A Raggant in Aerwiar

Wingfeather Kickstarter

Two years ago today, I arrived in Charlotte, North Carolina—my official move from northern climes to the south. The move was a bit haphazard in that I had come down for working visit a few weeks earlier and didn’t move my belongings down until a few months later, but March 31 was my official arrival. During my transition time after arrival I stayed with friends so I didn’t have my own address. I therefore used my work address for all necessary mail.

One of these necessary mail items about a months after I arrived was the reward from Andrew Peterson’s The Warden in the Wolf King Kickstarter project. I’d had the privilege of proofreading the book so it wasn’t so much that I needed to get it in order to read it as I needed to get it in order to find out if the right number of dragons had fought and died and lived in the final battle. That said, my excitement was not diminished for already knowing how the story ended.

In the day or so before the package arrived I took to haunting the mailboxes at my workplace, waiting to see if my books had arrived. There, the morning before my package arrived, I got into a conversation with two of my coworkers about what I was waiting for. I told them about the Wingfeather Saga and the Kickstarter.

My coworker Lynn said, “I know those books! My son loves them!” She said they hadn’t gotten in on the Kickstarter, but that her son Roch was eagerly awaiting the formal release of the final book in the series.

“He could borrow mine,” I said.
Lynn looked at me a little confused. “Are you sure?” she asked.
“Yeah,” I said. “I just read it a few months ago when I proofed it. I just want to count the dragons and then Roch could borrow it.”

So when my package arrived I took it home for a night counted the dragons (the right number lived and died this time) and then took it back to work the next day for Lynn to take to her son.

Roch devoured the book, and when Lynn returned it to me with profuse thanks, she said, “Okay, so can you help me know when the book actually comes out—there’s one more thing that Roch wants—it’s a little book that goes with it, some kind of encyclopedia?”

“Ah,” I said, “Pembrick’s Creaturepedia. Yes, I think they only made a limited edition of that, so there won’t be many available. I’ll keep my eyes out.” I hadn’t yet had the chance to meet Roch, but I could tell this 11-year-old boy was my kind of kid.

Some weeks later, still a month or so before the book’s official release, I was out in Nashville visiting the Rabbit Room. I had a brainstorm while I was there and realized I could pick up a copy of Pembrick’s Creaturepedia for Roch. I got the copy and took it back to Charlotte where Lynn realized the timing was perfect. Roch was performing in the skits for our church’s VBS that week and the book would be a gift to him for all his hard work.

At the end of the week, I was sitting at lunch in the kitchen at work and Lynn and Roch entered.

“This is Miss Givens,” said Lynn to a bathrobed Roch—I presume his costume for the VBS skit. “She’s the one who brought you the book.”

Roch made his way across the room and pulled his already slightly battered Pembrick’s Creaturepedia out of his bathrobe pocket and dove right in. “Have you seen this one? And this one? And here at the end how you can draw your own creatures? I drew this one and I’m thinking about another.” He paged through the text and showed me some of his favorite creatures. “And this one this one is the best!” he said. “I just think this is so cool—” He flipped to a page with the picture of a small, multi-eyed beast that looked a bit like a winged rhinoceros and began reading the description, “Something is surely amiss. Of all the odd creatures I have discovered, some rumor existed of each. But this raggant (a name which came to me the moment I set my eyes upon it) has no precedent, no mention in the volumes of Aerwiar’s history…”

As he read, I looked at the picture and thought to myself, Wait I know that creature… I had not flipped through my own Creaturepedia yet. Roch was giving me my first introduction.

“Roch,” I asked, “have you read the 100 Cupboards books by N.D. Wilson?”
“I read the first one,” Roch answered.
I pointed to the page. “Isn’t this the creature from those books?”
“I think you’re right!” said Roch.

It was one of those delightful little discoveries—those ones that make you love an artist even more because he made a nod to a thing you love. Ever since that day, I’ve wanted to know how a raggant came to be found in Aerwiar—and which cupboard door Henry might have opened for an entirely different adventure.

