Seeds of Hope for Discouraged Writers

Discouragement has been a frequently recurring writing companion for much of 2019. Usually, finding the time to write has always been the most difficult obstacle to my writing. But this year, although writing time has certainly been elusive, discouragement has haunted the time that I have been able to dedicate.

Have you ever noticed how interconnected everything in life can be? If I am spiritually dry, it often overflows into other aspects of my life. So, I took some of the very good spiritual advice I’ve received in the past about discouragement and applied it to my writing…and it seemed to jumpstart my brain out of blank page “terrors.” These seeds of hope included:

  • The Cross.
  • Lessons of spring: Pay attention to anything that grows, especially if you envy it.
  • Companionship.
  • Choose the voices you listen to.
  • Take baby steps forward (maybe one a day), no matter how silly, worthless, or unimportant they seem.

Each week for the next couple of weeks, I’ll reflect on one of these “seeds of hope for the discouraged writer” to keep up my own writing and, perhaps, to inspire you when your writing isn’t flowing.

The Cross

“If the Lord loves us—and he does love us—he will permit that in our lives we will have to pass through difficult moments and times, and perhaps through trials. And even if temptations last for a long time, and it turns out as it did for St. Teresa [of Avila]—who remained burdened for fifteen years with temptations and aridity; if your spiritual state has to be such, then your sanctity will be reached only in this way: abandonment in God.”  – Blessed James Alberione

Everyone has bad days. But how do we follow Blessed James Alberione’s advice to abandon ourselves into God’s loving hands when we are living through a difficult season that wears us down emotionally, creatively, and spiritually (and perhaps physically)? Suffering and loss push us into the uncomfortable process of being stripped of the familiar, sometimes of what we most don’t want to let go of. Just as we are feeling the most out of control and at our weakest, when discouragement and sadness haunt our every thought and perhaps our every breath, Alberione advises us to let go but not give up. How do we do that? How can we keep going through seasons of dryness, discouragement, perhaps of temptation, suffering, or loss?

The season of Lent can offer us a very real help here, because of its focus on the cross. We may think of Lent in a very human way, rather than as the invitation it is meant to be. Lent is all about growth: in recognizing, receiving, and responding to God’s saving, life-giving love.

A) Lent is a season.

No matter how long it is, every season will pass, even a “season of darkness.” That alone gives us reason to take comfort. Knowing that this time of dryness or lack of inspiration is temporary makes it easier to accept. No matter how much we fuss, we cannot make winter (or summer) shorter. Just as Lent’s purpose—however unwelcome it may feel to our suffering-averse human nature—is to help us focus on God’s great love for us, every season has its purpose. Accepting our internal “season” is not just helpful but can become invaluable, especially as we move through it.

This doesn’t mean that we are to simply give in to discouragement! But it can be helpful to temper or adjust our expectations: in the past couple of months, I have slowly come to accept the temporary loss of enthusiasm that I usually feel when it comes to writing, and to explore the role that this natural energy has played in my life.

  

B) Lent focuses on life and growth.

Just as in the natural world, seasons are important in nurturing life and growth, Lent immerses us in the Passion and Death of Christ with the purpose of helping us to focus on God’s great, life-giving love for us.

When we are already so immersed in trials or difficulties, we may find it hard to focus on Jesus’ sacrificial love for us—because all we can see is more suffering! Our fear of suffering can blind us to the truth that Jesus’ suffering is not just a profound manifestation of God’s presence, but a promise that in all suffering—including the very real suffering of discouragement—we are never alone.

Whenever I feel tempted to give in to discouragement now, I think of Jesus falling under the weight of the Cross on his way to Calvary. What an experiences of weakness, suffering, and discouragement for the Son of God to allow himself to go through! Yet, he did so for love of me, to show me that I am never alone, even in my darkest, most desperate moments.

And just as Jesus is with me in my suffering, I can choose to deepen my union with Jesus in my suffering. A simple act of intentional love is all it takes.

C) Lent points us beyond this life to God’s eternal plan for us

Natural seasons prepare the way for the next season, but Lent also points us beyond seasons to an eternal reality: God’s great love and plan for us manifested in Christ’s Resurrection. In Lent (and in Christianity itself), Jesus’ Passion and Death are always seen in view of his Resurrection. Jesus knew that his Death on the cross was not the end.

Discouragement may feel like a “death” in our writing life. We may fear:

  • that we will never write again
  • that we will never have an original thought again
  • that we have lost our creativity forever

But no matter what we are going through, no matter how endless and/or hopeless it may feel, it is not the end. Stirring up our belief in God’s loving plan for us—and our writing is part of that plan!—enables us to find a way to continue on. Ultimately, our writing is a gift from God, and God’s fidelity is something that we can count on, trust in, and be grateful for. Whatever this season holds for us, there is a gift of God present here, although perhaps hidden by our expectations. Could God be offering us the opportunity to explore new ways to nurture our creativity? Is this is a time to receive, rather than to create? A time to listen, rather than to speak? A time to grow in honesty? to deepen our knowledge? to discover a “new way” of writing that doesn’t rely on “felt inspiration”?

