sandbox made of sand

There is no essence, no boundary, or centre, to theopoetics. This may be
cheerfully acknowledged even as we continue to debate and create ‘as if’ the fabrication we are engaged in could be compared to building a house rather than inventing a fiction.

Heather Walton, “Creativity at the Edge of Chaos: Theopoetics in a Blazing World.” Literature & Theology, September 2019, Vol. 33 Issue 3, p.337.

I’ve not yet thought about this discipline I’m exploring (learning the words for that which I already know) as “building a house.” I can’t tell you why not: house-building is a comfortable and usual thing to do, particularly when it’s somewhere you think you’ll live… and live with others. Houses are helpful, with their roofs and rooms and doors in doorframes.

Somehow, when I think of theopoetics, I think: the sandbox I’m now playing in.

No doubt a hefty helping of this comes from one of my earlier lives. In tech, a “sandbox” is a particular sort of thing, though it’s structured in many different ways. What they all have in common is: designed impermanence. One of the sandboxes I worked with was a carefully installed and configured network server, whose whole purpose was for me to — after taking a “snapshot” — add One More Thing that might (or might not!) break that server to bits. Or get it to behave in odd or unreliable ways.

The “snapshot” served to give me a way to erase the now unreliable — or completely non-functional — server and begin again. As if I were in a raucous not-very-Zen garden, raking over the sand and nudging the stones, wiping out all the noise and boister. Once I’d restored my sandbox, I would try again, then restore and try again, as many times as we needed in order to accomplish what we wanted.

I especially liked the sandbox’s provisionality. Everyone agrees that here is method, order, collapse, experiment, failure. It’s never all-out chaos (in the sense of anti-order), but it is a place for trying things that, after all, have no reason to ever be tried again. (“Well, that spectacularly doesn’t work-!”) For taking risks where the stakes are low and the rewards high.

Theopoetics is my sandbox absolutely in how I sense my personal risk — what, after all, will happen to me if I build these castles for five years only to see them crumble? I’ll be five years older, that’s what. Which I was — God willing — going to be anyway.

In a larger sense, though, I see theopoetics as also a sandbox of divine risk — what will God do to me, to us, if we stretch these ideas, rummage around, dance our dances? So far I do not see any threats to our salvation… or even to our relationship with the Divine. Not any moreso than while chasing systematic theology, or histori-critical biblical analysis,
or laying face-down on the floor grappling with theodicy.

In fact, it seems apropos for theopoetics, in all its expansiveness and refusal to either be defined or be technique-constrained, to not only be a sandbox,

but be a sandbox made out of sand itself.

We come near each other, or come together. We make for God, bringing water to get the grains to stick for a little while. Some makings we like and leave alone; some we don’t and sweep away; some make us laugh and we then gleefully kick to see what happens. Godself laughs the loudest, wrapping affectionately around us, knuckling us when we get too knuckle-headed.

They call all sorts of people to the mountain,
where they offer right sacrifices.
It’s true: They’re nourished on the sea’s abundance;
they are nourished on buried treasures in the sand.

spoken by Moses in Deuteronomy 33:19, CEB

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