Stonework is published by Houghton College, a Christian liberal arts college located in New York’s rural Genesee Valley. Stonework seeks a diverse mix of mature and emerging voices in fellowship with the evangelical tradition. Published twice a year, the journal reflects the arts community at Houghton College where excellence in music, writing, and the visual arts has long been a distinctive.

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  • Issue 6
    Poetry by Paul Willis and Thom Satterlee. Fiction and interview with Lori Huth. Essay by James Wardwell, and student poets from Christian campuses.
  • Issue 5
    Poetry by Susanna Childress and Debra Rienstra. Fiction excerpt by Emilie Griffin. Art from Houghton's 2007 presidential inauguration and a forum on women writing.
  • Issue 4
    Matthew Roth--new poems. Diane Glancy--from One of Us and an interview. John Tatter-on gardens and poetry. The Landscapes of John Rhett. Stephen Woolsey--on the poetry of Jack Clemo. James Wardwell--on Herrick.
  • Issue 3
    Poetry by Julia Kasdorf, Robert Siegel and Sandra Duguid. Fiction by Tom Noyes. The portraits of Alieen Ortlip Shea. An anthology of Australian Poets
  • Issue 2
    Thom Satterlee - Poems from Burning Wycliff with an appreciation by David Perkins. Alison Gresik - new fiction and an interview. James Zoller - Poems from Living on the Floodplain.
  • Issue 1
    Luci Shaw — new poems with an appreciation by Eugene H. Peterson & Hugh Cook — new fiction and an interview

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

You Are Our World: A Journal

~ Tineke Hegeman

I Begin to Lose the Rain

When I was a child I longed for the rain. When I became a woman I wished this childish way were not behind me. I wanted to want the rain.

We had just three seasons in Northern Benin, “dry season,” or “Harmattan,” named after the scorching Harmattan winds that fled off the Sahara desert, “hot season”—no further explanation needed— and “rainy season.” During the two rainless seasons, I longed. Longed with the brittle yellow grasses that cracked and collapsed in the dryness and heat, longed with the fissured mud, dried to a thick clay cake on the bottom of what had once been a pond or a swamp. Longed with the empty, empty skies that stretched on and on in their mindless, unconscious search for mist and cloud. Longed with the fields that felt drab and constrained without red and green and yellow. All they owned for embellishment were tiny, bright pink flowers that looked like far-off stars and whose pinkness faded with the rise of the seasons of the sun. To pick the last of these dry-season flowers was to remember that fields were made for flowers – for celebration and colour. And these were the only witnesses –puny and watered down.

Sometime during high school I began to realise I no longer waited for the first rains as I used to when a child. I still wanted rainy season to come, but not with the same intensity. This alarmed me and I remember writing You about it a few times, over the years. The fear returned every April or so – when the first “mango rain” could be legitimately hoped for. (Why did we call the first, fierce rain a “mango rain”? Not liking mangoes, I never cared.)

On one occasion when this was bothering me I realised an obvious fact: the emotional connection I once had as a child with the seasons, the rain, the wind, I now had with You. There was a relationship between my loss and my treasure, for while I struggled to let go of my childhood relationship to the world around me, I could feel Your hands, like a parent’s, gently prying open the fingers of my heart. What I held there, so tightly, was a flower I had picked, and in the sweaty press of my eager fist, it has been crushed. It was as though You said to me, Don’t hold on to the flower, because if you hold on, it will die. Look at the Living Flower; and You led me to Your Garden, where every flower grows. It was as though You said to me, Feel, and so I placed my fingers around the stem of the Flower, and stood there a long time, realising: Perhaps I can live with the pain of losing the flower, losing the rain, because now I am in an Eternal Garden, and here the Rain and the Flowers never pass away.

Revelation is often characterised by a sense of unusual clarity and wholeness, of consolation in one’s deepest losses. Standing there in the Eternal Garden, with my fingers reverently feeling the Life of the Living Flower, I knew that I had something much better in You than in the clutch of my hands, so grimy with the desperation and ignorance of my childish love. I was learning, under the watchful gentleness of the Gardener and Father, how to love the world in a way that gave, instead of taking, Life. And in my learning, I have come to claim this about my sensory experience of the world: that it is astoundingly valuable, because it can be transformed, and can, in turn, transform.

