Category Archives: One Thousand Gifts

How We May Finally Recover Ourselves

“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

– T. S. Eliot

 

The life of faith is a rescue mission, I thought, listening to our pastor preach on the woman at the well in yesterday’s sermon.

He explained how she wasn’t necessarily promiscuous, since marriage was more a matter of survival in those days, and men could often die early. Her excitement in running to share with her neighbors isn’t likely to have come from being shamed by Jesus for having five husbands, but probably from having her pain and fear so clearly understood.

The living water Jesus really offered, I thought, is the recovery of our life.

As I sat in church yesterday furiously taking notes, it felt like one of those holy download moments where you just know you’re getting a peek through the curtain at the secret to life. I’ve had these a few times in life and they always seem to come at very inconvenient moments. This time, at least I wasn’t driving or in the middle of conversation. And these good, older Presbyterians would probably forgive me for being disrespectful and taking out my phone to capture the thought during the sermon.

I thought about the book I have to finish before I go on vacation next week, a book that’s all about recovering our lost self, the purer one undiminished by so much fear and pain. And I realized that’s the core idea that has made The Shack so successful as well. And really, One Thousand Giftsand How We Loveand so many of my favorite memoirs, novels, and nonfiction guides too:

They’re all rescue missions about a person in search of a thing we’ve all lost along the way.

It was a revelatory moment! Are most books at their heart about this very thing? I wondered.

When I got home, I picked up another book, A Faith of Our Own by Jonathan Merritt. He begins by sharing a quote from Goethe’s Faust:

“That which you have received as heritage, now rediscover for yourself and thus you will make it your own.”

Okay. I think I got it, God. Paying attention now.

You know those times when you sense everything has been leading up to this moment? Yeah. It was one of those times. Jonathan wrote that this is the journey his faith has taken. I think, This is the journey I’ve taken as well….

And maybe it isn’t just with faith and with books. I start to realize I’ve also experienced this same sense of recovery with Sheri, my wife, falling in love and feeling known and somehow re-connected because of her. And it was like that with my first love, writing, too.

Could it be? In love, in faith, in art, in writing, in life the goal may not necessarily be to become ourselves more, but to recover ourselves more?

And in doing so, maybe we do become more ourselves. But in faith, in romance, and in writing–that is to say, the three most influential things in my life right now–the fire may be less in discovering what I never knew and much more in rediscovering what’s been lost.

It’s the resonance–a connection struck with something buried or forgotten–that draws, woos, and delights us. Something inside longs to reconnect with a spirit that is somehow not us but beyond us, some vestige of a place we’ve seen before–even lived in–but hardly remember in everyday life.

We’re seeking to recover that sense of home.

Don’t we all seek this same recovery of home, of unity with ourselves, with God? Like Nicodemus, we’re confused, frustrated by the difficulty: how does one return to the womb?

Jesus said we’re to become as little children again. Similarly, Julia Cameron’s world-famous training for artists and writers, The Artist’s Way, originally described the work as:  “A Guide to Recovering the Creative Self.”  And anyone in love knows the sensation is like something in you feels known, reunited with itself again.

Recovering is the real work of this journey. 

There’s this great word: agency. It’s the capacity to exert power, and it’s used to express the amount of power someone has to help themselves. I believe a lack of agency is the biggest reason most people suffer, and the most misunderstood concept by those who have it. It’s easy to forget others don’t have much agency when we do. When we have it, we tend to think others around us do too. And we’re prone to judge and think they should just use their agency to improve their situation. But if it were that easy, simply exerting power, wouldn’t more people be doing it already?

Maybe higher purpose writers seek the recovery of agency because we’re acutely aware of this universal ambition to recover what’s been lost. Maybe we’ve felt that fear of losing what matters most to us. Maybe we fear we’ve even lost it. Certainly we know others have. And we’ve experienced the thrill of remembering and recovering personal agency from another writer who saw into our deepest heart and spoke hope, comfort, and we recovered our determination.

Accepting others instead of excluding them is the message of Jesus to everyone he encounters. Think of it. Who are you excluding?

Don’t you feel that longing to be reunited with them, free of any exclusion?

Before you write today, close your eyes and imagine them being inspired to go on and write books to inspire others to recover their capacity to exert power over their situations, a power drawn from the Source of Love so great that He gives His power to anyone who asks.

Especially those who feel too lost to be recovered….

For the higher purpose,

Mick

Creativity and the Holy Pursuit of Delight

As I came to map out the work week with Sheri this morning, I made space to sit at the dining room table that looks out on the forest, reclaiming an edge from her paper collage experiment.

