Listen

grand-piano-2

By Sarah Spradlin

 

“Music is what feelings sound like.” – Unknown

 

Dark, tangled locks hang like wild wisps over weathered, young fingers traipsing across ivory keys. Feet dance against brass pedals. The breath of power escapes thin pressed lips. A heart sings along to the beat of rhythm echoing deep as she falls out from every boundary wrapped around her.

Her eyes follow a journey, held captive in the flurry of her soldier-like fingers. Leading fearlessly an epic quest, seamlessly unfolding at her fingertips. Swords clash and the songs of battle echo out into the darkness. Light meets shadow’s acrid breath.

Forget your fear.  I am with you.

Shadowed keys fade away, and gusts of wind push back wayward curls as she tips back her head and her eyes flutter closed, tangled locks falling back onto her shoulders.

Open your eyes.

A knight stands before her, his blade kissing rays of sunlight. Ranks of men, chins tipped high, raise their swords behind him — a young, brave fire kindling in their eyes. Shining out. Singing out.

Shimmering gilded flags flap in the icy-cold wind that could only come from the gathering darkness that roars in the East. The gusts bite through the men’s armor and whisper in their ears. The sun suddenly hidden from sight in a dark swirling mass of clouds.

Voices tear at them — snarling, growling, biting. The knight shouts words of encouragement, but they are lost in the howling winds that weave around his men.

You’re not worth it. You cannot defeat the darkness.

It has already taken hold. Its roots are already too deep.

You cannot hope to save them now.

Not your families, they hiss. Not your friends.

Not your country. Oh, your pathetic little country that thought it could stand by itself, they jeered. Does it hurt to see them wallow in the pain and suffering they brought on themselves?

Enter fear. It’s descent upon the hill like those of phantoms cloaked in shadow. Their voices raise, beating and beating. Never ceasing.

Despair.

Despair.

Wallow in despair. Like a cat’s hiss, they wail and moan, taunting and jabbing. Stinging and stabbing.

Doom.

Doom.

All doomed to die.

The song falters for a brief moment. How could there be purpose in such chaos?

Remember Me.

A whisper of silence before a single ray breaks the shroud of darkness. The gentle touch of golden light falls, glistening on battered armor.

Remember My promises. You are My people. You are strong. This battle has already been won.  Hope ignites as the majesty of their King’s voice embraces them like the breath of soft, spring winds that first thawed the cold clutches of winter’s grasp.

And now she smiles. Fingers playing. Feet dancing. Heart racing.

Flying.

Charging. Down into the valley the knight leads them, the thrum of the feet of the warriors surging ahead of them over the barren, cold ground. Clouds breaking before their fury. The darkness quails at their ferocity. Their power. Sending them back into the shadows.

Shattered are the chains that held captive the lost. Broken are the doors that kept the world from salvation.

Victory.

The knight bows his head and kneels before his King, laying his sword before him.

It is finished.

And now the journey ends.

The fingers slow.

And silence whispers over the ivory keys.

Tanned hands rest.

A heart beat quiets.

Until next time, when maybe the world will listen.

Profile photo of Sarah Spradlin
If you’ve ever emailed us at KP, you’ve probably “met” Sarah—a passionate storyteller with a huge heart that loves Jesus and everyone she meets. Sarah grew up in Georgia with her mom, dad, and little sister, Merry, where she attends the University of Georgia, majoring in International Affairs and Agriculture Communication. When she graduates, Sarah wants to help people all over the world succeed in the agriculture industry and tell the all-important story of the farmer. She joined the Kingdom Pen Team as Secretary in September 2013 and now serves as the Director of Community Happiness. Sarah has been homeschooled, private-schooled, and graduated from Madison County High School in May 2015. She attended Summit in July 2015. She’ll read pretty much anything (if she had to pick, though, her favorite author would be Frank Peretti) and has tried her hand at pretty much every kind of writing out there, though she likes writing fiction and poetry best. But because writing bios is a struggle, if you really want to get to know Sarah, shove some words in her general direction via the Forum, on one of the many social medias down below, or through the KP e-mail: kingdompenmag@gmail.com.