How I Met the Rain

I met an African rainstorm the first night my family stayed in the mission house at the Baatonu Bible School. I was five years old. I remember with a kind of stark emotional power the frightened bewilderment of beholding heavy wooden levers in the bedroom windows, and how, right on the heels of making this alarming discovery in that empty, dimly luminous room, the rain came down in a thunderous, unapologetic torrent. The fierceness of the wind, the unidentifiable noise – I screamed and ran for Mummy. If I had been made aware of Your soon return, I am sure I would have concluded that the end of the world had come.

This was Rain. Rain on a tin roof. As soon as I understood what was happening, I gave away my heart. From that night forth, the house became the House of the Rain – the House in which I woke up the next morning to Papa’s wide-eyed telling of the damage our first monster rain had done. Tearing up the translucent plastic panels on our water heater – there is no way to describe this wonderful, unique contraption – the rain-heavy wind had scattered the panels across all the surrounding fields and bush. While I slept, Papa had been out retrieving them from far and wide. To my five-year-old mind, the power this rain-wind possessed was unimaginable – a power I had never met before.

As we settled into the house and our new life – the life that became mine and can be claimed by so few white women – the rain seemed to settle into my soul. I was no longer terrified, but I now could experience a lovely, tremulous kind of awe. I could cuddle up with my little sister under blankets as our small, sweaty bodies registered odd, African drops in temperature – I could sing and shiver along with the wind. I could run out into the storm, drowning my bare feet in the cold, cold waters of impromptu rivers spattering through the clearing around the house, and run with them, over tree roots, skirting my Dutch father’s attempts at dirt dikes around the front porch, and dash joyously into pooling puddles. And with a peaked tin roof, the rain came streaming down on two sides of the house, creating hundreds of singular shower spouts. Around and around the house I would run, laughing with happiness, having intense, driven water splash the hair on my head smoother and flatter than smooth and flat.

I love You. Why is there a connection between these memories and this love? That is what I want to know.

The Rain Here is not the Same

It has been raining all day. As evening falls, glistening in the puddles and dripping down through the chilled air, I watch a reflection of myself in my window panes. Whenever I look up from this computer screen, I catch soft happiness in the shining eyes that look back at me.

Why should I be so happy and peace-filled?

I never know quite what to make of rain here in North America. A week or so ago, there was a big thunderstorm during the night. When I woke up, groggily, to the sounds of the wind and thunder, it wasn’t easy to determine whether it felt bizarre or familiar. It was strange because we so seldom have significant storms here in Houghton, but it was not disconcerting or frightening; I was filled with happiness –with comfort. Curling the quilt into my fingers, and sinking into the smooth cold of the pillow, I experienced sweetness as I fell back asleep.

The following day people were talking about the rainstorm. I was slightly surprised they had felt alarmed – had gotten up out of bed to anxiously watch and consider, shutting windows and wondering nervously at the lightning. I tried to make sympathetic conversation, and pitied them in their loss of sleep.

But those moments of awareness, between the sheets of life and dream, had perhaps been the sweetest of my week. The storm had connected to the deep part of my being – to the place that is reserved for only the most intimate, natural things. The Tineke of Rain and of Africa and of Beautiful Things had come up for breath. How many times before had I awoken to the deep mercy of rain in the night? How many times before had I snuggled down into blankets suddenly quilted into bliss? So many times. So many times. Though not so many times here in North America.

Rain here at Houghton does give me happiness, and when I come in from the wet and warm up in blankets and slippers, I feel much as I have felt in Africa before. But rain here can’t help but bother a person as well, even a person used to disarming unpleasant things by embracing them with unreasonable peace and love. Compared to the wild and musical rain of home, rain in Houghton seems so tame, so limpid. If the rain here could speak, it would drawl weakly. In Africa it would lilt, almost sing. But, disappointed as I am, I try my best to listen, as I would try to enjoy a dreary public speaker. Sometimes, by my determination to find happiness and good in everything, I remind myself, and not without embarrassment, of Pollyanna.

Or Thomas a Kempis.