My great wish may never be fulfilled, but I haven’t stopped hoping for it. You see, there’s another Kickstarter going on right now (it finishes on April 4; you’ve still got time to support it!). They’re aiming to turn the Wingfeather Saga into an animated series. Yesterday they hit one of their stretch goals—$175,000. In addition to being able to animate Peet the Sockman, one of my favorite characters in the series, this stretch goal includes the reward of a story in the world of Aerwiar written by N.D. Wilson and illustrated by Joe Sutphin.

I can’t say I’m not dreaming of seeing a raggant in Aerwiar yet.

Julie’s Porch

I sat in Julie’s living room this evening. I walked in, looked at the sofa, and turned to look back at her.

“I’ve never sat down in this room before,” I said.

She raised one eyebrow and cocked her head a little. “How is that?”

I gestured to the darkened screen porch out the back door. “I’ve spent many hours on your porch.”

It will be a strange thing this winter, learning the living room at Julie’s house. I’ve gotten to know the kitchen quite well and there’s a bedroom upstairs that’s been mine for nights in a row. But the porch. That’s my spot.

I first came to Julie’s at the very end of May in 2013. I was tired. I was worn. I was hurt.

A quiet breakfast on @juliesilander’s porch with good books and a delightful mug. @therabbitroom

A photo posted by Carolyn Givens (@carolyncgivens) on

And she offered me coffee, books, and a spot on the porch. And I took it. And I drank in the cool days, the quiet yard, the trees, the birds.

And for the better part of two days, she didn’t bother me much. She’d come out, sit on the other wicker loveseat, and read her own things. From time to time we’d read out a passage to one another, or stop to talk for a few minutes. And in quiet mornings a cup of coffee and a good book was healing for my soul.

On the last night of my visit—my birthday—the whole family joined me on the porch and fed me cake and asked me questions, a household birthday tradition.

I came back in late March this year. It was warm enough again to be on the porch, and I dragged my laptop out and counted dragons in the final battle of Andrew Peterson’s Wingfeather Saga as I copyedited The Warden and the Wolf King.

Then, in April I returned again. I didn’t need the room upstairs, but the porch was still there for me. And on it we gathered other friends, some new to me, who shared their hearts and their words.

Tonight we moved our words indoors and feted them with hot apple cider. It’s grown chilly for the screen porch, but next spring—next spring I’ll be back there again.

Backdrop

RedeemerI’ve spent a significant portion of the past two days sitting in a sanctuary at a church in Nashville which I can only describe as “warm.” It is a building which seems to stretch its arms out in welcome. The older parts of it are made of wood that holds the patina of the years. In the sanctuary itself, a newer section, a deep crimson wall, inset with a large leaded glass window and an unadorned wooden cross has formed the backdrop for words and music that have shaped me in the past two years.

It’s the place where I first heard N. D. Wilson describe the Fall as the man failing to fight the dragon and save the woman, and the Second Adam as the one who rescued His bride by sacrificing Himself in her place.

It’s the place where I saw Eric Peters as a noisy Chewbacca and Jonathan Rogers as a properly electronic R2-D2 in a Shakespearean rendition of Star Wars.

It’s where Ron Block sang the words, “Let there be beauty for beauty is free.” Where Andrew Osenga shouted, “Space!” Where Pete Peterson has wept and Andrew Peterson has geeked out over Rich Mullins.

It’s a place I heard words of healing as Andy Gullahorn sang, “The story isn’t over yet.” And I’ve heard words of challenge from Father Thomas McKenzie. I’ve heard words of encouragement in art, faith, love, community, hope.

And in the past two days it has been the backdrop for moments like Son of Laughter singing “The Meal We Could Not Make” and Jenny and Tyler singing “Skyline Hill.” It has stood behind Rebecca Reynolds talking of the Blue Flower and Russ Ramsey holding up a Vermeer print and Andrew Peterson plugging in his phone to play Marc Cohn’sWalking in Memphis.”