My desktop image. I call it “voyagers.”

I make efforts to be gentle and remind her not to apologize.

It’s not the laptops and cellphones we should be making space for, after all, but the more uncommon beauty that takes time to be arranged.

It’s not uncommon to find Charlotte hard at work on a project here, or artwork from one of Ellie’s ad hoc drawing games.

They’re beautiful rough drafts, unfinished, forever in process.

And so are their artworks. :)

Often, there’s music notation or photos cut from magazines or several books stacked up for school projects with pages sticking out of them. An unexpected visitor could wonder if we live on a diet of multicolored paper. And we’re obviously over-indulgers.

In fact, you’ll find paper in every room of the house (not even including the rolled kind or the kind that comes in tissue boxes). Multiple books, notebooks, manuscripts, drawings, and plans are stashed, stacked and strewn in their respective locations, waiting to be reingested.

Like cud. :)

And for some reason this morning I stopped to wonder why. We each have our digital devices, but why this deep vice of consuming paper? We hang it on walls, give it as gifts, organize our lives around it. And no one ever talks about reduction, only increase.

If the trees could see in the windows, they might turn on us and start throwing their fruit and pinecones.

An observant person might see all this paper as evidence of an obsession with creativity. Their shared passion is for the words, music and pictures we’re preserving, an insatiable appetite born of a deep curiosity.

I believe it’s a sacred inner fire: the holy pursuit of delight.

How do they determine what makes it onto a page? Some ideas need to be chewed a while, to reshape things in your mind and heart. Some things you keep coming back to over and over, teaching you how to listen and growing your ability to hear them. Some are waiting for their right moment to show you how to more fully engage with life.

Some of the smallest pieces can hold the biggest thoughts you’ve ever had. And I don’t have to watch their faces to know there’s delight in every mark. Whether tentative or confident, every sweep of captured motion hints at a hidden world.

If you came to visit today and we had this discussion over coffee in the morning, or tea in the afternoon (or whiskey in the evening, I suppose, if you stayed that long), I’d submit that this pursuit of delight is our messy, introverted way to honor and delight our creative God.

As we make space for all of this, all we sense him speaking through, we feel a sort of shared delight if you will, equipping us to understand and take in more of our purpose in this journey.

We’re not unique in this, though we each have unique perspectives and gifts. And there’s beauty in all of it, though much of the time experiments fail and don’t live up to expectations. But the more we can realize what we’re really doing, and acknowledge that–“I am pursuing my holy delight”–the better we can pay attention when the voices of doubt and derision come.

What you acknowledge is what gets captured.

And you can write that down and stick it somewhere in your own messy house to come upon later. I share it in the hope that it will reshape you as it has me into someone more confident and less concerned with the appearance of mess.

For it’s a holy pursuit, this creative life. And we take time to be arranged and to realize the delight we’re a part of every day when we determine to capture even one more glimmer.

For it’s your own hearts we’re ultimately reclaiming, for the higher purpose,

Mick

A Word for Writers on Healthy Integration (or More Accurately, the First Word of Likely Many More).

“It’s always the vulnerable heart that breaks broken hearts free.”

 

I read a new book recently and it changed me. It helped me realize something I hadn’t before.

dsc_0037Books often do that, of course, but not in a quite so fundamentally altering way. You know how when new information comes, there’s always that period of instability before you can even recognize what’s happened? And then comes an undetermined time of processing it before you can assimilate and actually use that new fact or element of knowledge from your newly expanded and solidified position?

Yeah, that happened recently. And I realized I don’t think about that enough. I’m guessing you probably don’t either, or at least not consciously, with intention to do something about it. I assume you already know we all face the requirement to assimilate new info, whether or not we always do it. After all, that’s sort of the whole point of this walking-around-upright-and-aspiring-to-social-respectability-for-doing-something-useful-with-these-opposable-thumbs gift of consciousness, isn’t it?

dsc_0066So, because integration is a hidden process, it’s underappreciated. But I think it’s one of the more important processes to explore for how vitally essential it is to our lives, our minds, our hearts, our strength and our souls.

Because my postulate is that to love God well in all those areas absolutely requires good integration (vs. bad or simply lacking).

So one of the takeaways of this book is that integration is really all about consistency. That is, you can’t be well integrated in life and able to use your newly gained knowledge, abilities and wisdom without consistently doing the work to integrate new knowledge, abilities and wisdom.