Thomas a Kempis has crept into my soul while I was unawares, I think. One should learn to be careful about meditating on books with difficult counsel. No matter how hopelessly you give yourself up as a lost cause where any particular spiritual life pattern is concerned, afterward you find that you have absorbed and changed more than you would have thought. This is not the first time that I’ve recognised à Kempis quietly praying in the shadows of my thoughts – telling me calmly that if I love the rain it will no longer hurt me.

But in the frankness of my unspoken thoughts and in the animation of my hidden facial expressions, I honestly can’t love North American rain the way I love rain at home. Not even when I remember to use an umbrella.

A Poem

Perhaps it is not fair to put the change in my feelings down to the difference between rain in Africa and rain in America. Too simple. It is, after all, fairly consistently observed that a child experiences life differently than an adult. A child seems to experience, more directly than an adult, the natural world and its relationships. A child receives openly, instead of first analysing and deliberating, suspecting and judging. A child does not choose to enter into rain, he enters it instinctively as soon as he hears the wind mustering up its strength in the distance. Pinching his nose against the sudden sting of its in-rushing perfume, he runs into the open field to spot the dark clouds and sound the alarm. He does not quickly look back down at his textbook, checking his email account in case a message came in while he glanced out the window, forgetting himself enough to dream.

I’ve been remembering a poem I read once, by Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Spring and Fall: to a Young Child

Margaret, are you grieving

Over Goldengrove unleaving?

Leaves, like the things of man, you

With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?

Ah! as the heart grows older

It will come to such sights colder

By and by, nor spare a sigh

Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;

And yet you will weep and know why.

Now no matter, child, the name:

Sorrow’s springs are the same.

Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed

What heart heard of, ghost guessed:

It is the blight man was born for,

It is Margaret you mourn for.

There is a very real sense in which my grieving for the loss of the rain was a grieving for myself—a recognition that my Enemy, as I fought against the aging of my soul, was Death, and that I shared this Enemy with the flowers, the grasses, the bullfrogs that sang so feelingly, the cicadas that refused to surrender silently to the oppression of heat.

Hopkins was wise. Perhaps I do not cry bitterly anymore when a storm comes and goes and I have had no arms in my heart to embrace it—when the leaves of Goldengrove “leafmeal lie”— but “I do weep and know why.” I know my Rain, and will not bear to lose Him. For Him I will weep. For He, I with my thoughts ever fresh with love, can care for.

It occurred to me the other day when I was looking out of a second storey window on a beautiful view, that there is a sense in which, at this stage of my life, I am content not to feel the beauty of nature as keenly as I might. I have already established to myself, and also to others, that I have a relationship to the world I live in – a relationship that while not always emotional, does involve my emotions, and that while constant and unconscious on a basic level, is yet able to be intentionally and uniquely experienced on another. There was a time in my life when it was incredibly important to identify and experience a relationship with the world. Somehow I knew that this was part of who I was, and there was a strange sense of apprehension – as though if I didn’t claim this part, I would lose something vital.

But that day, I felt at rest in the world, with nothing to prove and nothing to fear.

I wondered why.

Well, maybe, I have the true Rain now. I passed through the rain showers; I wailed with the looking wind; and finally, I came to the end of that country, to find that the new country before me was just the same as that I had passed through before, only transformed by the unimaginable beauty of the One it actually was. And maybe, if I had not claimed the part of me that had a relationship to the wind and to the rain, I would not have found this Country quite as lovely, wild, and eternally good as I have discovered it to be.

How I Loved the Wind

I remember the way I used to feel about the wind too.

In my twenties I am a bit embarrassed of how passionately and unashamedly I used to love the wind. One of the most useless, sentimental poems I ever wrote was dedicated to the wind…I had been reading nothing but Shelley and Keats without having a tenth of their skill and instinct, and the results were terrible.

But in my isolation as a thirteen-year-old “bush MK” transplanted into a small, considerably WASP town in Ontario, and in my frequent emotional escapes to the unreal land of L.M. Montgomery, I sometimes thought that only the wind understood how I felt – that only in the blowing wind did my soul have an opportunity to try its bitter, sweet voice. And though there was an element of immaturity, as well as of idolatry in the vehemence of my attachment to wind at that awkward time of my life, I still love the wind now. So I want to remember.

