It’s in the Writing

Before I started my blog, I felt a stirring inside to write, I mean writing for others to read.  I did not know what form that would take.  I wondered if I had a book inside me, or anything of value to offer.  I mused aloud to my daughter that I was thinking of starting a blog, but I wanted to wait until I was ready.  She wisely urged me to get started no matter what, or I would be paralyzed by my own expectations.  As an artist, I imagine she has some idea of the creative process and its barriers.

“Learn by doing” came to mind.

This summer I finally have large blocks of time in which to write.  In one of those moments that feels Spirit-guided, I went to my bookshelf and found that one of the books I had collected for future reading was The True Secret of Writing by Natalie Goldman.  She connects the contemplative life and the act of meditation with writing.  Well, “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”  Her book was exactly what I needed after completing two years of instruction in spiritual direction and incorporating contemplative practices into my life.

Still, one has to sit down and write.  Thankfully, Goldman and many other writing teachers tell us that we cannot and should not expect to sit down with a plan and simply flesh out an outline unless we have some rare flash of inspiration like G.F. Handel when he composed “The Messiah” in 24 days.  (Sounds terrifying, not to mention exhausting.)

No, the act of writing itself yields discovery.  It also yields plenty of BS.  Which we have to expect.

Find Your Voice
Image by Leigh Standley for CG Design Inc, used by permission

I am inspired by the idea of “finding your voice.”  But what does that mean, exactly?  Did it start when I began questioning my assumptions twenty years ago?  Or when I wrote poetry in the fourth grade?  Or when I finally felt as though my sermons were coming from a deeper, more genuine place?  Why was it lost, or obscured?

I was heartened when reading Henri Nouwen’s Spiritual Direction: Wisdom for the Long Walk of Faith (with Michael J. Christensen and Rebecca J. Laird), that he approached writing hesitantly: “Even after many years of writing, I experience real fear when I face the empty page.  Why am I so afraid? …I can’t imagine that I have anything to say that hasn’t already been said better by someone else…These fears sometimes paralyze me and make me delay or even abandon my plans to write.” (p. 98)

He says that writing is not about “recording preexistent thoughts.”  Instead, he says, “Writing is a process in which we discover what lives in us.  The writing itself reveals to us what is alive in us.  The deepest satisfaction of writing is precisely that it opens up new spaces within us of which we were not aware before we started to write.”  (p. 99)

I experience what Nouwen described.  Writing opens up new spaces within me that I didn’t realize were there.

Part of my process right now is going over journals, the notes from my spiritual direction course, and reading old letters penned by my mother over the course of the last 60 years.  I received these unexpectedly from my sister-in-law two weeks ago, mysteriously coinciding with my first foray into more intentional writing.  Yet another sense of the Spirit at work…

As I read through some notes from class last night, I found the outcome of an assignment, a letter from God to me.  (I do not hesitate to write these.  Some might consider them highly presumptuous.  I find them enlightening and comforting.  And God never “says” anything out of character when I do it.)  I put the letter in quotes because it is my previous writing, not because I think I am quoting God directly:

“Do not be afraid.  What is inside you waiting to be expressed is not petty, clumsy, or trite.  It is my fresh breath of life for you.  Words from me can never be cliché no matter how many times they have been uttered or written. New babies are born every day with the same basic physiology as all the rest, yet they are unique and welcomed with joy as a sign of my vast love and creativity.

“You were born, you have lived, you are gifted as an expression of my love for the world.  It doesn’t matter how anyone else receives your words.  I love them.  And they will resonate for the ones I have in mind.  Nothing else matters.

“You are enough because I am enough.  There is no other reality except my life made manifest in the world and my love made manifest in you as part of the whole.  The words you write are expressions I want the world to read.  Whether you are proud of them or anyone is impressed by them is beside the point.  Remember [an old friend’s] word for you?  Express my love to the world; do not seek to impress anyone.  All will be well, my Beloved.”

So, the desire, the call the write might not be about producing something for you, dear reader.  If nothing else, it will serve my own understanding of myself and the world, and that is a worthy endeavor indeed.  I don’t have to identify and brand and market my unique “voice.”  I can simply listen to it as it flows through my pen onto the page, and follow its inky path, wherever it leads.

Thoughts on Spiritual Direction

June 14, 2018…This week I received my certification as a spiritual director from Seeking the Spirit Within, a ministry of the Nebraska Synod (ELCA) Institute for Spiritual Direction Formation.  Spiritual direction happens when someone seeking more depth in their spirituality receives assistance from a companion who is trained to help them recognize the work of the Holy Spirit in their life. 

Hidden milkweeds

I ran across a picture from an autumn run a couple years back in West Oneota Park.  The caption read “hope for monarchs: milkweeds.”  The milkweeds are hard to detect, except the one that has yellowed a bit.  Look more closely, and in the middle right of the photo you’ll find two pods waiting to open and thrust their feathery seeds into a passing wind.

Who knows where those seeds will land?  Most of them will not find purchase in soil.  Next year the monarch butterflies will find those that take root and offer their pink globes to signal their winged guests.  I imagine the long journey overcome with weightless wings, the instinct to seek and find the precious weed.

The inner landscape is vast and multiform.  There are dangers and delights.  Signposts and dumping grounds.  Glorious sunrises and sunsets.  Dark places.  Paths that lead to discovery, and those that take us back.  Memorials for pause and grief.

If I’m not care-ful, I pass by memorials and sunsets and weedy beauties unaware.  I need help to see what is there, all that is waiting to teach me about itself.  I need someone to help me train my eyes, not to show me what is there, but in order to simply see it and discern what needs my attention.

With my spiritual companion, I celebrate the pulsing goodness of my heart.  I mourn the losses that throb and press.  I welcome the memories whose parsing will transform their power.

We walk the path and notice what is flitting by, what is waiting to give life, what beckons with its dark invitation.

We look closely, together, my spiritual director and I.