I don’t know if you need this post as much as I do today, but the gift of Kelly’s words here – the space they give me for my own work and the reminder each new day brings a new lesson – are balm for my stressed-out spirit in these Monday morning hours.  I pray they will be for you as well. 

Crumpling sheets of newspaper lightly, I settle them just so on the ashes of yesterday’s fire. Next come a few thin pieces of kindling, then I strike the match and light various corners until my hand jumps back from the bursting flame.

We’re owners of a wood stove now, a tiny enamel rectangle that sits on spindly legs and promises (dear God, please) to lower our dependence on the pricey oil-burning furnace in the basement. I’m hoping, like Elijah’s widow, that the oil will miraculously not run out, but I’m doing my part too, by learning the art of tending a stove.

I grew up around woodstoves, hauling wood piled high across my arms, stacking and watching my Dad and brother split it, but that was so long ago that the dirty wood a friend graciously donates to our endeavor surprises me. Twisted, brown and gray with strange growths on its bark, fire wood is vastly different than the two-by-fours and plywood we buy for projects from the local hardware store.

This wood, this experience, feels new and its newness arouses an observant awe within me. Crouching in the garage with a tiny hatchet in hand, I relearn the art of cutting kindling. My body notes and adjusts itself, almost unconsciously, finding the angle required for a good, clean stroke, combining the upper arm’s strength with the wrist’s focused aim.

In an acting class my freshman year of college, every student was required to learn and demonstrate a new skill. I chose to master the yo-yo and spent weeks journeying from class to class with a red sphere on the end of a string that flowed, up and down, up and down, wherever I went. I learned to ‘Walk the Dog’ and ‘Around the World,’ and aimed for the ‘Eiffel Tower’ but I’m not sure I ever succeeded.

I never landed a role that required my yo-yo talent, but I learned a lot by learning something new – like the way plastic and string slip and slide against each other or the way momentum carries motion and physical activity can focus the body and brain.

My art form has changed – no longer an actor, I now write – but I find the acquisition of new skills as essential and enriching as ever. Squatting by the fire I’m excited, eager to find out how this new thing will inform the art I practice.

How will shoveling ashes each day, stoking the fire, noting the nature of firelight change my understanding of the words involved, their meanings, the tangible sights, smells and textures they encompass? And, most excitingly, how will this knowledge change the way I read, the way I write?

Writing, for me, is a discipline fueled by the practice of observant wonder. The work of writing, pressing fingers to keys, editing, publishing may take place in a quiet chair during the early morning or late evening hours, but I spend all day, every day, observing and gathering this fuel that feeds the fire of words.

If you’d like to read more of Kelly’s work, please visit her website – A Field of Wild Flowers, and do consider subscribing to her series of Advent readings. Whatever your spiritual practice, they will give you rest and reflection for this journey.