Tag Archives: spiritual writing

Why Simple Is Best

The 14th c. theologian William of Ockham is known for his statement, “the simplest solution is almost always the best.”

[woman looking at tree]

This is the familiar thought I’ve come to after writing a bit this morning. If I want to finally finish, I’ve got to apply it. And I’ve long been convinced that the pursuit of writing has profound lessons to teach about living, if we’d only stay and wait for the eyes of our hearts to focus.

The simplest solution in editing is usually the best. Much of my difficulty seems to come in over-complicating the subjects and dialogue. So simplifying the characters’ motives and speeches is good to think of as my main task working back through the drafted chapters. I don’t remember writing many of them, which was well over a dozen years ago now.The very first ones began arriving around 2003 and 04, not that it matters.

It also doesn’t matter if it’s this hard to write or not for others, or if complex drama is what some people prefer. My own motives and inner voices get simplified as I commit to what I’m writing. And I’m not writing it for others, or an ideal reader, or even “for an audience of one.” I’m writing it, after all, for myself. Maybe that’s selfish, and maybe I’m forgetting it’s impossible to forget God and others, but don’t they get served if I share what’s important to me? If my motive is not my own happiness or isolation or superiority, but fulfillment in some yet unrealized way, isn’t that the synthesis of God’s will for my life and my own? Simplifying means not over-complicating by looking too closely at it.

Over-complicating is what caused this work to take so long to come out in the first place. And I finally just want to accept that this call to use writing to understand my deepest self and longings is not something I initiated, it is simply received or not. I want to be done doubting and questioning that. Not to look too closely, at it but to “pay attention to my life” because of it, as Buechner says. That seems to be the position of stability from which to produce good work.

[kid in glasses]

The product is not the point; far from it. But only in letting go of over-complicating the process, and thinking too much about motive and why I’m really writing, can I unstop the words that actually could simplify my life. If I’d just let it go. Too long I’ve used the role and position of editing to distract and create scaffolding instead of getting into the mud and making the stuff to build with. That was necessary for my story too, so I don’t want to think of that with regret. And I’ve had to learn not to use these things for my own gain, to pad my ego or prove my worth. It’s taken time, simply time spent writing, processing, and yes, even producing a bit of very precious words. All of that was part of the process for me.

But if every life is a story, each one requires simplifying if we want it to speak of anything. It’s a basic lesson I somehow missed, but it was editing—the occupation of my life—that has finally convinced me of this. In slowing down, simplifying, and writing what God brings to mind each time, it feels like he’s teaching me to deeply value this work. And who am I to say who that’s for most–me or others?

It’s time to write, but now it will only involve the next thing in front of me, and nothing besides. And I think this is how I’ll make it.

“Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

― E.L. Doctorow, Writers At Work: The Paris Review Interviews



For Writers, Is Living Love a Process?

“Success has little to teach us during the second half of life. It continues to feel good, but now it is often more an obstacle to maturity than a positive stimulus toward it.”
― Ronald Rolheiser, Sacred Fire: A Vision for a Deeper Human and Christian Maturity

The day’s list of projects is looking mighty long. I know enough by now to simply do the hardest, most pressing thing first, and stick to the process until I get through it all. Last week was a great reminder that “Bird by Bird is always the way.

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Looking at the calendar reminds me I’ll turn 45 on my next birthday. It’s not so old, but seems it’ll be harder to deny I’m middle-aged and “should be” more mature by now. Or whatever other “shoulds” I should be thinking about at my age.

And that list seems pretty stinking long too.

Apart from all of that–the work and the worries about shoulds–what would I choose to be doing to find the most meaning and significance? I know I’m being coerced by the clock and the calendar, but it’s a valid question, and a good one for a Monday morning.

What’s the best use of the day?

Certainly, I can assume a whole list of things it isn’t. Paying any more attention to that blowhard. Worrying about money or bills. Getting just one more modern convenience. 

FullSizeRenderI’m like most modern people. We’re all way too distractable. That’s different from being purpose-driven and interruptible, like Jesus always was. We’re too often thinking about ourselves. We don’t serve the sick and needy, the most innocent and vulnerable. We serve the powerful, the promising, the ones we deem worthy and projecting the right image of success. We elevate those we think can elevate us with their power, prestige, privilege, or position. We avoid those who might drag us down and look instead for promising partners who can help raise our status and standards.

