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