Monday, December 31, 2012

Afterthought #12 – Spiritual Memoir

When people ask what I write, I usually reply:  nonfiction, personal essays, and memoir. When I describe my current project, I say I’m writing a memoir that braids leadings about my work with the story of the two years my family and I lived in a remote mountain village. 

Lately, I’ve been reading a craft book by Elizabeth J. Andrew - Writing the Sacred Journey - The Art and Practice of Spiritual Memoir.  My copy looks a little ragged. I’ve turned down corners of about half of the pages with exercises I’ll use in my writing practice.  I’ve underlined sections that speak to me, such as Andrew’s belief that “spiritual memoir is a form unto itself…a genre in which one’s life is written with particular attention paid to its mysteries.”  She also describes well my experience that “…the writing itself becomes a means for spiritual growth.”

After a break from MFA classes and my job, plus a renewing family vacation, I’m eager to resume work on my own spiritual memoir.  Writing the Sacred Journey will be a good companion.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Giving Up the Life You Have

A couple inches of dust coat my grandmother’s cherry writing desk in the corner of my bedroom; I haven’t yet replaced the dead battery in the clock that sits next to my journal; lint litters the brown sheepskin in the rocker where I usually sit. Since starting my MFA in writing program, I’ve shortened—or many days skipped—my morning writing meditation.

A poetry reading a few weeks ago, though, nudged me back.  More specifically, poet Holly Hughes spurred me with meditations and exercises in The Bell and the Pen, the book that she co-authored with Brenda Miller. Thumbing through it at Holly’s reading, I knew I had found kindred spirits in its authors:

            As writers who have incorporated spirituality as a part of our lives,
             we have found that writing, in and of itself, can be a powerful form
            of contemplation…we also believe that contemplative practice can
            strengthen one’s writing; the two work synergistically to support
            and reinforce each other.

Those lines, and others in The Bell and the Pen, have sent me again to that corner in my bedroom. Today, after I blew off dust on the votive candle and lit it, I noticed something tucked under the stack of books teetering on the desk.  It’s a tiny accordion book that I made in 2007 while a student at Pendle Hill Quaker Study Center.

Its folds, twists, and turns symbolize the way leadings have unfolded for me. The hand-written text includes some of the new understandings I came to during the Pendle Hill course, “Discerning Our Calls.”  On one page I printed a quote by James Hillman, a Jungian psychologist:

You have to give up the life you have 
to get the life that’s waiting for you.

Those words had greeted me one afternoon when I entered a room for a time of worship-sharing. I can still remember the burn in my belly when I read them. Just as I had thought – to be faithful, I have to give up all of the good and beautiful things in my life.   My stomach churning as I tried to settle into the quiet of the room, another sensation prickled. What IS the world that is waiting for me?

I no longer can recall any of the sharing by others in the group that day. But at some point in that hour of expectant listening, the churning in my gut eased, and I heard what I was to give up. The life I have to give up is a life lived in fear.

Fear of loss, of failure, of disappointing others. Fear of making mistakes, being wrong.

I also heard that the life that is waiting for me­—the life that Spirit wants for me (and all of us)—is one of joy.

I’ve made some progress giving up worry and anxiety about those things I can’t control. I’ve gotten more clear about the dangers of trying to please everyone. And I remain certain of God’s desire for us to experience joy. But just like the dust on my writing desk, fear creeps in when I allow the busyness of life to keep me from regular times of contemplation. I’m grateful for being pulled back to my pen, my hand-bound journal, the flicker of a candle, and the quiet. I have more giving up to do, more life that is waiting for me.