If I could have my way, I’d have no other thought but to serve God and love Him fully through the care and keeping of the weakest and gentlest people I could find. Or so I think. I would be about His business, at least that’s what I tell myself.

But I don’t get involved. There are plenty of opportunities to serve those around me and I don’t. Haven’t I been faking my way through this spiritual writing life up to now? Aren’t I really all about myself, my own wants and needs, my own little comforts? 

IMG_0758Ronald Rolheiser, in his wonderful book Sacred Fire, says, “One of our deepest struggles in life is dealing with the unconscious anxiety inside of us that pressures us to try to give ourselves significance and immortality. There is always the inchoate gnawing: do something to guarantee that something of your life will last. It is this propensity that tempts us to try to find meaning and significance through success and accumulation. But in the end it does not work, irrespective of how great our successes have been.”

Meaning and significance are at the base of my motivation for everything. I want to matter. Jesus says to lose my life and I look for assurances it’ll be saved. Are they right–have I stopped believing because I don’t believe the Bible?

This process of pushing for the ever-deeper question is the impulse that compels me in the search for meaning. I know that I know the Bible is a guide to understanding, the bedrock of belief, but I don’t believe the inspiration is over and done. There’s life to be lived, experience to confirm the Word, and the writing life with the Spirit is a continual proving of faith in living and questioning and seeking, whether in sensing directly, or trying to make sense of his directing. To live the writing and write the life are the word and the deed, inseparable and constantly shifting.

FullSizeRender_1If you know these things, you will be happy if you do them.

And that is why we have to be about process. Progress is inevitable when your goal is the process, and living is always about processing what is lived. Step by step, moment by moment, now and now, the product is being shaped and guided each day until meaning and significance become byproducts of an active, proven faith. Get living in love and writing that lives will be the result.

What more proof do I need? Bishop Michael Curry was so right in that sermon. (I mean, can you get any better proof anywhere on the Web these days? Seriously.)

Writers must focus on process because there is no more powerful way to love everyone God needs us to love. Process is what ensures what’s happening when is what needs to be happening–writing or life, it’s all about the love. And focusing on process, the in and the out, like breathing, is how all the lists will finally be completed, all the work finally finished, and all the words lived out and written out.

And that is how the most powerful meaning will be achieved.

For the higher purpose,

Mick

(I’ll be breaking down some of the steps in my process over the next few weekly posts, so I’d love it if you did some writing and living about your own process as we go along, see what we might find… meantime, here’s a podcast I did with the Pastor Writer about learning to love process recently) 

Why Are You Worried?

“Sorrow looks back, Worry looks around, Faith looks up” 
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

People are killed every day.

I have this thought before I’m even awake. A dream, again, inescapable. Unavoidable. I get up and get ready, trying to stop thinking about the reality, not feel it crowding in as I look at my teeth and brush them in the mirror.

The deepest injustice is suffered by hundreds of thousands every day. Death. I drive my oldest daughter to school and have this thought again as the news from Gaza makes it to me. I can’t hear this word without thinking of death. Bleeding wounds seeping through bandages. Protestors have been shot over in the middle east. I think of the high-schoolers protesting guns and hope I’m doing right to not mention the political issues to my daughters just yet.

Is privilege just the ability to ignore what you please?

Yet sanity and self-preservation demand ignoring it. Our hearts and our minds weren’t meant to hold the world’s pain. Jesus walked Gaza but had no cell phone or social media bringing wave after wave of desperate injustice. Inescapable. Unavoidable.

I remember the woman who handled the emailed prayer requests at a big ministry. She was a saint, a prayer warrior. She killed herself and the ministry held a quiet service and sent condolences to her family. And a new employee took her place.

I think of the thousands of people who filter content for social media networks, the reports of their inescapable torment, their nearly inescapable mental health issues. Is this where we’re all headed eventually?

Another hot day and I’m thinking of polar ice caps. A celebratory dinner and I’m considering carcinogenic toxins. Maybe I read too many headlines.

“Do not fear. Do not fret. Trust me.”

HOW? How am I supposed to do that when I’m bombarded even before I can get to work on a Monday? It’s effort just to press on and not feel guilty for working to keep the horror at bay, at least to a dull roar until lunch when I’ll check my phone and respond to emails. And there’s plenty more to deal with–local community, family, neighbors, projects and writers, and personal struggles to choose appropriate responses and time on.