Right? I know–it’s neuron-stretching. But when you realize this, you see why with all this new information continually coming at you, and faster today than ever before, the sheer effort to synthesize it with your existing life is overwhelming. We resent, resist and actively fight against the onslaught every day. But how many of us realize this invisible duty to take it in and deal with the anxiety that causes? And isn’t it even fewer people who actually think of ways to pursue better integration of their expanding understanding, and then follow through on what that new awareness dictates?

dsc_0027Is this important? Do you agree? For years I’ve believed that what we need most are strong examples of people doing this and making the effort, so we can see the positive change and the new intentions and how they play out in someone’s life. If we could watch a “good integrator” working to apply his or her learning in their life and see what the results are, wouldn’t that be of priceless value in our info-choked lives?

I wonder what could be more needed–of course, such a personal story would be one of the hardest things to write, to say nothing of ensuring the picture was vulnerable and honest enough to appeal in today’s culture. Clearly, an exemplary integrator would have to struggle to be authentic and laid bare. She’d need to care little about the judgment that would follow when her experiment in allowing change by an invisible hand to grow her awareness was misunderstood, maligned and even denounced.

But that’d be the cost, and it’s ultimately why I’ve grown to love inspirational memoir. Because it’s instructive in the ways I need it to be most–to see it, feel it and experience it for myself. Who can’t identify with this deep need to live more “wholistically?” You don’t have to be a writer to know this training is among our primary needs for survival now, since we’ve become largely safe and comfortable in our modern world. The great danger we face as humans isn’t physical or even ultimately intellectual–it’s spiritual. It has always been thus; we just haven’t been so capable of focusing so much attention on it before. dsc_0018

Which is why we’ll rip apart at the seams if we don’t get clear on how to do this mental work real quick.

Anyone coming to this work of demonstrating healthy integration, i.e. spiritual growth, will pay a price. Family and friends will oppose your efforts, see them as variously selfish, self-immolating, demanding, unreasonable, or even unhinged. There’s no easy response to why you’d choose to pursue this. Many won’t see it as growing our ability to identify with Christ’s wounds, yet isn’t it ultimately just that? To see more of the real world and experience the only real way to break our prejudices and privileges, and finally feel what another feels?

The connections there aren’t immediately obvious, but that’s why I’m compelled to commend this book to you. What I aspire to with Higher Purpose Writers is exemplified in Ann Voskamp’s new memoir, The Broken Way. Her example has shown me we need more Christ-followers willing to follow, to leave comfort and seek to know what we tend to miss as disintegrated, disembodied members of the body. So many members of the body are being dismembered and must be reminded, that is, re-membered. So many are being distracted and so many haven’t been given “the easy setting” like us. And what we need is more people willing to show the struggle to suffer in solidarity with them, without judging or arguing with their politics, or believing falsehoods to sidestep our mandate from God.

Simply, we are to love our neighbors and enemies as ourselves. And we need to integrate this knowledge to get involved in saving lives.

This book is the reason I began feeling disintegrated and stopped posting several weeks ago. dsc_0034As with One Thousand Gifts, The Broken Way forced me to recognize it and do something about it. After writing about writing for over 20 years, one of my main takeaways is clear: writing can create an eddy to remove you from where the river of creative flow is taking you. Without attention to integrating your spiritual knowledge, it can prevent you from facing your deeper fears and producing more good work of a higher purpose.

The Broken Way revealed to me I hadn’t yet integrated my knowledge about God with my own living of life. And that’s the opposite of being truly helpful to anyone in the real world. Maybe it’s not uncommon and we all experience such disintegration every day. We all know it’s incredibly hard to do the work of waiting and gathering and then considering all the factors of an issue, let alone to integrate the new awareness that arises slowly without being distracted and derailed. We grow too complacent, disinterested and convinced it’s unproductive navel-gazing. Maybe we also grow too afraid of inspiring others to conjure white padded rooms for us as we slip into self-important delusional behavior. But we can’t allow our fears to win. We can’t give in to our doubts that acquiring a fairly complete picture of our true work in this world, and integrating it, is possible.

dsc_0051Our hearts and everyone we’ll ever meet must follow this process of being transformed by the renewing of our minds. And it feels to me today on the cusp of another election (God help us) and the dawning of a dark and dangerous day for the west, it’s time to own my disintegration and get living again.

So for the next few weeks (possibly months), amidst myriad other tasks, factors and worthy and unworthy colluding distractions, I plan to follow what promises to be an epic interior journey, one I’ve never really embarked on before.

It may be only my fellow God-haunted nerds and misfits who see it and feel this excitement, but oh, my fellow Inspired aspirants, it will be epic…

More certainly to come. Will you join me?

For the higher purpose,

Mick

P.S. Please do check out my friend Ann’s book. It’s sure to sell well anyway, but as my favorite of 2016, at the very least it’s helped to make the year far less disappointing on balance.

