Nov 22, 2008

Writing As A Sacrament


My publisher's online marketing group asked me to write an essay about my book: maybe a topic relating to my book's subject, or the process of writing, or what-not. I'm sharing this with you, because if you're a blogger or writer or reader, it might inspire you. Besides, I'm tired of blogging on politics or gay rights or subjects I'm not qualified to weigh in on. I don't have the answers to those things. I only know what it's like to live in my own skin.

Writing As A Sacrament

I didn't start out to be a writer, though I have always written. I wrote comedy sketches in high school, screenplays in college, and every day journaled as a form of prayer. I wrote down my thoughts and longings, and waited for God’s response. It was like church. The other thing I’ve always done is had faith. I believed God made me for a purpose, and that He intended to fulfill it. (looking back, I probably used my faith to slack off, and expect God to do all the hard work!)

But when I hit forty and found myself single, jobless and living over a garage, I began to question everything: my career choices, my relationship choices, and especially my faith. Did God ever have a purpose for me, had I ever heard him in the prayers I wrote down, or had I made it all up? Maybe my faith was nothing more than some churchy version of self-help. What began as a personal nadir turned into a spiritual abyss.

There was only one thing I knew to do then: I wrote. I wrote it all down. I wrote to stay sane. I joined a writing workshop. My wonderful teacher, Terrie, and my fellow students, gave me the freedom to fall apart, to doubt, and even to hope. That class was church. I read my stories to them, and sometimes I just cried. They told me to keep writing. That’s how this book came about. If I ask myself, where God was through that dark time? He was in the pen and paper and the hearts of the friends who told me to keep writing.

I used to read for the sole purpose of improving myself. CS Lewis, AW Tozer, stacks of Christian self-help books about how to get healed or how to know God. Or how to get healed by knowing God, or how to know God by getting healed. They all boiled down to “how to be better.” When I finally realized I never was going to get better, that I was always going to be a sinner, I stopped reading self-help books.

I began to read for enjoyment. David Sedaris’ Naked is one of the funniest, most poignant collection of essays I’ve ever read. Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies discussed faith with honesty and humor. And Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz convinced me that poetry was still alive in the hearts of believers and that God was bigger than church. I discovered Walter Wangerin, Jr and N.T. Wright. Even though I've given up on Christian self help, I haven't lost my thirst for good sound theology and great storytelling, especially if it has a And then there’s the bible. I still can’t get over the psalms: the protest, the agony, the hope. And the poetry!

Larry introduced me to Walter Wangerin Jr. and Frederick Buechner and N. T. Wright. I still love Anna Karenina. The Brothers Karamazov is my favorite novel, ever. Great writing, deep theology, and stories that matter -- these inspire me to be better without telling me how. They also inpsire me to keep writing.

Maybe writing is like a sacrament. It’s an act of confession: coming clean about what's really in your heart. It's a profession of what you dare hope is still true. And it’s an act of testimony: baring it to others. Sometimes your writing is ugly and self-absorbed; sometimes it’s funny or pretty. What’s remarkable is, God already knows it and loves you anyway. He knows all of your wreckage and beauty. He just wants you to know it too. That truth can set you free.

4 comments:

Steve said...

Susan,

Thank you for continuing to write. You have shown the God is in the details, and writing , and life.

Thank you.

Steve in Central CA

Meredith Rachel Munro said...

excellent post susan!
i love the fact that you write, and I am lucky enough to have the opportunity to read some of those things. Can't wait for the big book reveal in march!!

Cindy said...

Susan, got my hands on an advance copy of your new book. I nearly had the whole thing read before we got home from Thanksgiving! I love your book and agree so much with your take on Christian self-help. Thanks for being transparent!
Cindy

Cindy said...

Susan, got my hands on an advance copy of your new book. I nearly had the whole thing read before we got home from Thanksgiving! I love your book and agree so much with your take on Christian self-help. Thanks for being transparent!
Cindy

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