The Reasons We Give

The reasons we give for writing spiritual memoirs are often more practical than this abstract, heartfelt longing. We say we want to pass our stories along to our children, or that we need to share our soul’s journey with loved ones, or that we want to leave behind more than a financial legacy. Jewish communities in particular are paying increasing attention to the tradition of writing “ethical wills”—documents that place individual lives in a broader context, linking past and future generations by tracing an ethical heritage (see “Resources for Writing,” page 238).Writing our struggles, our beliefs, and our insights gives us tangible evidence of our internal life to hand to our families.

 

Another reason people give for writing spiritual memoir is that our experiences have been so transformative, our insights so hard earned, that we feel compelled to share them. One of my students had grown disillusioned with his silk-suit, cell-phone, jet-set lifestyle.After a period of depression, during which he felt his life’s efforts had been misdirected and fruitless, he discovered a love of landscaping. If he could write his story, he told me, it might help others transition into lives of greater integrity. Another student saw her mother through hospice care and her final, dying moments. The student’s grief was overwhelming, and it seemed the only good she could make of such pain was to write it down in the hope that her story would help others traverse those last days.Wisdom resides inherently within experiences of hardship. Writing is a public manner of claiming this wisdom.

 

from “Writing the Sacred Journey” by Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew

The Cabbage Looper

 

– from “The Writing Life” by Annie Dillard

You write it all, discovering it at the end of the line of words. The line of words is a fiber optic, flexible as wire; it illumines the path just before its fragile tip. You probe with it, delicate as a worm.

Few sights are so absurd as that of an inchworm leading its dimwit life. Inchworms are the caterpillar larvae of several moths or butterflies. The cabbage looper, for example, is an inchworm. I often see an inchworm: it is a skinny bright green thing, pale and thin as a vein, an inch long, and apparently totally unfit for life in this world. It wears out its days in constant panic.

Every inchworm I have seen was stuck in long grasses. The wretched inchworm hangs from the side of a grassblade and throws its head around from side to side, seeming to wail. What! No further? Its back pair of nubby feet clasps the grass stem; its front three pairs of nubs rear back and flail in the air, apparently in search of a footing. What! No further? What? It searches everywhere in the wide world for the rest of the grass, which is right under its nose. By dumb luck it touches the grass. Its front legs hang on; it lifts and buckles its green inch, and places its hind legs just behind its front legs. Its body makes a loop, a bight. All it has to do now is slide its front legs up the grass stem. Instead it gets lost. It throws up its head and front legs, flings its upper body out into the void, and panics again. What? No further? End of world? And so forth, until it actually reaches the grasshead’s tip. By then its wee weight may be bending the grass toward some other grass plant. Its davening, apocalyptic prayers sway the grasshead bump it into something. I have seen it many times. The blind and frantic numbskull makes it one grassblade and onto another one, which it will climb in virtual hysteria for several hours. Every step brings it to the universe’s rim. And now – No further? End of world? Ah, here’s ground. What! No further? Yike!

“Why don’t you just jump?” I tell it, disgusted “Put yourself out of your misery.

Trust (part 2)

When copies [of virtually everything can be copied] are free, you need to sell things that cannot be copied. Well, what can’t be copied?

Trust, for instance. Trust cannot be reproduced in bulk. You can’t purchase trust wholesale. You can’t download trust and store it in a database of warehouse it. You can’t simply duplicate someone else’s trust. Trust must be earned, over time.  It cannot be faked. Or counterfeited (at least for long). Since we prefer to deal with someone we can trust, we will often pay a premium for that privilege. We call that branding. Brand companies can command higher prices for similar products and services from companies without brands because they are trusted for what they promise. So trust is an intangible that has increasing value in a copy-saturated world.

 

– Kevin Kelly “The Inevitable”

Flowing

The Internet is the world’s largest copy machine. At its most fundamental level this machine copies every action, every character, every thought we make while we ride upon it. In order to send a message from one corner of the Internet to another, the protocols of communication demand that the whole message be copied dozens of times in an ordinary day as the cycle through memory, cache, server, routers, and back. Tech companies make a lot of money selling equipment that facilitates this ceaseless copying. If something can be copied – a song, a movie, a book – and it touches the Internet, it will be copied.

