In the book A Pen and A Path, you explore
ways to use writing as a spiritual tool.
How can writing about one’s life help that person move
closer to God?
about one’s life as a form of spiritual practice
fulfills the desire to move closer to God because it transforms
the inner monologue in our minds, that is our own private,
personal commentary on life, into a dialogue with God.
How is the writing you describe different from keeping
or writing in one’s journal?
writing I describe differs in two ways. First, when
used as a spiritual practice, intention is everything. By that I mean the person who begins to write in this way
does so with the conscious intention of communicating with
God. Journal writing is not always intended as a way of communicating
with God; rather it is more often a way of talking to oneself,
recording events for future remembrance, trying to make sense
of things on one’s own, or musing on ideas for creative
projects or solving problems. Journal writing even is undertaken
with the thought in mind that someone else will read it someday.
There can be great validity in this kind of writing, but
it is not the same as writing primarily in order to connect
the method I describe in A Pen and A Path suggests a specific
topic in each chapter as a starting point for
writing, a topic which might very well carry an emotional
charge or otherwise hold deep significance for the writer.
Journal writing is often more “stream of consciousness” or
free-form, a more random wandering through the day or the
events of one’s life. The exercises in A Pen and A
Path are meant to focus attention on a specific topic, while
also freeing the writer to explore that topic with all the
depth and breadth the topic offers, all with the intention
of writing to God.
Your approach to writing as a spiritual practice asks
us to examine all different aspects of our lives: relationships,
work, emotions and perceptions about faith. How does such
intense self-examination help us look outside ourselves to
see God in the world around us?
a natural first stage in any new part of the life cycle.
We are self-absorbed as children, then
again as teenagers, then when we fall in love, decide on
a career, suffer a loss, begin the spiritual journey, start
a new creative project, and so on. At each new threshold
on our journey, we begin with ourselves as the starting point
of what we know of life. Going beyond this first stage of
self-absorption by examining, articulating, and sharing both
with God and with others that which absorbs us serves to
frees us to then turn our attention to the people and the
larger world around us. Holding onto our own thoughts and
feelings and giving them no outlet for expression closes
us off to possibility, movement, change, and the reality
of anything besides our own private journey.
In my own experience, when I have written about things that
have caused me fear or grief, confusion or doubt, I have
been able to come to terms with these things. The very practice
of writing about them, offering them to God and sometimes
sharing what I wrote with others, has allowed me to loosen
the hold they had on my spirit. Writing
as a spiritual practice is a way of going within in order
to come back out into the
whole human community. The willingness to examine and write
about my own mind and heart has allowed me to let go of that
which prevented me from growing, and sets me free to look
for God beyond the confines of my own experience. Writing
about the joys and blessings in my life has also helped me
feel connected with the world beyond my own experience, by
allowing me to acknowledge and articulate gratitude, hope
and the need for forgiveness and compassion. Although I will
no doubt be completely self-absorbed at the beginning of
the next new thing that challenges me, writing can work as
a catalyst to get me moving again out of my self-absorption
and into the possibilities, challenges, lessons, and blessings
You compare writing to prayer. Can you talk a little
more about their
when used as a spiritual practice, is a way of making
oneself available to God.
It says, “Here I
am. At this moment, to the best of my ability, I am all
yours.” As in prayer, it signals our intention, our
desire to be completely present in the very moment that
we find ourselves in, and in that moment, to fully share
who we are and to receive whatever it is that God offers
us. Writing uses the tool of language, engages the body
and the mind, and provides a structure composed of thoughts,
words and movement. It shapes and directs how we approach
and engage the spirit while freeing us to feel and express
whatever is in our minds and our hearts. Some forms of
prayer use verbal language, either spoken or unspoken;
other forms engage the body in bowing or other movement.
All forms of prayer, even wordless, require that we place
ourselves in the state of “Here I am.” Writing
as spiritual practice draws on one particular method of
reaching that place of “Here I am,” and A
Pen and a Path suggests
ways of deepening that stance once we get there.
What would you suggest for the person who has a hard time articulating
their thoughts, feelings and perceptions?
there! Over the years, I have tried various methods for
recognizing my thoughts,
feelings, and perceptions, then “owning” them,
then finding a creative way to do something with them besides keeping
them all inside. Whether we express ourselves in writing, our work,
the way we learn as students, the way we nurture relationships
with others, or through dance, music, painting, photography, gardening,
weaving or other crafts, all are valid paths for learning how to
first recognize, then own, then express who we are, how we feel,
and what we hope for in our relationship with the Sacred. Yet,
as in writing, each of these paths starts with small steps into
the unknown. There is no right or best or perfect way to articulate
who we are and how we feel. With writing as a spiritual practice,
as with all spiritual practices, the physical results of our practice
are not important. It’s not about how good we are at what
we do, how wonderful we sound or how brilliant our finished product,
practice in any form is not a competition or a demand for results.
The desire to communicate
is all that’s
needed. With practice, the willingness to “show up,” and
a safe environment in which to practice and perhaps share our
work, God will do the rest.
What else would you like to say about the value of
writing in nurturing a relationship to God?
am not advocating writing as the best, or most valid,
or even the easiest practice for nurturing a relationship
with God. Writing is one practice out of many that are
offered by various faith traditions, and like all practices,
it may not work for everyone, or may be valuable at some
points on the faith journey and not at others. Yet the
act of writing is something that we can avail ourselves
of at any time or place; it requires only a writing instrument
and basic language skills, and it is something that we
can continue to practice throughout our lives. We don’t
need to be on retreat, or in a sacred setting, or even
in a good mood to write - we just need to be willing to
be present to ourselves, and to God. By the act of moving
a pen across the page or moving fingers across a keyboard,
we move toward God; by choosing the path of words, we open
the door to connection. We don’t need to be experts
or even very good at grammar, syntax, or spelling. We don’t
need to be published or highly educated. The simplest
words are often the best, most direct way of saying what
Language is a precious aspect of being human, a gift.
When we write, we offer that gift to ourselves, and to
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