No one could possibly manage it all. And this danged-if-you-do, danged-if-you-don’t situation is unmanageable. Infuriating.

“Count your blessings.”

Despite the dreams and the no-air-conditioning-in-record-heat situation, I did sleep. There’s more light in these longer days and the beauty of spring has sprung. The house and our health aren’t perfect, but they’re amazingly good despite the advancing years thanks to regular upkeep and maintenance. And we enjoyed our moms and celebrated together on Sunday, and the girls are happy and enjoying their lives and music and reading.

Real life is happening and time is short and we’re no better off than when we know both those things. Remember the moment you felt Charlotte’s delight at beating you at the card game? You wanted to remember it forever? 

Yeah. Life is happening and death is part of it. And here were are to enjoy it and make the most of each moment before it’s gone and slipped into another one and another, until there are no more.

That’s every day and everyone and your awareness of it is contagious. Don’t be afraid. Don’t fret. Trust me. 

Can it be this simple? Can I write and do my editing work knowing this is what you’ve called me to until you bring other specific calls? Keep me praying, keep me seeing it all, in the midst of the passing moments. Stay with me and show me how it all is leading me to trust and connect however I can. With words or without. With getting involved or simply praying.

I know the only thing that’s truly up to me is the trusting. Thank you for the continual reminders. Keep me searching for them.

And keep me sharing them and connecting others to see you in their myriad reminders too.

“I trust in you, Lord…. My times are in your hands.” – Psalm 31:14,15

Write on, my friend. There’s always a higher purpose,

M

What Excellence Requires: further thoughts on integrating new knowledge

Hi there. How are you? Thanks for showing up.

I feel like I need to start this week’s quick message with some basic encouragement. You made it. You got through. You’re going forward.

It’s hard to believe all that happened last week. I barely had time to catch my breath. And now a new week begins.

But I learned so much last week, it’s frightening. To think of who I was even a week ago and how I’ve changed today is humbling and holy.

I didn’t write all I expected to write, but I wrote a ton. And through keeping me focused on last week’s big thought on healthy integration, and the hope of greater excellence to follow in my work, God revealed himself in my writing process, once again.

This week, I’m pondering that big result of skillful integration we all hope for: excellence. What is it and how important is it?–I want to look at that some more.

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So after realizing that my news feed betrayed me, the shock, depression, and initial horror, morphing into a reserved hopefulness, converged on me to convince me that though I thought I knew what I was doing, I do not. This election has consumed so much of us. Our candidates and their positions were completely skewed by almost every source, whatever it was–media or friend. We all seem to have swallowed a poisonous cocktail–either red or blue–and now we can’t understand or even talk with those who drank the opposite one.

I feel sick learning how intentionally our media is skewed to be more sensational and competitive, and how social media then amplifies that unbalanced extremism into viral surges using us to infect the entire body politic, until it’s convulsing with internal pain.

And yet every writer I know is actively working to integrate what they’re learning to use it to inform their work and their place in this complex world. There’s also been a surge of revelation this week seeing how our sweet poisons made us sick, and how now we must learn to consume healthier, purer, unbiased sources. But like with everything, the better is hard to find.

And the best, maybe it doesn’t even exist yet.

And going that way, giving yourself to only the best, it’s an uncompromising, lonely and difficult way.

But to progress and move beyond our competition, we have to leave behind our former limited selves.

dsc_0042As I wrote last week, integration is how we come to use and demonstrate growth from new things we learn. And we’ve all learned a lot this week that’s naturally and inevitably going to change us, as writers and as people. Likely as Christians as well. As children we used to integrate new ideas into useable knowledge all the time–we’d learn new info and abilities and then draw on them every day. But as adults, this process became less frequent, smaller in scope, and we became less changeable. We became set in our ways.

I’m praying we can remember how to change, learn and integrate new information and broader truths.

Our happiness, our future success, our very survival may depend on it.

Last week I argued this skill of healthy integration was a core writer thing. Through reading and questioning ideas and beliefs, writers must be our “cultural conscience” keep this process alive in adulthood. It’s an obligation of creative work to promote the good, the better, even the best that hasn’t even been born yet.

Which is why I’m convinced we must remain more malleable than your average bear. As a group, we have to be world-class integrators.

But how? What does all this mean for you and me pounding away on keyboards in obscurity? I’d like to suggest that this superpower of writers has far reaching implications for our culture in helping others understand the big problems in the world, and their role in working on solutions.

