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Essay

Fierce Love

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I once heard a speech by my friend, Katherine Paterson, the extraordinary children’s writer, in which she argued that “the consolation of the imagination is not imaginary consolation.”  I’ve thought about that phrase a good deal as this long season of violence–both rhetorical and actual–seems to only be worsening.  It has struck me how our Christian hope is a deeply creative act–where, in our gathering together, we continually narrate the promises of a God who loves us and is making all things new. Of course, we only see part of the story–and then dimly, and the challenge is that we must imagine the “what is to be” in the midst of the horrific “what is.”  But nevertheless, the invitation to live into a different story–to imagine something so diametrically opposed to most of the lessons our cultures teach us–is not a call to false hope. Indeed, it is the only way to any sense of peace.

After Newtown and Orlando and Virginia Tech and Columbine and and and, I have found myself both voluble and oddly inarticulate. There is so much to say–and yet so little.  How can nothing change? And perhaps because I am an English professor, I find that my own words feel insufficient. I need the Psalms. Or a good poem. Or a powerful song.

Another friend, the singer-songwriter Carrie Newcomer, penned one such song several years ago, the chorus of which has been coming to mind over these last days.  Maybe in its imaginings it will speak real consolation to you today, especially in its affirmation of the fierce love of God for every single one of us.

I heard an owl call last night
Homeless and confused
And I stood naked and bewildered
By the evil people do
And up upon a hill there is a terrible sign
That tells the story of what darkness waits
When we leave the light behind.

Chorus: So don’t tell me hate is ever right or God’s will
These are the wheels we put in motion ourselves
And the whole world weeps and is weeping still
Though shaken I still believe the best of what we all can be
And the only peace this world will know
Can only come from love.

I am a voice calling out
Across the great divide
And I am only just one person
That feels they have to try
The questions fall like trees or dust
And rise like prayers above
But the only word is “Courage”
And the only answer “ Love”

Light ever candle that you can
We need some light to see
In these times of deepest loss,
Treat each other tenderly
And the arms of God will gather in
Each sparrow that falls
But makes no separation
Just fiercely loves us all.

“I Heard An Owl” © Carrie Newcomer
Available on The Gathering of Spirits on Rounder Records
To purchase, visit iTunes or www.carrienewcomer.com

Jennifer L. Holberg

I’ve taught English at Calvin College since 1998–where I get to read books and talk about them for a living. What could be better? Along with my wonderful colleague, Jane Zwart, I am the co-director of the Calvin Center for Faith and Writing, which is the home of the Festival of Faith and Writing as well as a number of other exciting endeavors. Given my interest in teaching, I’m the founding co-editor of the Duke University Press journal Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition and Culture (and yes, I realize that that is a very long subtitle). I also do various administrative things across campus. As an Army brat, I’ve never lived anywhere as long as I’ve now lived in Grand Rapids. I count myself rich in friends and family. I enjoy kayaking and hiking. I collect cookbooks (and also like to cook), listen to all kinds of music, and watch all manner of movies and tv shows. I love George Eliot, Jane Austen, Marilynne Robinson, Dante, E.M. Delafield, Tennyson, Hopkins, and Charlotte Bronte (among others). And I have a bumper sticker on my car that says: “I’d rather be reading Flannery O’Connor.” Which is true.

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