Don’t Write Angry

 

“Asking your work to prove anything only invites doom.”

Art & Fear, David Bayles and Ted Orland

 

I have detractors. It’s good. Everyone needs at least a few. I’ve been saving them up for a while now.

my writing spotAll my life I’ve collected resentment for people who tried to keep me down, tried to control me, tried to use me for their own ends, teachers, principals, administrators, classmates, their parents, church people, playground kids, neighbors, and several so-called Christians in big offices and some who shop in Christian bookstores and some I’ve met in conference halls.

What I’d like to say to them is, You didn’t know me. You didn’t know the first thing. I was foreign to you, younger, smaller and easily misunderstood. Well, now I’ve grown up. And though you aren’t likely to read this, I’ve been secretly writing to you for many years now. Truth is, you’ve controlled my life a bit and made it pretty rough, writing and working to express what’s lived inside me for so many years.

So this is my revenge. Or something.

So many things I’ve written, they’ve had an element of this anger, of getting back at you, of proving myself and showing you how wrong you were about me. Of course, I didn’t realize I was only using this (hobby/habit/obsession/addiction) and I’d have denied it too, but what else could drive someone so much, push them on when they don’t want to keep working, maybe even make them a little bit great?

pink petal carpetThe true achievers are always a little bit about the revenge, aren’t they?

Sometimes I’ve used other things—work, whiskey, donuts. But for years this book I’ve been writing was my masters degree, my doctorate, my post-doctoral residency in misery. I practiced a low-level rage. And it was my deeper reason for writing because I thought it was my strongest fuel.

But inspiration struck last week while I sat on the deck eating lunch. It was on the head of a bee.

Insects are plentiful this year with all the flowering things. And a few bees are clearly the miscreants of the hive, buzzing around us, shirking their duties while their family does all the work. So I watched this one bee come to the same spot on the same chair and bonk his head over and over again. Eventually, he’d fly off only to come back and conk his cranium on that same spot.

I even got a picture of the little brainiac.

bee
bee brain

I’d noticed something in one of the several books I’m working on, and the timing of this little illustration couldn’t have been more perfect. I wondered if sometimes it just takes a while until you can see what you’re doing, and how all you’ve been writing has been banging your head against the same old deck chair. Maybe it takes a long time sometimes to see you’re not really succeeding in doing anything but giving yourself a headache. Maybe you even thought if you gave up that fuel for your work, what could possibly replace it?

But there is something else just beyond that stupidity. You won’t make things right by showing them, or proving you’re better, or just making them pay. And when you realize it, you have to give that up now, finally once and for all, and to start really writing for the one true goal: that ever higher purpose.

You’ll write better for a different reason entirely.

Every week, I write knowing I’m not alone in this. So this is what I did and I believe we all must do this, to look at the work clearly, without fear and without need. All the things we need our writing to do for us—to bring us acceptance, approval, understanding. These are universal needs, but they’re horrible task masters. They’re anchoring weights to the work. Instead, “Ask your work what it needs, not what you need. Then set aside your fears and listen, as a good parent listens to a child.” – Art & Fear, p. 36.

If you carry resentment, this is how you can save yourself. You might say to those enemies,

I will not write another word for you. I give up. You will not get me to respond—you were never the point. You were obstacles in my story, plot points the Writer was using for a greater purpose. That’s right: you were just tools all along! And I don’t need you anymore because I’m done making anyone pay for what they’ve done to me. I’m not angry. I like myself and I’m happy for my struggles, the things I’ve suffered in my life. It’s all taught me and made me who I am. And now I have a job to do.

Without opposition, without injustice, we couldn’t grow. And without seeing that and embracing it, we’d never learn to stop banging our heads against the deck chair and shake it off and laugh at our failures. Without punishing ourselves we’d have been too proud, too defensive, too important to fail.

Would I have found this without that bee? The empathy I needed, the compassion for myself and others? I don’t know. And if I hadn’t been stuck in life like that, would I have any deeper understanding or words of wisdom? If life had been perfect would I even know what it meant to be here, in this place now, this life, with this beautiful, brilliant woman who loves me, these children who think I’m Sir Galahad?

It makes me cry to think of it. Who would I be? Who would I be?

So thank you, God. Thank you, thank you for my sufferings. Thank you for every second of patient learning and suffering you endured as my parent, to watch me fight and kick and argue against you, and allowing all you knew would ultimately grow me. Let the learning never end until that great day I’ve finally become the broken vessel you intended to create, to carry, however poorly, your glorious higher purpose.

