to underwear! In the end a simple yet profound story called A Chicken Can Make a Difference seemed to sum up best the essence of the collection. In this book one finds stories about quite ordinary things, people and events that end up making an extraordinary difference when the grace of God is involved.

We look forward to the launch of the book and trust these stories help you glimpse something of the many ways in which God is at work in the world. We hope you will be inspired by these real life accounts of how God has worked in unexpected ways to nurture faith, restore hope and bring healing to people’s lives. For those who find the idea that God might actually care personally about them or their needs difficult to believe, we pray that these stories might reveal the God who is love, made known in Christ, who continues to show his mercy and care for us in so many surprising ways.

On behalf of the Stories of Life Steering Committee,

James CooperDirector of Creative Writing, Tabor College of Higher Education

Mark WorthingPastor, Immanuel Lutheran Church, North Adelaide

Call for Submissions: Tales from the Upper Room…

TfuRAnthology2015The Tales editorial team is now accepting submissions of poetry, short fiction and creative nonfiction (CNF), for inclusion in our 2016-2017 anthology.

Poems of up to 50 lines and prose pieces of up to 3000 words will be considered for publication.

Submissions close Friday Dec 23rd 2016. The anthology will be launched in June 2017.

Please refer to the Submission Guidelines page under Tales in the site menu.

Writing as Craft…

craft of writingI recently read The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. Her debut novel, this highly imaginative tale runs deep with emotion and insight into human nature, and is beautifully written. For instance, take this lyrical description of the main character’s fragile faith in meaning, tested to breaking point by the hardship of life on the Alaskan frontier:

All her life she had believed in something more, in the mystery that shape-shifted at the edge of her senses. It was the flutter of moth wings on glass and the promise of river nymphs in the dappled creek beds. It was the smell of oak trees on the summer evening she fell in love, and the way dawn threw itself across the cow pond and turned water to light.

From start to finish, Ivey’s prose – perfectly measured – gleams like the morning sun on newly fallen snow; little wonder it was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. As such, reading The Snow Child made me realise how much fine-tuning I have yet to do on my own manuscript, and I have since begun a detailed line edit aimed at making every sentence read exactly the way I want it. Reading your own work in the light of something so expertly crafted can be dispiriting, but I’m always grateful for the spur to improve what I do. Also, although humbling, it’s a great comfort to be reminded that there is, after all, something that can be done to improve one’s writing.

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