I want to remember the slow, wet walks along the African beach with the wind piping strains sandy with rough salt pain, and sitting in the beach cabins, eating French baguette sandwiches with the sticky ocean breeze getting tangled in my hair.

I want to remember the sad twilit gusts that blew over the poor, dried-out African brushland, and pressed sweaty palms to my forehead in a ritual gesture of blessing. If they did not leave moist, dirty coins stuck to my skin, they left me with the truer gift of consolation.

I want to remember how frightened my sister was that same year we were in Canada, when a blizzard wind ranted and raged down the furnace pipe during the night -- yet how enchanted I was. The small furnace room she and I shared for a bedroom was the quirkiest, unhappiest place. Three doorways, no windows – there was only one way to arrange the room, and this drove me crazy. And when I wanted the door open a crack, she wanted it closed. The impossibility of the room equaled the impossibility of my confusing life. Yet when the Wind enveloped my Room with its harshly lovely song, the darkness over the surface of my deep lifted, and my formless and empty earth felt the gentle disturbance of hovering wings.

I want to remember all of these beginnings of divine intimacy, every moment of my Genesis.

I want to remember how brave and creative I suddenly feel when the wind rises – like I really could dance if I were only sure of being entirely alone – as though I really could be a saint, a poet, a beautiful person – like I really could be one with You.

Permit Me Some Ecstasy

I paged through a book about Jackie Kennedy Onassis while eating lunch today. On the last page was a poem, one of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s that I had never read before, called “Memory of Cape Cod” – apparently one of Jackie’s favourite poems. It reminded me of my voice -- my inside voice—when I have stood underneath wind-played firs and thought of the sea:

The wind in the ash-tree sounds like surf on the shore at Truro.

I will shut my eyes…


Let me listen to the wind in the ash… it sounds like surf on the shore.

Yes. And the shore is quite wonderful, because You are the Sea.

Your voice

Is like the humming of the forest.

The dark green waves and billows

Slowly and carefully sing

The mood of the gentle breeze.

These are Jane Chong’s words in “Your Voice.” She was remembering the voice of the lover who abandoned her. I am remembering the voice of the Lover who is always here and never ceases to speak.

Sacramental Theology

Last night at our college worship service we sang the hymn, “This is my Father’s World.”

In the rustling grass

I hear Him pass.

I see Him everywhere.

Once, while conferencing with Professor Leax, he quoted this verse, marveling quietly at how unsuspecting many Christians are when they open a hymn book. Do they realise what they are giving credence to by singing these words? “In the rustling grass I hear Him pass…” This is sacramental theology – the belief that the beauty of the universe is a sacrament – a holy image – of God.

When I look up “sacrament” in The Oxford English Dictionary, it tells me that “sacrament” is “the common name for certain solemn ceremonies or religious acts belonging to the institutions of the Christian church.” Not all Christians agree on the number and nature of sacraments. Generally, Protestants recognise two: Baptism, and the Eucharist, because these are the only two that they understand to be directly commanded by Jesus. Catholics add Confirmation, Penance, Extreme Unction, taking Holy Orders and Matrimony, to make seven.

There is also a wider application of the word, however, as “something likened to the recognized sacraments.” It explains that when the term ‘sacrament’ is used for things other than the seven recognised Christian sacraments it is when they have “a sacred character or function,” and seem to be “a sacred seal set upon some part of a man’s life; the pledge of a covenant between God and man.” The word can also denote a “token, sign, or symbol.”

“As late as the 14th century,” the OED explains, “there were still traces in English of the wider application of the word formerly current; while the seven sacraments were viewed as eminently entitled to the name, it could be applied in a more general sense to certain other rites.” The explanations of the OED are enlightening to me. Can I talk of experiences

of nature as sacramental experiences? They can be means of divine grace – but only in the “widened application.” While You did not explicitly command them, Jesus, they fit into our experience of You.

Every time I walk down to the bridge over Houghton Creek, near Lambein Women’s Dorm, and stand there, looking at the water streaming out beneath me, I experience grace. The supernatural is not in the water itself. It is in the words that You, Holy Spirit of God, have placed in the mouth of the creek: words of consolation and courage. I am reminded, whenever I watch a river or a stream, flowing so endlessly, that I am now an eternal being – an immortal. With this perspective, I can stand to watch You, Jesus, bearing my pain. I can almost count your cost worthwhile.