Heaven’s Declaration

The darkness was greatmidsummers_dawn

darkness so ancient, the days could not be counted

since light had touched the world,

for there had been no day since that time.

Only wandering stars and tangled

constellations

to offer guidance

And then, a pale glow across the world

from somewhere above a beacon, a light

not just another high example of purity

a moon which rose quietly from the horizon

and lit the world in white, a light

vaguely familiar

and brilliant.

It cast shadows in the night,

gleaming in eyes that had never seen light

yet the world could not accept the moon as it had the sun

and perhaps hated it for its likeness

and this pristine, alien being

became a symbol

of the night

and the darkness.

And as their contempt for it grew,

the darkness of the Earth

touched that round disk

first a sliver, now a half

the shadow spread

as did their complacency

until the moon was gone

and it was dark again, the stars flickering

Yet it was not the same

for in the light the

world had seen the darkness

and without the light

they saw it still.

And in that night the stars

did not seem splendorous

or able to illuminate as the sun had

as the moon had in its life

for so long they had forgotten the day

but now could not

for dawn was coming.

For in the people was light, there was life

light like a star, like a distant moon

that shown so close like a candle

it came from within them

and burned

and caught

It was a light they had never dreamed of

like a fire they had never felt

and the darkness could not bear

could not hope to fight

fueled by their hope

the hope of morning.

And as their light grew

something familiar crept over the horizon

a great Star, their Star

and in it, the light of the sun, and that of the moon

and all imitations of hope crumbled in the glow

and were replaced

with the genuine.

And somewhere, past the countless worlds

of planets dancing round their stars

upon the limitless horizon

where once was darkness

a brilliance beyond compare

shining,

calling

And planets dying of despair saw their stars fade

fade in the wave filling everything

all the darkness of the universe

could not compare, would not overcome

as the night could not

despair could not

and as the Sun shown

so did the moon

and so did the people

and so did we.

Capture Deborah Rocheleau

Viewing Your Story as a Form of Art

The-Art-of-WritingAs Christians, all of us likely have some message we are trying to actively communicate in our writing. And those of us who are not actively trying to communicate a message still can’t keep their worldview from slipping into their work. As Douglas Wilson writes in Wordsmithy, “The independence of art from worldview and worldview concerns is a myth. Every work of art is produced within a framework of worldview assumptions. […] It is not whether certain values will be propagated by art, but rather which values will be propagated.”

As Christian writers, hopefully our central concern is less on what values we should propagate, but more on how we should propagate them in our novels. We have all likely read that book where the author just preaches the morals through the characters rather than showing us them through their actions. We have all likely seen that story where the values are poorly presented in the book. We have all likely seen such examples of unsuccessful ways to communicate messages in a story. Most readers not already in agreement with the author will tend to reject such messages that are so blatantly preached through such works and will be turned off by it. They reject it because the art was sacrificed for the message.

Stories, therefore, will most effectively communicate their message when they are first a beautiful form of art. By pursuing aesthetic perfection in our stories, we will be taking important steps toward more effectively communicating our message. “Art forms add strength to the worldview which shows through, no matter what the worldview is or whether the worldview is true or false.” Francis Schaeffer, in his work, Art and the Bible correctly points out the power that forms of art hold in their ability to persuade. Like the old adage goes, “Give me control of the nation’s songs, and I care not who makes the laws.” Even as songs, poems, and paintings are works of art, even so are stories likewise a form of art. As Annie Dillard wrote in Living by Fiction, “Aesthetic perfection in a work of fiction carries with it a certain felt tension of tone which not only awes the reader, so that he judges the work to be absolutely excellent, but also inspires him to consider it more deeply.” As a form of art, although the message of the novel remains important, a story is first and foremost a work of art. In other words—it’s supposed to be a good story. And simply being a good story can be enough.

