Last weekend, we offered a retreat here on writing and spirituality.
Journal keeping was part of the retreat, as were fiction writing and memoir writing. As it turned out, a lot of different styles and approaches to writing came up. So did the dimension of spirituality.
One woman asked how she could know if her writing was really spiritual. She paused and then said she wanted God in her life, and she hoped that her written words could give her access to the divine.
I later thought a lot about what she said. She opened a wondrous door early in the retreat, and it is through that door that we all went for the remainder of the retreat.
God chose to live among us, to live within us, to experience and know life through our lives. He spoke and all of this came into being. John tells us that in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God.
And then the Word came among us.
All words reflect God's life in us. We are made in the image of God, and language tries to speak of God -- the very mystery living within us.
We are God's living story. Writers deal with stories all the time -- they benefit from the gift of narrative craft given us by God. We cannot "un-story" ourselves. We cannot "un-God" ourselves. Human and divine life is entwined, intermingled, as one.
The most beautiful of our stories reflect our need to know and share beauty, truth, hope, faith.
Each of the retreatants came to learn and share about writing. Each person is a divine fingerprint on the surface of life. Writing seeks the gold in the streams of life. The gold glistens in every stream of life. It will be seen differently by different people. So there are stories of faith in all the different cultures and religions.
All these stories attempt to frame the divine and give direction to life. When a writer finds his or her voice, it will reflect something that only the writer can see and about which he or she can write well.
We come to know who we are through speaking, through writing, through language and communication. The writer Joan Didion writes that the only way she can grow to understand things is by writing about it, word by word, line by line.
The retreat went well. I really enjoyed hearing the retreatants share their insights, offer help to each other and share their memories -- both happy ones and painful ones. I was inspired to take to heart once again the truth that we need each other's hearts to write, to express the best of who we are in words.
All of us hesitate when trying to find the right words to express just how we feel at any given moment. Words spoken from the heart do not come easily to any one of us.
It is said that God is the author of life. So it is that God found His voice through us. When He writes, we speak. When He turns a page, we experience a new day. When His narrative needs a new chapter, we begin life anew.
It is quite a novel He is writing. He has been at work on it a long time.
If you desire to write, there will come a time where you have to pick up a pen and write on your own, and silence the voices in your head that compare what you write with others, that voice that whispers in your ear that what you are writing is trite, has been written before, is not worth the ink used to write. Do not listen. Just keep going. Keep the pen moving across the page, and you will soon experience the mystery of the words coming as if on their own.
It is as if someone within you was there all the time, but you did not really know it, until you started to write -- creating something new, using the gift of the creator.
Father James Stephen (Jeff) Behrens, O.C.S.O., serves at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, 2625 Ga. Highway 212 S.W., Conyers. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.