It is a backdrop full of memory for me—and I’ve only visited on yearly occasions. For those who come weekly, it is the backdrop for the breaking of the bread, the drinking of the wine of the new covenant, the truth of the gospel taught, of prayers covering and lifting pain and sorrow to the ear of heaven’s throne.

Rebecca Reynolds said this morning, “Any old church is a familiar friend.” Arms open, they invite us toward the altar of worship.

New Guest Post at Everyday Liturgy

I had another guest post go up today at Everyday Liturgy titled, “A Romance It Certainly Is.” Here’s a snippet:

We cannot avoid the reality of this world. We see its dark underbelly in everything from the news to human trafficking to the person who pushes past us in a crowd without apologizing. This world, and we people in it, are broken, cracked, and bloody.

But as believers, we have a second sight of sorts. We see this world as it once was and as it will be again.

Check out the rest over Everyday Liturgy!

The Center Point

It often seems that my Advent meditations center around a single idea – often something meaningful to my reflections on the past year. Sometimes they’re painful meditations. Sometimes they are joyous. Sometimes they are revelations. Sometimes they’re old truths.

This year’s meditations have focused the coming of the Christ as the center point of history. From creation to new creation, it all revolves around this one moment, in a little town in Judah, when the Redeemer of the world arrived as a newborn infant. Creation, Fall, Redemption: all wrapped together in skin and laid in a manger.
Jesus: the Lord saves. Emmanuel: God with us.
This has been, for me, a Rabbit Room year. Yes, technically my sister introduced me to the place more than a year ago, but this is the year when I’ve really experienced the community: had my eyes opened to the life being lived in that community and joined it myself. The Rabbit Room had a community Christmas gift exchange this year, and, while I didn’t have the time to get involved myself, I wanted to share my thanks for the gifts the Rabbits have given me.
The artists who lead the community have blessed me beyond measure with the liturgy they’ve worked. Their songs, their stories, their essays, their insights have opened my eyes to new ways of looking at the world God has made and our role in it as Christians.
The people who populate this cyber community have impacted me in ways they may not know. They’ve guided my steps as I’ve started this journey of discovery; they’ve shared their stories, their lives, their sorrows, their risks, their hearts. I have been encouraged. I have been challenged.
Without these groups, I may have considered Christmas differently this year. I may not have seen a Boy’s birth as the center point of all history. Perhaps this was what God intended me to see this year anyway, but He used the members of the Rabbit Room to point and say, “Look.” So here are some glances at the Christmas story as I’ve experienced it this year. May you see the Center Point and never look away.

from N. D. Wilson’s Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl:

“Plan the event. Arrange the reception. The King of kings is coming. He will shoulder governments. He will be called the Prince of Peace, Wonderful Counselor…

“The Lord of all reality is coming to your hemisphere. And He, the pure Spirit, will take on flesh and need to eat and breathe and move His bowels, and have His diaper changed…

“He will be a carpenter, with splintered and blistered hands and cracking nails. One of His grandmothers was a whore of Jericho. He will enter the womb of a virgin and expand in the normal way. He will exit her womb in the normal way. And then she will suckle Him as the cows do their calves. Because, well, He will be mammal…

“The Lord came to clean the unclean. He brought the taint of Holiness, and it has been growing ever since. He was born in a barn and slept in a food trough. Maybe the livestock all took gentle knees, cognizant and pious, like the back page of a children’s Christmas book. Maybe they smacked on their cuts and continued to lift their tails and muck in the stalls.

“The angels knew what was going on even if no one else did. They grasped the bizarre reality of Shakespeare stepping onto the stage, of God making Himself vulnerable, dependent, and human–making Himself Adam. And so, in a more appropriate spirit, they arranged a concert and put on what was no doubt the greatest choral performance in planetary history.

“Were the kings gathered? Where were the people with the important hats? Where were the ushers, the corporate sponsors?