Yet I recognize that Houghton Creek does something different for me than taking the Eucharist. There is promise and prophecy involved in the Lord’s Supper that is not involved in standing on a bridge watching water, however beautiful.

Even though I don’t feel like I understand sacramental theology as well as I would like to, I believe it. I have only to walk out into the glamourous, coloured quiet of a morning such as we had today, to feel sacrament as true. You shimmer down softly in the sunlight, press Your cool body against me in the wind. You cling to the earth in the determined dew. You take me flying with the Canada geese as they clamour and beat the air, not even aware that they are dreaming.

You are the God who wanted the earth. You are the Christ who took a corporal Body.


I read from Dag Hammarskjöld’s “Markings” this morning. He wrote of “the sacrament of the arctic summer night,” and that made me happy. And this entry gave me joy too, because I have felt the same:

So rests the sky against the earth. The dark still tarn in the lap of the forest. As a husband embraces his wife’s body in faithful tenderness, so the bare ground and trees are embraced by the still, high, light of the morning.

I feel an ache of longing to share in this embrace, to be united and absorbed. A longing like carnal desire, but directed towards earth, water, sky, and returned by the whispers of the trees, the fragrance of the soil, the caresses of the wind, the embrace of water and light. Content? No, no, no – but refreshed, rested – while waiting.

What are you waiting for? Whom are you waiting for, Dag Hammarskjöld? I am waiting for Jesus. He will restore the earth. He will heal my broken relationship with the dust of which we were made.


Right now I am sad. I recognize in my heart a gratitude that Your love and healing are not ‘only’ spiritual - that You are consoling me through the whole world – through the physical of bread and wine, through heat puffing up out of the radiators, through warm lamp light in a friend’s living room, and a heavy blanket on her couch. Sometimes I think that it is when I am weakest and hardest to console that Your physical world means most to me, whether in the warm tightness of an embrace, or the warm tightness of nature. As Aquinas would argue about physical pleasure and the “perfect happiness” of unbroken union with You, if there were no physical dimension to consolation, then consolation would not be as consoling as it could be. In my current state of mind, I think I could find it in me to be grateful for anything. Still, the sacramental nature of Your love is really a greater source of blessing than I ever adequately realise.

The Waterfall

Then there is water. Just water. If I were forced to choose only one element of Your creation to keep, it would be water – the most marvelous, profound thing. I wonder how You ever conceived of water. It is so full of variation. Its colours, its sounds, its temperature, its movement… Within a single lake, I swim through differences, moving with bewilderment from warm to cold. I don’t understand how water can be one and yet legion—how a lake can have patches, how a river can be made up of billions of individual drops. Sometimes I stop to wonder how each drop of the river rapids would feel if it had a heart, and thank You that it doesn’t. The prospect of caring for every hurtling water drop overwhelms me; yet You are not overwhelmed by the reality of caring for every hurtling human being.

I have loved rivers and streams, have loved lakes, and the sea, loved to drink, loved to feel strength streaming along my long hair when I swim under the surface of a swimming pool, loved puddles.

Perhaps most of all waters, I have loved waterfalls.

There are two places in the north west of Benin where there are waterfalls, les cascades. One of these is close by the village of Tanougou. I have been there many times. There are three falls, in an uneven row, and two of them have deep pools in which you can swim. The waterfall furthest up the mountain would fit anyone’s idea of a waterfall in the jungles of darkest Africa. It is wide and deep, and overhung by vines, moss, and dripping cliff. The water is faintly yellow, and laps only stealthily, taking shallow, secret breaths in the shadows. The cascade itself falls from a great height, with thunder. I have jumped from about a third of the rock face, but have never known anyone to have jumped from the very top.

But the first waterfall, my favourite, is an enchanted place. It is crowded by great rock boulders with smooth rounded surfaces where we lay out our swim towels and sit in the patches of sun. Overhung by dark cliff and shading trees, somehow the shadows are welcome, and the depths safely unfathomable. You aren’t frightened, swimming there, and you aren’t frightened, jumping, once you’ve done it a few times (well, maybe just a bit!)

