From the Basement

October 15, 2011

On the Writing-Spirit Connection

Filed under: Faith,Writing — jeannablue @ 1:08 pm
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I was recently talking with a friend who is going through a bit of a rough time; a few symptoms mentioned were spiritual dryness and a lack of writing fervor. That struck a chord with me—when I’m spiritually dry, I don’t write, or maybe it’s that when I’m not writing, I’m spiritually dry … which comes first is a mystery. Call it the creative version of the chicken and the egg.

Truth be told, I communicate best with God when I’m writing to him—love letters, complaint letters, missives filled with the banality of daily life. And, of course, the why am I here? What have you done? Why are you letting this happen? What do you want me to do? letters (the answer to those is invariably: have faith, read the Bible, and make a decision that seems best).

I have tons of prayer journals stacked up on shelves in the closet. I don’t know that I ever set out to write a “prayer journal,” as I’m thoroughly terrible at committing to similar courses of action (for example, reading my Bible every day—never been too good at that). It’s that I can’t focus my thoughts in a conversation. Whenever I’m reading a novel and see the “s/he thought” notation, I laugh. Goodness, that’s not realistic—at least not for me. For me, critical thinking is critical writing. In order to think hard about anything, I write—oh, ideas come as thoughts, but I have to find a paper and pen or else I’ll lose them like leaves in the wind. (Hence why I carry a notebook and pen with me everywhere.) I use sheaves of paper to map out my academic arguments, my stories, the occasional poem, and, yes, just about every prayer that requires any length. I’ll find pages in notebooks where I started trying to write through something—a difficult discussion with my now-husband, for instance—and it inevitably turns into a prayer.

There’s something very spiritual about the writing process. It’s not just that writing is a connection to God, but it’s almost as though God, or the fabric He’s created, speak through the writing. There’s a phenomenal chapter in The Right to Write by Julia Cameron where she talks the spiritual nature of writing, that as writers, we are vessels that are filled a story that comes from something greater than ourselves. I don’t know where my characters or stories come from, I don’t know how I know what happens next—the story just writes itself, and the characters do things that continually surprise me. Cameron is not committed to any one idea of God or the Universe, and while I obviously see that creative source as God the Father, I still agree wholeheartedly with her main point: that writing is a listening process, a spiritual process that is good for the soul.

But this butts up against the ego, against pride, against the relatively new Western idea that as writers, we have to be Original and Inventive, making a Big Cultural Contribution. Cameron delves into this negotiation of ego vs. channel with clarity and insight:

            The ego hates being a “channel”—or whatever other nonoffensive word you can find for it. The ego wants to take credit…. The ego wants to have it both ways: to receive the work effortlessly and then take the full glory for having “thought it all up” instead of “taking it all down.”

It is possible to write out of the ego. It is possible, but it is also painful and exhausting. Back in my drinking days, I used to strain to be brilliant, to write the best, the most amazing, most dazzling …  Is it any wonder that chemical additives seemed like a good idea, like the secret advantage I just might need?

…. I was told by screenwriters Jerry Ayres and Diana Gould, and by nonfiction writer Maurice Zolotow, to post a little sign by my desk that said something like, “OK, universe. You take care of the quality, I’ll take care of the quantity.”

…. I came to the humbling conclusion that over time that I wrote pretty much at the same level all the time, a few peaks and a few valleys but overall: just Julia. I began to think of myself less as “author, author” and more as a word processor. I began to be more willing to let “it,” whatever “it” was, write through me. I began to write more quickly. My ego was less invested. (The Right to Write, 102-103)

This probably sounds very odd to those who don’t write, but to me, it’s like a breath of fresh air, a cool drink of water on a sticky summer day. The ego—the pride—is exhausting. It is demanding, it is fed by the culture we live in that we are all Special Snowflakes, and goodness, it is tiring. The realization that the writing doesn’t come from me, it comes from my Creator—that there are stories He’s built into the universe that the spirit in me can tap into, listen to, and take down … it probably sounds terribly odd, but let me tell you, it is so freeing. The pressure is off me to be an original, creative genius. After all, I’m the daughter of the original, creative genius!

This post may seem a bit varied and disjointed ~gestures to early morning hour~ but suffice it to say, a few forces have been at work lately—the fact that I’ve been more prolific this week than I have in a long time, the conversation with that friend, and the fact that I’m working on a paper of western notions of authorship—and they’re all converging to help renew my creative energy and, with it, my spiritual foundation. I am never more alive than when I am writing, and this has to do with my Creator, too. He wired me for words, but ultimately, he’s wired all of us for His Word, for the Word that became Flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. In order to feel alive in writing, I must be alive in Christ, and that is a beautiful thing.

P.S. Since I am no longer writing from my mother’s basement :-), any ideas on a new name for the blog? This is one area of writing where I struggle muchly: titling things.

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May 15, 2011

On Faith, Writing, & the Freedom of Letting Go

Filed under: Faith,Writing — jeannablue @ 3:45 pm
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My writing is deeply connected to my faith; the writing and the spiritual often go hand in hand. When one suffers, the other suffers; when one is going well, the other tends to be going well, too. Curious how this happens.

Last year, I wrote through spiritual difficulties. But I reached a point of—depression, acedia, call it what you will—where I ceased writing along with praying, reading scripture, etc. There have been glimmers over the last few months, posts where I was trying to break through.

It’s starting to break away. I’m writing again, and while I feel tremendous guilt for leaving the blog relatively untouched, I am to the point where I can no longer write with expectation, with the albatross of obligation ‘round my neck. I’m trying to let go of that guilt of what I “should” be doing, like working on the blog, because I have friends who’ve said they’ve benefited from it as much as I have … but God uses us where we’re at. For a time, this blog was exactly what I needed. It may become what I need once again in the future. But I’m posting this to say that I’m releasing myself from the “expectation” of writing here.

I am writing every day, three pages a morning in a classic black-and-white Composition book. It’s a move straight out of the Julia Cameron playbook. Those are three pages that are never reread, that are for no one’s eyes but yours. Because truly, there are some things I’m dealing with right now that I simply cannot work through in such a public forum. So I’m working through them in morning pages, and it’s good.

This might sound strange to say, but to me, writing is more vital than prayer: perhaps because so often my writing goes in and out of prayer. I cannot pray or think for any length of time without a pen in my hand, and so my thoughts are addressing God one moment and then dwelling on something else the next, and then jotting an idea for the chapter in my story and then praying again …  Writing brings clarity, so when I am in a dry period, or a depressed period, or one of acedia—again, I hardly know what to call these spells I go through—I miss writing almost as much as I miss God. Writing is direction. It is freedom. It is calming. It helps me think through things. And I feel close to God. Not that faith is driven by emotion, but when I’m writing, I feel like I’m a hair’s breath away from heaven, away from seeing Him, and there’s just no better feeling in the world.

I did not start this post intending to sort of release myself from the “obligation” of this blog, but … I am. No obligations. No expectations. No one else. Just me, my notebook, my pen, and my God.

Writing is like breathing, it’s possible to learn to do it well, but the point is to do it no matter what.

—Julia Cameron, The Right to Write

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