In an answer to the question of how a person can read literature to the glory of God, Leland Ryken in The Christian Imagination replies that it is, “By enjoying the beauty that human creativity has produced and recognizing God as the ultimate source of this beauty and creativity.” As a form of art then, stories must pursue a type of perfection in the grammar of the writing itself, in the depth of the characters, and in the intricacy of the plot. When this has been done, a well-crafted story will more powerfully bring out the message contained in the story. The better the art, the more powerful the message becomes. As Schaeffer writes, “The effect of any proposition, whether true or false, can be heightened if it is expressed in poetry or in artistic prose rather than in bald, formulaic statement.”

How does this art communicate the message? In his blog post “How Stories do their Work on Us,” Jonathan Rogers writes, “Being mere mortals, we can’t really understand any of those things if they aren’t grounded in what we can see, hear, smell, taste, and touch. You can talk about grace until you’re blue in the face, but you aren’t going to come up with a definition that improves on the parable of the Prodigal Son: a father, arms outstretched, welcoming a rebellious and wicked son back into his home.” In order to communicate their message, stories do not need to be explicitly Christian. Although Christ’s parables bore powerful Christian messages in them, many did not have explicitly Christian characters in them. In Esther, we even see an entire book of the Bible that doesn’t mention God. And although Esther details real events which actually happened, it also forms an excellent story, told by the greatest story-teller of all: God Himself. And so, although Esther is not explicitly Christian, it remains still a very Christian book and still presents many truths for us to grasp. Art in stories therefore communicates the message by giving us examples of people  who either hold to or reject the truth, and then goes on to show us the end of such course of action. We learn by example.

So what does it mean then, to refine the perfection of the form of art which is your story? What makes a good story? There is no easy answer because there is no single right answer. Like the multiplicity of well-done paintings and the different forms they can take, stories can go many different, yet legitimate, ways. As Christian writers, we ought to be assured that, to some extent, the message of our story will take care of itself, since we cannot keep our worldview from infiltrating our story. But although no easy answers can be given for what makes a good story, advice can still be given and received, like it is in any other form of art.  Read recent articles by Kingdom Pen about how to make your character their own person or how to learn from your poor writing in order to get some of this advice. Through these articles, when we first understand that stories are another form of art, we can work to refine our understanding of and our skill in the craft of story-telling. And through that, we can pursue greater aesthetic perfection in our stories.

So where does the rubber meet the road and the theoretical meet the practical in this article? Compare The Lord of the Rings to your average modern Christian fantasy work today and you may be able to see the difference. Although modern Christian writers mean well, many focus more on the message of their novels than on the art form of it, and thus sacrifice the beauty of their story to the message being told. And while the message of our story is important, it is most effective when the story is first pursued as an art form. Don’t sacrifice the quality of your story for preaching your message. Relax, and let the message slip into your story. While there is nothing wrong with explicitly Christian stories, don’t be afraid to write an implicitly Christian novel. We can rest assured that we can still communicate specifically-Christian morals while writing in a less-explicit framework. When we pursue our stories as a form of art, we will more effectively communicate our message. And as the beauty of the trees, waves, mountains, and stars all proclaim the glory of God, so our stories will express the truths and beauty that ultimately find themselves in the glory of the risen Messiah.

Profile photo of Josiah DeGraaf
Josiah DeGraaf is a high school English teacher and literature nerd who fell in love with stories when he was young and hasn’t fallen out of love ever since.
He writes because he’s fascinated by human motivations. What causes otherwise-good people to make really terrible decisions in their lives? Why do some people have the strength to withstand temptation when others don’t? How do people respond to periods of intense suffering? What does it mean to be a hero?
These questions drive him as a reader, and they drive him as a writer as well as he takes normal people, puts them in crazy situations (did he mention he writes fantasy?), and then forces them to make difficult choices with their lives.
Someday, Josiah hopes to write fantasy novels with worlds as imaginative as Brandon Sanderson’s, characters as complex as Orson Scott Card’s, character arcs as dynamic as Jane Austen’s, themes as deep as Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s, and stories as entertaining as Wayne Thomas Batson’s. In the meantime, you can find him writing articles here or short stories at his website (link below) as he works toward achieving these goals.