I don’t know how to describe it, besides that being there has always been a spiritual experience. Standing on a rock shelf under the weight of the water as it comes bolting down, I am washed, washed, washed away, until I sing with all my heart in the water that slips off of my battered body, into the gently quivering pool.

I have met You there in a different way than I have met You elsewhere. Sitting on a rock slab with my feet in the water, I have contemplated all of my life and my love, the sacrifice of surrender as I have hurtled over the cliff of everything corrupted by Death, the holiness I have found in the quiet as well as the thunderous roar.

I remember the last time I went to the falls. Some of my students from Parakou Christian School were with me. Bethany, eight years old, came and sat beside me on one of the rocks as I sat meditating and writing. Transported, I tried to tell her about the meaning these falls held for me. I explained that there was a verse in the Bible about waterfalls, and asked her if she could hear the deep calling – hear how the falling water seemed to be calling, and the water in the pool seemed to be answering. Weren’t their voices deep? She listened carefully. “Yes,” she breathed, looking up at me from rounded blue eyes. She was a beautiful child. Probably it isn’t considered worthwhile or even healthy to try to communicate to a small child the strangest, most spiritual wonder you feel. But when I was teaching and living with these children, I couldn’t help it. And I really think they understood.

The Psalm is the forty-second:

Deep calls to deep,

in the roar of Your waterfalls;

all Your waves and breakers

have swept over me.

I found a piece by Annie Dillard, “To Fashion a Text,” that gets at how I feel about my waterfall. She is discussing the act of writing her book ‘An American Childhood,” which is fascinating in itself, but what held immediate meaning for me was the passage about a jungle boy and a waterfall.

She writes:

…in [“An American Childhood”] ...I put in what it was that had me so excited all the time – the sensation of time pelting me as if I were standing under a waterfall. I loved the power of the life in which I found myself. I loved to feel its many things in all their force…

In my study on Cape Cod, where I write, I’ve stuck above my desk a big photograph of a little Amazonian boy whose face is sticking out of a waterfall or a rapids. White water is pounding all around his head, in a kind of wreath, but his face is absolutely still, looking up, and his black eyes are open dreamily on the distance. That little boy is completely alive; he’s letting the mystery of existence beat on him. He’s having his childhood, and I think he knows it. And I think he will come out of the water strong, and ready to do some good.”

This is one of the most beautiful and personal things I have ever read. It makes sense to me – making me feel like some stranded foreigner who suddenly hears something in her own language. She captures how I have felt standing under my waterfall – that I will come out “strong.” That I will come out, as David witnessed, with my soul restored.

The Vision

Last night while I was worshipping, I had a vision. It wasn’t a true vision, in the sense of actually seeing and experiencing things that were not physically real, but it was a vision in the sense of a perfect, waking dream. We were singing “All Who Are Thirsty,” a song inviting both healing for our brothers and sisters, and Your needed return. It is partly Psalm 42 in song, and whenever we sing “As deep cries out to deep,” slowly and with passion, I never fail to lament my inability to express how completely my soul responds.

What I remember of this “vision” was that the waterfall at Tanougou – the one I love – was You, in a more vivid way than I ever before knew. You were the water that splashed and danced on the surface of the pool, and You were the unknown depths heaving and swelling below. The eager African children from the village nearby were shinnying up the tree that overhangs the pool and plunging down, shrieking with pleasure, as they like to do, hoping for smiles and coins from the tourists who stand shuddering on the rocks. And I saw that these children were Your children. They were jumping into Your laughter. Into Your safe, undefeatable depth. I saw this with brilliant clarity: that we are your ragged, happy children, letting ourselves dance out existence in empty space, falling into You.

That we are all these specific urchins, from a tiny village in the poorest part of Benin, who always irritated me by their intrusive offers of help and entertainment, made the vision all the more wonderful.

God, in Your Holy Spirit You are my Rain, my Wind. As a Father You are the pool beneath the waterfall – the voice of my falling is one ‘deep,’ calling, calling, calling to Your receiving depths below. You make springs of Living Water well up in my soul. You are the River whose streams make glad the City of God.

God, You are my God. Earnestly I seek You. My soul thirsts for You, my body longs for You, in a dry and weary land where there is no Water.

In a land where we need wind and water, I and my sisters and brothers are Your ragged urchins, and You are our World.