This has been, and is now, and always will be forever for you, my freedom from revenge.

In Him is all we need. And He is more than sufficient.

For the Higher Purpose,

Mick

When You’re Afraid, Focus on the Process

Regardless of how little is left of the day, there’s still time to write the daily clutch of words.

Despite the fact that my brain is doing its usual whirring with all the things to get done, the manuscripts needing edits, consult calls to make, talks and articles to write, courses to plan, a boulder to shoulder up the hill…

IMG_6579But no denying it, the fear is here. And it’s strong. It’s strangling so many great words, the words yet to be spoken. How can I not fight to destroy this barrier?

I’ve been meaning to write this post for weeks, finally face this niggling thought I’ve heard for longer than I can remember:

Can we really edit out fear for good?

fear quote

1. Just write one true sentence.

Ernie Hemingway had one unbeatable word of advice for himself. I’ve repeated it often:

Sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of blue that they made. I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, “Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say. If I started to write elaborately, or like someone introducing or presenting something, I found that I could cut that scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written.

IMG_6581If writing the truth is the only way to be truly free, what choice do we have but to stop procrastinating and just write that one true sentence? And yet, it’s not so much about making it happen as it is allowing whatever it is to rise to the surface.

To write the one thing I’ve been waiting so long to speak, I can imagine how good that would feel, and to forget all the many excellent reasons I shouldn’t,  and finally deny all the distractions and do what I must do today, it has to start with a simple willingness.

To stop overthinking it. And to just start with what I know.

 

2. Just do input/output every day.

Here’s a fact: no one is born a writer. What they experienced made them become one. Writing is born of living and reading–good INPUT makes good OUTPUT. So becoming the writer you want to be is not much more than becoming a good scavenger. When you’ve processed enough life and words, you’ll know what to write and how.

It’s by living and reading we learn to distill life into useful words.

Fiction. Daily news. Poems. Memoirs. Read it all, then write and let it be what it is. Our job is only to use what we’re given every day.

It’s the manna principle. Use up the manna every day. And then tomorrow, you’ll find more manna. You have to let go of any other expectation.

IMG_6568When I get afraid, I’m usually thinking my writing won’t be good enough. But writing isn’t about getting fancy. It’s about writing.

And you can quote me on that.

 

3.  Just stop, then go.

I’ve been writing long enough to know it often feels stupid. It starts to seem selfish. I’ll start hearing voices. My limbs will develop phantom pains and I’ll need to arrange or clean or google something. Such as “misplaced attention.”

But I’m getting used to this. It’s just my tricky brain acting up. It’s perfectly normal. At least for writers. So the first step I have to take is…

To stop. Sit still and listen. It’s about mindfulness, but to me that just means cultivating awareness of the deeper reality behind reality. One Thousand Gifts is my guide for this. When I read it, I slow down and remember life can be about finding inspiration in the ordinary, in the hidden love God freely gives through all these things I experience. And then I remember it’s about Jesus and his endless forms he takes in my daily life.

Eventually, after I’m still and silent for a while, I’ll start to get antsy. So to allow the mental space to continue to stretch out, I’ll often have to stop even thinking about where to go next. Pomodoros are a great method for scheduling focused work and breaks. But I also carry a notebook and give myself permission to pause and capture lightning.

IMG_6560When I don’t do all this, I’m often trading the writing for lesser things. There’s always something else I could do. That’s just life. So I either work to control my time and hold my attention, or it will control me.

In the end, this stopping-before-going thing is based on the knowledge that good words don’t come from a desire to express something so much as from a desire to listen. That’s a good thought for me to pause on. Writing can be prayer. And just like prayer, it’s not as much about being sure to ask for the food I need as allowing myself to be fed.  It’s simply acknowledging a relationship is there and it needs my attention.

In this way, I’m trying to make writing into the way I find the thread of whatever thought seems most important to the Inspirer right now, and then following it down the hole, into the doorway, and through the secret garden.

My hope? When writing becomes no more than God-directed thought, then when I write I’ll be praying without ceasing.

So every day, this is what I need: scheduled time to practice finding the words, time to write them down and to shape them, and even before that, the time to live and to read.

That’s it. Three things to focus on. Writing just one true sentence. Thinking about the input and output. And first stopping, and then going.

If there’s more to it than this, I haven’t found it yet. This is just the process for me; and I need this affirmation regularly that this is how I overcome the fear.

And regardless of how long it’s taken me to get here, I can believe once again there’s still time to create that next work I’ve been sensing it’s time to release.

What helps you face your fears as a writer? Do you find release in your process?

For the higher purpose,

Mick