Writers help people make sense and use of their world. Our goal is nothing less than excellence–the best ideas, the best words, sound logic and beautiful, weighty, undeniably vital art.

And we achieve it through judging rightly, through humility and empathy, and by doing the hard work.

I believe this is how we move forward today, knowing all we now know, yet to learn all we still need, but pursuing excellence in all things, to the glory of he who created all things, and writing as part of our whole-bodied and embodied spiritual act of worship.

When all our skills and knowledge are working together in proper alignment, I believe excellence should follow.

And as we go forward this week with each other, let’s keep pushing for the integration of new knowledge, receptive and seeking the truth and justice for all God’s people.

It’s a lot to take in and process, but we know who is ultimately in control.

Writing with God

Then he said to him,

“Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”
– Lk 17:19

Last week, I shared one of my favorite posts of all time, “Writing into the Light.” (Link here: micksilva.com/writing-into-the-light)
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That post has long served to remind me of why I do this, why I fight to write in the light, day in day out. And we all know how tough it is to keep going when no one’s forcing you to, no one knows what you’ve got to say, and it’s all too easy to think it’s humble and smarter to keep your mouth shut.

Because so often, it is.

But none of that kind of thinking gets a book written. The whole point of writing in the light is not just to write your book but to get something great out of your writing time: being with God. If you go in looking for God, looking for where he is, he will guide you to what’s really important.

The great news is, all you have to do is seek him, and the Bible says you will find him. You can believe that. I know because I’ve seen it happen.

Three times recently I’ve gone into my writing time doing this and I’ve seen him (I’ll share how I knew it was him at the end).

The first one came as I wrote about my main character, basing his desire and response on familiar situations and remembering how it felt to be there. I worked to convey the scene through action and show the emotion and thought process, and the scene felt real and good.

6332db62d348f71c9edfb921134f818aThe second happened the very next day. It was a difficult scene and I was trying to rework it to make a better point and convey a stronger theme. I also had to work in several missing details so it was complicated and I was struggling to bring it all together. I prayed, got focused on the central motive and opposition, and By the time I had to quit, I still wasn’t happy, but I had clarity on what needed to happen next.

The third time God showed up came when I went back to the scene. It wasn’t what I anticipated but it was stronger than it was before. And I saw I didn’t need more complication; the scene worked. I saw I could, and should, save the fuller picture for later.

Three writing sessions, three God experiences. No one else might have seen these as particularly miraculous–and they weren’t. But what’s a miracle other than God intervening in our lives for our benefit? It wasn’t showy, but it was clearly not just me writing alone.

And it felt so much better to know that.

Now, does this mean it’ll always happen right away? No. Or should our writing only be about producing a spiritual encounter? No. Or are others missing out if they just want to get their story down? I think so, but I’m not judging that.

I’m simply saying when you go in realizing you’re writing with God, you can be sure it will produce a better result regardless of what words get inspired and captured. And you can expect your writing time will go better than trying to go it alone.

DSC_0018I’ve long maintained that writing well is one of the hardest things one can do. It requires so much. I’ve justified that by saying the hardest things have the most opportunity to be life changing. And that’s true. The hardest work is the most trying, but it’s also the truest test of your deepest beliefs. And God knows, we wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t for the promise of that reward. Maybe that’s base self-interest, but I think God takes what he can get. And if it gets us to start writing with God, he delights in taking the work and making it an adventure.

Oh, at times it’ll still be a slog, and it’ll always be a huge undertaking involving lots of sacrifices. But remember that’s what makes it so worthwhile. And there can always be this higher purpose to it too.

I think we can know this is true because it’s based on the upside-down principles of God: in the giving is the getting. In the searching, is finding. In the sacrifices is abundance. Because he is there with us making it all into more than our paltry, half-hearted offerings.

Like discovering unexpected treasure along the way, writing with God is ultimately writing for yourself. You will always be the primary beneficiary.

And yet, because he is God, you may find this is also the best way to write for your readers.

So try it in your writing today. Go with him and trust him to be your guide and best first reader. As He says in Luke, acting on this call in faith is how we writers can come to know we’ve been made well.

Healed. Cleansed. Saved.

You can trust that too. Because he’s always there.

For the higher purpose,

Mick
Continue to “Writing into the Light”…