“The Heavenly Host, the souls and angels of stars, descended into our atmosphere and burst in harmonic joy above a field and some rather startled shepherds.

“But the crowd was bigger than that. The shepherds were a distinct minority. Mostly, the angels were just singing to sheep.

“I’m sure those animals paid attention, and not just because there was a baby in their food bowl.”

from Russ Ramsey’s Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative

“Though no one could have known all of this at the time, Jesus was the priest who became the sacrifice, the king who took on the form of a servant, the prophet who was himself the Word of God. He was Immanuel, God with us–Son of God, Son of Man.

“But the death and resurrection of Jesus only makes sense through the lens of his birth. God’s eternal Son, who was present at creation when God made man in his likeness, humbled himself and took on flesh, born in the likeness of man. The Maker knitted him together in Mary’s womb, fearfully and wonderfully forming each tiny part in the depths of her waters. God saw his unformed body. Every day ordained for him was recorded in his Father’s book of life before a single one had come to pass.

“And now he has come.

“Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”

from Andrew Peterson’s Behold the Lamb of God: The TRUE Tall Tale of the Coming of Christ

So sing out with joy for the brave little boy
Who was God, but He made Himself nothing
He gave up His pride and He came here to die
Like a man

So rejoice, ye children sing
And remember now His mercy
And sing out with joy
For the brave little boy is our Savior
Son of God,
Son of Man

The Blind Writer

I had a professor once who said, “The writer is the one who points and says, ‘Look.’” I’ve internalized that idea so deeply that I can no longer recall who said it – the words are now mine, and I repeat them from time to time when I’m called upon to say what it is I do – I point. I say, “Look.” I write.
Monday was, as Anne Shirley so appropriately described, “a Jonah day.” It started with misplacing my phone before work and having to leave without it, continued through ordering the wrong drink at the coffee shop, realizing I forgot my lunch, discovering a project at work hadn’t been completed, speaking sharply to a coworker, apologizing to said coworker, learning no contact had been made with a prospect for a book endorsement when I had requested it two weeks earlier…the list goes on. Through it all I was working on the tedious task of implementing proofreading notes on a book manuscript. I left work at the end of the day, having told my roommate I would text her when I was on the way so she could put the rice on, only to realize that was impossible without a phone, and dinner would consequently be twenty minutes later for my hungry belly.
I found myself in the car, weeping, crying out to God and asking Him why I hadn’t realized I’d been cruel to my coworker, kicking myself for how I handled it all, angry that I hadn’t followed up on the missed pieces sooner, wracking my brain to figure how I would finish all the work on the manuscript before the deadline.
Even Anne’s perfect description for my day, when it came to me as I drove, gave me no comfort. Along with it came her other thought on the topic: “Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?” It’s that little word at the end that’s the problem: “yet.” It mocked me: “You’ll just do it all again tomorrow.”
The tears clouded my eyes; the thoughts crowded my mind. I ached at my own sinfulness and I couldn’t see a way out of it. The writer was blind. In such a state, how could she point? How could she look?
And then a new song started on the CD. It began with quiet strings and piano before Andrew Peterson’s voice began to gently prod,
Behold the Lamb of God
Who takes away our sin
Behold the Lamb of God
The life and light of men
Behold the Lamb of God
Who died and rose again
Behold the Lamb of God who comes
To take away our sin
“Behold.” Look.
My mind would wander back to the troubles of my Jonah day and AP would point again with that word, “Behold.”
Over and over again the phrase repeats in the song: “Behold the Lamb of God.” Look at the Son of God, Emmanuel, the hope of man. When the song ended, I went through again and again. “Behold.” Do not look elsewhere. Keep your eyes on the Lamb. Will you sin again tomorrow? Yes, and the Lamb of God will take away that sin, too. “Behold.”
When the writer is blind, who will point and say, “Look”? The voices of the prophets, of the musicians, of the artists, of all those who have beheld the Lamb and come to Him with their broken hearts, fallen far away from Him, only to see them renewed and restored by the One who died and rose again – they will echo together the call of John the Baptist, pointing and saying, “Look.”

