More than (Skin-) Deep Practice (By Patricia Goodson, Ph.D., P.O.W.E.R. Director)


More than (Skin-) Deep Practice

By Patricia Goodson, Ph.D., P.O.W.E.R. Director

I confess I didn’t read very much this summer, but when I did I made sure it was worth the effort. I did read three of Mark Buchanan’s books, though. Buchanan writes about the Christian life, mainly; about the Bible and about theology. He also writes poetry – and you can tell he does, just by reading his prose.


But it was this piece he wrote about being practiced that grabbed my imagination, for he offered an embodied account of what practicing one’s craft means — at least in the sense we use the term in the POWER model. Here it is:


“I am a poor photographer.  My brother Adam (…) is a superb one.  He needs to be because that is what he does for a living. But it is a study in contrasts to watch him and me together on a photographic expedition.  Despite having handled cameras all my life, I am forever a raw novice.  I bumble and dawdle with the equipment. It takes me dreadfully long to set a photo. Usually by the time I’m ready to shoot, the lighting has changed, or my subject matter has shifted, walked away, taken flight.  Even with my best efforts, the photos usually come out blurred, diluted with too much light, or steeped into many shadows, framed crooked, composed lopsidedly.

My brother is quick and agile with his camera. He can pop lenses off and on with swift, deft motion.  He can frame and shoot a photo with sleight of hand speed, and it comes out saturated with rich color, mesmerizing in its exquisiteness, composed so well he may as well have designed it.

What is the difference between us?  I believe that I could, if I really desired, be as good a photographer as he is, or close to it.  I don’t think there is a fundamental difference in ability, capacity, and sensitivity.   My mediocrity is more self-induced than inborn.

The difference is in the practice.

He has, through slow and grueling apprenticeship, worked and worked at his craft.  He has risen early and bedded late, has slogged through mud fields and waded rivers, has driven long, dreary distances and sat still for uneventful hours, waiting to exhale so that he might perfect his art. He is practiced.

And so photography for him is second nature.  His cameras hang tight to him as shadows—or closer, like skin.  Yes, skin:  the organ through which he touches and absorbs his surroundings.  He sees everything in terms of its photographic potential, is ever attentive to the subtlety and intricacy of earth’s infinite textures.  Because he is practiced, and every bone and every muscle has been trained in obedience and quick responsiveness to his craft, taking a picture—a good picture—is as natural for him as sleeping and sweating.

That is how it is for the person who is practiced.”[1]

Is that how it is for you? For me? I wonder. Have we endured slow and grueling apprenticeship? Do we rise early and bed late, slog through muddy ideas, incomplete thoughts, awkward grammar, sit at the computer for countless uneventful hours, waiting for the right signals saying we’re on the right track? If you do (and I suspect most of you do),  then you are on the road to becoming practiced; on the road to becoming one of those writers others perceive as superbly skilled, for whom writing comes easily, without effort. One of those writers who wears writing as a second skin, as second nature.


Buchanan reminded me: good and prolific writing don’t spontaneously emerge — they are carved out of much, much practice. It’s as simple as that.


And such a reminder was all I needed, this summer. Simple encouragement to re-commit to practice one more time: to both welcome and seek out opportunities to re-peat, re-do, re-vise and try, try again, because that is what I want: I want to be practiced. I want to wear writing like skin… to perceive the world, sense pleasure, feel nourished, and touch others. Not the thick-skin, rough hide we grow as defense against reviewers’ judgments of our work. Rather, a second-skin… soft, sensitive, sensuous, silky smooth… ever-present, buffering collisions between the soul and all else.


Time to get back to practice…

[1] Buchanan, M. (2001). Your God Is Too Safe: Rediscovering the Wonder of a God You Can’t Control. Colorado Spring, CO. Multnomah Books. pp. 141-142