 

– Kevin Kelly “The Inevitable”

Is It Pertinent?

 

– from “The Writing Life” by Annie Dillard

It is the beginning of a work that the writer threw away.

A painting covers its tracks. Painters work from the ground up. The latest version of a painting overlays earlier versions, and obliterates them. Writers, on the other hand, work from left to right. The discardable chapters are on the left. The latest version of a literary work begins somewhere in the work’s middle, and hardens toward the end. The earlier version remains lumpishly on the left; the work’s beginning greets the reader with the wrong hand. In those early pages and chapters anyone may find bold leaps to nowhere, read the brave beginnings of dropped themes, hear a tone since abandoned, discover blind alleys, track red herrings, and laboriously learn a setting now false.

Several delusions weaken the writer’s resolve to throw a way work. If he has read his pages too often, those pages will have a necessary quality, the ring of the inevitable, like poetry known by heart; they will perfectly answer their own familiar rhythms. He will retain them. He may retain those pages if they possess some virtues, such as power in themselves, though they lack the cardinal virtue, which is pertinence to, and unity with, the book’s thrust. Sometimes the writer leaves his early chapters in place from gratitude; he cannot contemplate them or read them without feeling again the blessed relief that exalted him when the words first appeared—relief that he was writing anything at all. That beginning served to get him where he was going, after all: surely the reader needs it, too, as groundwork. But no.

Every year the aspiring photographer brought a stack of his best prints to an old, honored photographer, seeking his judgment. Every year the old man studied the prints and painstakingly ordered them into two piles, bad and good. Every year the old man moved a certain landscape print into the bad stack. At length he turned to the young man: “You submit this same landscape every year, and every year I it on the bad stack. Why do you like it so much?” The young photographer said, “Because I had to climb a mountain to get it.”

A cabdriver sang his songs to me, in New York. Some we sang together. He had turned the meter off; he drove around midtown, singing. One long song he sang twice; it was the only dull one. I said, Vou already sang that one; let’s sing something else. And he said, “You don’t know how long it took me to get that one together.”

How many books do we read from which the writer lacked courage to tie off the umbilical cord? How many gifts do we open from which the writer neglected to remove the price tag? Is it pertinent, is it courteous, for us to learn what it cost the writer personally?

Silence – by Natasha Sistrunk Robinson

Vulnerability can be dangerous in the same way water is dangerous. Like water, vulnerability can be the source of cleansing and renewal or it can be the source of drowning and death. But there is something else that is more dangerous than taking the risk of vulnerability, and that is silence.

 

As an African American woman who loves my African American sistas, I have learned that we are often silent about what hurts us the most. Dr. Chanequa Walker-Barnes refers to this epidemic as a “Deadly Silence.” She writes:

 

“Perhaps nowhere in society is the StrongBlackWoman more ubiquitous than in the Christian church. The church reinforces the mythology of the StrongBlackWoman by silencing, ignoring, and even romanticizing the suffering of Black women. Rather than offering a balm to heal the wounds of Black women who cry out about their pain, the church admonishes them with platitudes such as “God won’t give you any more than you can bear” and “If He brought you to it, He’ll bring you through it.”

 

Acclaimed Harlem Renaissance writer Zora Neale Hurston was also a black woman acquainted with suffering, and she understood that we, as African Americans, could not be silent about our pain because silence would be the death of us. By swallowing the poison of our pain, we die a slow death, and for black people in America it seems as if nobody notices. As another artist wrote, “The heart dies a slow death, shedding each hope like leaves until one day there are none. No hopes. Nothing remains.”

