Annie is my favorite. I first read her in high school, feeling that particular teenage sophistication of reading beyond the assignment, beyond my classmates, beyond – in fact – all social acceptability. Annie was distinctly different from anything else I’d read, all those stuffy classics and pulpy Grishams. She was a Writer, with a capital W, and a Woman to boot. She was writing about a particular creek in a particular place, and that place happened to be my very own. I knew Tinker Creek. I knew the mountains and the fields and the people she wrote into being, wrote into more than they were, ablaze with divinity. “I knew it,” my little mystic self exclaimed: “I knew there was more to THIS!” Annie was doing something real, something vital, something that I recognized with every tingling fiber of my shy little inward being. She was doing all this, exposing all this, creating and shading and writing all this from my very own tiny place. I’d always known it was true, that this place was more than a place.
“We live in all we seek. The hidden shows up in too-plain sight. It lives captive on the face of the obvious – the people, events, and things of the day – to which we as sophisticated children have long since become oblivious. What a hideout: Holiness lies spread and borne over the surface of time and stuff like color.”
Of course, that’s from For the Time Being – Dillard of the second order, and later than my high school revelations. I read that one in seminary and finally realized what it was Annie had been doing, what it was I had been doing all along: recognizing the divine spread and borne over the surface of time and stuff, hidden in too-plain sight. I knew that there was more, a hidden order, a ground of being, an infusion of spirit. Annie was doing what I was doing: noticing the obvious, naming it into being, co-creating a world inhabited by more than meets the eye. I wrote because it felt like the only way to express that hidden world. It felt like the only way out of the loneliness of being a noticing person. Writing was a way out of myself and into the world, a way out of the world and into God. Writing made things make sense. Writing made that layer of the holy finally visible, finally comprehensible. It made me feel heard, seen, understood: finally.
I’m still doing it, still trying to be heard, still trying to make the invisible visible, the inexplicable understood. Now people pay me for it, sometimes. And sometimes I get to stand up in front of a bunch of people, behind a pulpit and a degree and a title and put some words together in an attempt to call out the holy hidden in too-plain sight and call it Proclaiming the Gospel. Then I stand, smiling, at the door as people file by, shake my hand, and offer their assurances that they heard me; that they see the holy, too; that I am not crazy; that I am not alone.
Annie became something of a hermit – if she wasn’t one already. She writes her things of beauty and sends them into the world and then curls up in her cabin and gruffly defends her privacy. She pays attention to weasels and moths, snowdrifts and frogs in the pond. Occasionally she’ll write about people, but even then she is mostly talking about the natural world, the world without language and power to pollute. I do not have that luxury. I’m stuck with loving people: much more hateful, much less malleable, so much more infinitely complex and confusing. It’s my job, I suppose. But it is also where I find the Holy, the Christ, the Coming Kingdom: in God’s people, covenanted to life together, created and creating holiness among us. I still think that there is more to this body we comprise, that this is something real, something vital, the thing in which I recognize the tell-tale blaze of divinity.