Tag Archives: spiritual writing

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”…

My #1 Tool for Ultimate Productivity, Part 2

“When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, ‘I am going to produce a work of art.’ I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing.”
—George Orwell

Do all writers struggle with low productivity?
I believe they do. At least until they get free of having to perform for validation and acceptance.

DSC_0007What? You don’t do that? Well, let’s just see….

As I said last time, first we have to get free of the pressure to produce. Then, we have to get free of the pressure to perform. And if we could all let go of the idea that our worth was by some great talent or our perfect skill, we might finally realize it’s by consistency within inadequacy that we become the writers we really want to be.

And need to be. Because that freedom is also what every reader longs for.

But how do we actually get free of performance anxiety to become productive?

Last time, I shared my #1 tool for eliminating low productivity: instead of focusing on being productive, focus instead on showing up, and merely read what you wrote last. That’s being consistent.

DSC_0002This week, unfortunately, we’re not so lucky. Removing the pressure to perform isn’t so easy. We don’t like inadequacy. We write to feel validated and affirmed (I know, not you, but everyone else), you’ll feel pressure to produce only “good” work—and that causes you to try to control your output. It won’t be honest or true enough, and you’ll be producing junk.

I know. I’ve been there.

Ask any writer if they’ve lived this. Over and over, I’ve tried to remove the pressure by showing up and reading the previous days’ pages, then slowly getting back into it once I felt freer. But when I saw how my own feelings were intricately wound up in the main character’s, I feared writing a book that revealed my true feelings, even through fiction. And I choked.

I was almost 40 when I realized I was writing to have my wounds seen and the damage to my heart known and accepted. It never crossed my mind before; it was just “fiction.”

DSC_0009But it was never just fiction. It was fictionalized autobiography. And as the book grew and became more honest and I had less places to hide from my fear of family and strangers who’d read it and judge me, as I knew they would, I knew writing it would leave me exposed. I’d have to admit I’d felt silenced, dominated and unimportant. And many people experience that and worse, so I was also afraid my story would seem small in comparison. I may never be normal, but I had so much to be grateful for. Others may never know what it really feels like to be free as I had…

And yet. Had I ever been able to write in full honesty or get over my resentment and anger? In the end, it’s always been just too much, and the fear of what might happen if I spoke up held me back. Finally facing that and feeling it was the only way to recover a semi-normal working process. To share it all and escape and begin a deeper level of healing, I had to let it go.

Of course, therapy and loving community is essential too, however you find it. Even though I knew letting go controlling what people saw was the secret to productivity, I still couldn’t show up thinking I was going to write what will heal me. I couldn’t even show up thinking I was going to write, necessarily. I still had to let go of producing something so a non-pressured process could take its place.

And I’m ever in need of prayer and friendship, so the need for validation gets dealt with, diminished bit by bit.
Through showing up and just reading my previous words, I recall my truth, the fears I’ve carried and the wound I’ve caused by diminishing them. And facing that mess, I slowly move through the next stage of healing what led me to writing in the first place.

DSC_0005We can’t aim for it, but it’s only from this redeemed ground we recover anything that may help someone else. And perfectionism dies a thousand tiny deaths…

Sadly, I don’t know if years or books or experience or time ever fully resolve this. And I still want a silver bullet, some beautiful solution, but so far I haven’t found one. I say that with all the empathy I’ve been able to recover so far…

I don’t think there is one.

But there is a beautiful broken way to productive writing, a “secret” to consistent work. We show up, we look at the blocks we’ve set up, why we set them up, who was involved, what it produced, and when…and we can know this: we’ll get free.

Just by willingness to be inadequate, and to let the story deliver what we need.

And maybe instead of perfect examples, we’ll become true writers.

Sadly imperfect. But honest.

Hopelessly unimpressive. But free.

Roald Dahl quote

For the higher purpose,

Mick