To hear Andrew Peterson’s song “Behold the Lamb of God,” click here.

Starry Nite

The evening’s activities put me in mind of the event a year earlier. The tone both similar and worlds apart – a celebration of the start of the Christmas season, but this year without the aching heart and scratchy eyes of the day’s grief. As I walked away, the voices, amplified by microphones, echoed off the trees, the strains of the violin soaring above them.

I walked toward my car, alone in the deserted lot at the far end of campus. The tenor, the alto, and the violin together, haunting echoes of the originals, rode the chilly, crisp air: “O night, O Holy night, O night divine!”

And alone, I wept at the beauty of it all, that the Conqueror came in peace1, on a quiet, holy night, to be pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; to take upon Himself the chastisement that brought us peace, to turn our sorrow into joy and our mourning into dancing. The power of Death was undone by an Infant born of glory2.

1 Jason Gray. “Easier.” Christmas Stories: Repeat the Sounding Joy.
2 Andrew Peterson. “Gather ‘Round Ye Children, Come.” Behold the Lamb of God.

Don’t You Want to Thank Someone

I heard this song for the first time about a week ago at Andrew Peterson’s Light for the Lost Boy release concert, and it’s been in my mind ever since – not in the “stuck in my head” sense so much as the “stuck in my soul” sense. I’ve been washing it through my mind’s ear over and over again…

I can’t find anywhere online where you can hear the whole thing, but seriously, just go buy the album, this is the culmination of ten songs’ worth of meditation on the Fall and Redemption – and the beauty of the Kingdom that we see now through a glass dimly.

Don’t You Want to Thank Someone
Words and Music by Andrew Peterson / 1/10/2012, The Warren

Romans 8:19

Ephesians 1:13, 14

“The world is charged with the grandeur of God.” –Gerard Manley Hopkins

Can’t you feel it in your bones

Something isn’t right here

Something that you’ve always known

But you don’t know why

‘Cause every time the sun goes down

We face another night here

Waiting for the world to spin around

Just to survive

But when you see the morning sun

Burning through a silver mist

Don’t you want to thank someone?

Don’t you want to thank someone for this?

Have you ever wondered why

In spite of all that’s wrong here

There’s still so much that goes so right

And beauty abounds?

‘Cause sometimes when you walk outside

The air is full of song here

The thunder rolls and the baby sighs

And the rain comes down

And when you see the spring has come

And it warms you like a mother’s kiss

Don’t you want to thank someone?

Don’t you want to thank someone for this?

I used to be a little boy

As golden as a sunrise

Breaking over Illinois

When the corn was tall

Yeah, but every little boy grows up

And he’s haunted by the heart that died

Longing for the world that was

Before the Fall

Oh, but then forgiveness comes

A grace that I cannot resist

And I just want to thank someone

I just want to thank someone for this

Now I can see the world is charged

It’s glimmering with promises

Written in a script of stars

Dripping from prophets’ lips

But still, my thirst is never slaked

I am hounded by a restlessness

Eaten by this endless ache

But still I will give thanks for this

‘Cause I can see it in the seas of wheat

I can feel it when the horses run

It’s howling in the snowy peaks

It’s blazing in the midnight sun

Just behind a veil of wind

A million angels waiting in the wings

A swirling storm of cherubim

Making ready for the Reckoning

Oh, how long, how long?

Oh, sing on, sing on

And when the world is new again

And the children of the King

Are ancient in their youth again

Maybe it’s a better thing

A better thing

To be more than merely innocent

But to be broken then redeemed by love

Maybe this old world is bent

But it’s waking up

And I’m waking up

Cause I can hear the voice of one

He’s crying in the wilderness

“Make ready for the Kingdom Come”

Don’t you want to thank someone for this?

Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Come back soon

Come back soon

©2012 Jakedog Music (adm by Music Services) (ASCAP)