 

Knowing the pain, history, violence, and silence that have shaped the African American narrative infuses how I read the Scriptures. I come from a marginalized and oppressed people group that was enslaved for more than three hundred years, so I try to imagine the helplessness and hopelessness that the Hebrew people felt as an entire generation of their boys were thrown into the Nile River. What would be worse: knowing that the actual genocide took place, knowing that people in positions of power in the empire stood by and said nothing, or knowing that nothing would be done about this loss of innocent lives—that justice would not be served?

 

This is a painful narrative that is quite familiar to African Americans. Murder by the state.  Silence. Then nothing. The heart dies a slow death. The painful reality of this death emotionally cripples us, and black people have been conditioned to say, “Thank you,” and take our lethal doses with a smile.

 

But I am not without hope. We see from Moses’ story that God hears the cries of the oppressed. God enters our pain, through our suffering, even in the silence. If healing is to come, then this pain must be named and confronted. We cannot look away. With every truth-telling moment, we can better discern what these moments reveal about our history, our authentic selves, our leadership journey, and our hope for a better future. Only then can we challenge each other to join in God’s great work of justice, redemption, and reconciliation. If healing is to come, then this pain must be named and confronted.

 

*Taken from A Sojourner’s Truth by Natasha Sistrunk Robinson. Copyright (c) 2018 by Natasha Sistrunk Robinson. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Moving A Blog to A Website

Having a blog is an important element of online success.  Even with the increasing importance of social media, you still need an easily accessible repository of your rich content.  And not every concept can fit into 140 characters, so having a place to point to from Twitter is certainly a nice thing to have.  

 

In the past, a popular way to host a blog was through a blog hosting service. But now that website hosting has become so inexpensive and easy to do, many people are moving away from hosted blogs to their own website.  I won’t go into all the advantages of doing this, but among them are (1) having your own domain name – an important, and portable, branding element, (2) greater flexibility in website functionality, and (3) faster adoption of new technologies, such as those providing a great experience on small-screen devices such as phones and tablets.

 

But is it difficult to make the transition from a hosted blog to a blog on your own website?  If you’ve been using a hosted blog based on WordPress, and you want to move to a WordPress website, you are in luck. You can easily export your blog articles to a file, then upload the file to your new WordPress website.  Depending upon the different themes used for the hosted blog and the new website, you may need to do some tweaking with the look and feel. But your content should be there, safe and sound!

A Means to Engage That Creative Force

It comforts me that I’m not alone. All sorts of people—elderly church-goers, prisoners, parents, teenage moms, recovering addicts, business executives, homeless people—are eager to put words to their spiritual journeys. Just last week during announcements at a Quaker meeting, a woman in her fifties practically leapt into the air: “I’m finally writing my memoir,” she said. “It’s amazing! I want to find other people to write with me and talk about it.” I recognized in her excitement the impulse that drives us language-lovers to work with our life stories. People seek continuity between the inner world and the outer, between their past selves and who they are now, and especially between what they claim to believe and how they live.Writing helps bring about this continuity. And writing becomes a means to engage that creative force within and beyond us, the sacred presence that lends us life.

 

from “Writing the Sacred Journey” by Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew

Do Not Write to an Audience

On a retreat in Texas once, I heard Frederick Buechner say that he writes to people he loves and who really know him. “You use your real voice with those who you live,” he said, “and you cannot be phony with those who know you well.”

Since the change encounter with Ms. Betts and the weekend with Mr. Buechner, I have never even considered writing to an audience. An audience is somehow faceless and forbidding to me. Whenever I try to write in the direction of an audience, the work comes out flat and forced. The only real with to write, at least for me, is to write to people I know and people I love.

 

– Robert Benson, from “Dancing on the Head of a Pen”

Father James Martin: “A Discussion on Spiritual Writing”

The Rev. James Martin is a Jesuit priest, best-selling author, and editor at large at America, the national Catholic magazine. He is arguably the leading Catholic author.

 This extended interview includes topics such as how he approaches writing, how he selects book themes, how to think of your audience, his writing schedule, social media, view of the publishing landscape, working with editors and agents, his author role models, and more

 62 minutes including Q&A

 To view it click here

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