Finding God at the Tip of Your Pen: Preparing the Way
When I was ten years old I started writing my autobiography. I wrote it from the point of view of an old woman looking back on her life. She was a nun, this older woman, and she wanted to tell her readers the story of how she had become a Bride of Christ.
I finished this autobiography a few months ago, at age 62. It’s called Home After Exile: A Spiritual Odyssey, and at the beginning of Chapter Four I write,
My stepfather, too, participates in the mystical confluence of consciousness and matter that is Christ, a truth it’s taken me a lifetime of releasing, relinquishing, letting go, abandoning, surrendering and sacrificing to acknowledge. In fact, just now, at age sixty-two, I am whispering in the ear of a ten year old girl-child who, in a stiff-backed, star-studded copybook, has begun to write her autobiography. I say, leaning over her, “Where clinging to things ends, there God begins to be.” She, sensing my presence, begins her book with a Prologue revealing her narrator to be an old woman, a nun….
This experience – of the older, future me reaching into the present of the ten-year old me – has been the touchstone of my writing practice. It’s why I teach creative writing, because, as the writer and Holocaust victim Etty Hillesum said in her journal, “There is no hidden poet in me, just a little piece of God that might grow into poetry.” I teach writing because I believe that whenever a person sits down with pen in hand, a “little piece of God” will flow forth into words that grow into a story, a poem, an essay … whatever it is the writer intends to create.
Unfortunately, many aspiring writers feel blocked, which makes it difficult for Godself to flow freely. Over a lifetime of teaching, I’ve cultivated several effective techniques for helping writers get unstuck.
First, Stop worrying about genre, about product. Stop limiting yourself. Don’t think, for instance, ‘Is this a poem? Is this a story?’ Forget about labels and concentrate on the pure joy of putting words on the page, however they want to tumble out.
Second, consider temporarily abandoning language in order to discover what that little bit ofg Godself is up to. That might sound heretical, but remember, language is a left brain function, while creativity is a right brain function. Creative writers are automatically at a disadvantage because we’re trying to execute a right brain task with a left brain tool. So if you’re stuck, skip words for a while and go straight to pictures, which are purely right brained. You could sit down with a magazine, for instance, and cut out pictures that represent the feel of a story you want to write, or maybe the pictures look like characters you want to write about, or maybe they’re pictures of a place you’d like to do a travel article about. Whatever it is, let the pictures get your right brain engaged then gently see if you can find words to express those pictures. You might even want to make a collage that just evokes the voice or mood or style you’re being drawn to.
Third, try writing with your nondominant hand. If you’re right-handed, try writing with your left hand and vice-versa. You can’t use this technique on a computer keyboard, you must write by hand, but it is an extremely effective way to tap into that higher Self that wants to emerge.
The great mystic and scientist Teilhard de Chardin said God reaches from the future into the present to draw us forward into greater wholeness through our attractions – our zest, he called it. If you find your zest in the free flow of ink on a page, try these simple techniques. I think you’ll find they can help you write a joyous ‘Yes!’ to the God who invites you into greater aliveness through stories, songs, poems, reflections or even journal entries.