I push the corrugated metal gate open and walk through the narrow passage to the alley behind the university. Everywhere I walk, I’m getting whispers, hollers and ogles. I hear the word that reminds me I’m an outsider, wai guo ren. I hunch my shoulders to shrink a bit, but still I see over them. They saunter in mass, all crowned in silky black.

Where is the Painter, the Calligraphy Maker? Where is the paintbrush? Where is the paper? All I see is an ink spill running down these streets. All I see is darkness on the surface of the deep.

Men in Mao jackets crouch low gobbling up noodles and Marxism with every sweep of the chopsticks. One friend tells me she’s already signed the manifesto and can’t consider Jesus. Another gives it some thought and decides she needs a sign-  she won’t bend unless God grants her sight of two mythical dragons circling the peak of a nearby mountain. Even with the half-dozen little miracles of faith I’ve seen this year and the little bit of underground growth, here are a thousand faithless people on one tiny back street.

Months of tension and knotted muscles send me on visits to the nearby clinic for traction and traditional glass jar treatment, really just modified versions of ancient torture methods. Finally, one friend discovers a little hole in the wall across town, a husband and wife team that can knead my shoulders by hand.

We tiptoe up almost-rotted steps to a doorway curtained by a threadbare sheet. On my visits, I listen for familiar words, laugh when I think I’m supposed to, follow the lurch of tones I can’t recreate. I interpret the steady movements of hands that unroll rice paper to perfect inky bamboo and cherry blossoms and stacks of characters pieced together like little pagodas. He is a painter, a calligraphy maker.

When the airplane engines flare and home motions for me, he asks what phrase he can paint in calligraphy, a remembrance of my time there. I pause, unsure whether to let out the words at the gate. And then I say them anyway and my friend bubbles them out in their language: “These three remain- faith, hope and love…and the greatest of these is love.”

He goes quiet and massages his own hands. He looks at his wife, then at my friend, then at me. Can he trust? Over by the window he fumbles for a skeleton key, clinks it against other secret keepers. He pushes it into the tiny opening on a desk drawer. Wood writhes against wood as he drags it open. Up from the dark of the drawer rises a little black book. In the light that filters through the coal-dusted window, he opens to chapter and verse. He knows these words, “holy words long preserved”.

There in that little crevice of the world, God showed me that when I see an ink spill, He is at work in it, His love overflowing. There is yet a story in the darkness of the deep just waiting to be put into words, waiting to be preserved.

We who are made in His image, “sub-creators” as Tolkien dubbed us, at times find ourselves hovering over what looks like a formless void. There the Word gives us words to tell His story and ours, He whose sound rings in the tiniest quark.

We create because He created. We tell because He gives us something to tell. We who are His masterpiece are created anew to use the gifts He poured into us long ago, even to write out our stories that echo His.

{How does the idea of God at work in the chaos affect your motivation to write? How do you feel about Tolkien’s encouragement that you are a sub-creator made in the image of the Creator? Have you ever thought of yourself as God’s masterpiece equipped to create your own masterpiece?}

This is Day 2 of my series 31 Days ~ Preserve Your Story, linking up with The Nester’s annual 31 Days of Change.

Don’t want to miss a thing? Sign up on the sidebar to get posts in your email box!