If the ultimate purpose of our lives is to “fall into the hands of God,” can we not prepare to do this by learning to let the precious gift of our writing fall into his ever-faithful hands?

 

Photo by Tim Marshall on Unsplash

A Few of My Favorite Things as a Christian Writer

Photo by Ravi Pinisetti on Unsplash

I recently rediscovered some welcome encouragement for writers that I have found inspiring in my own intensive writing days. I think that anyone involved in any kind of creative pursuit can appreciate these inspiring words.

One of the reasons I find these kinds of reflections so encouraging is that our most important creative pursuit is, of course, co-creating with God the masterpiece of our own lives. I love how whatever advice is given for artistry or craft—whether attention, focus, discipline, gentleness, freedom, trust—becomes even truer when I apply that advice to my life.

 

A Letter to Artists

Makoto Fujimura is a prominent artist, speaker, and writer, whose art has been exhibited around the world and who seeks to uplift culture through IAMCultureCare, integrating faith, art, and beauty. His websites offer many resources to artists of today, but I’d like to highlight his A Letter to Young Artists, which is a personal favorite of mine. In this essay, Fujimura offers wonderful advice about:

  • joy in creating
  • God as the author of all creativity
  • trusting the process—even the awkward beginning stages when our creative wings are “unformed lumps” (a reference to C.S. Lewis)
  • genuine creativity is sacrificial love

The Good Book tells us that we are loved. Because of that love, which exceeds our own love, we can move out to take risks in creativity. Love is the ultimate fruit of the Spirit and our total dependence on the true source of creativity will nurture love. Art, ultimately, is expression of that love. Therefore we cannot create but by sacrificial love. We need to redefine art and its effectiveness by how it helps us to love one another sacrificially. Fear and terror, in any form, will destroy creativity and people. Fear and terror will twist our creativity to expand our “Ground Zeros.” Even when we cannot paint or write, love is available to us a creative resource to share with others. Stand on the ashes of your “Ground Zero”; look up and create in love and hope. – A Letter to Artists by Makoto Fujimura

You may wish to browse the many wonderful resources Mako Fujimura offers for the creative life, including his own writings and the IAMCultureCare website. (On a personal note, I highly recommend Mako Fujimura’s book Silence and Beauty, as well as his video reflections on Martin Scorsese’s recent film Silence, which offer abundant material to deepen the themes of the film and Endo’s novel on which the film is based.)

Photo by Gerald Berliner on Unsplash

An Encouragement for Spring and the Writing Life

When I first read Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation by Parker J. Palmer, I found it full of practical wisdom about deeply living our vocation. (And I just discovered that he co-hosts a new podcast, The Growing Edge, which I’m going to check out.)

This 2014 short post by Parker Palmer, entitled An Encouragement for Spring and the Writing Life is fitting not just because some of us are tired of winter and ready for spring (Boston received its biggest snowfall so far this year in March!), but also because of the beautiful imagery his poem offers us to reflect on our own creative journey.

A Eucharistic Offertory for the Media

To continue with the theme of praying for the good use of the media, and in reparation for the misuse of the media, I’d like to invite you to pray a contemporary version of the original prayer, written by Blessed James Alberione, which he encouraged us to pray daily after communion. Originally entitled, For Those Who Thirst for Souls as Jesus Does, the current (adapted) version is entitled: A Eucharistic Offertory for the Media. In praying this prayer, you will be joined by all the Daughters of Saint Paul around the world. 

As you can see, the prayer has three main themes:

  1. Reparation for the misuse of the media
  2. Prayer for those using the media
  3. That we may all use the media to communicate Christ’s saving love

A Eucharistic Offertory for the Media

(Pauline Offertory)

Based on a prayer of Blessed James Alberione

Father, in union with all those celebrating the Eucharist throughout the world, I wish to unite myself with the heart and intentions of your beloved Son, Jesus, who offered his life for our salvation:

— that the media may always be used to support the good of each person and the common good; to uplift the sacred dignity of every human person, especially those who are poor and most vulnerable; to nurture marriage and family life; to bring about solidarity, peace, greater justice, and equality for all people; and to build respect for the gifts of God’s creation;

— in reparation for the errors and scandals spread throughout the world through the misuse of the media;

— to call down your mercy upon those who have been deceived or manipulated by the misuse of the media, and led away from your fatherly love;

— for the conversion of those who have spread error, violence, or a disregard for the dignity of the person by wrongly using the media and rejecting the teaching of Christ and his Church;

— that we may follow Christ alone whom you, Father, in your boundless love, sent into the world, saying, “This is my beloved Son, hear him”;

— to acknowledge and to make known that Jesus alone, the Word Incarnate, is the perfect Teacher, the trustworthy Way who leads to knowledge of you, Father, and to a participation in your very life;

— that in the Church the number of priests, religious, and lay people who are dedicated as apostles of the media will increase in number and grow in holiness, making resound throughout the world the message of salvation;

— that all those who work in the media with good will (writers, artists, directors, editors, technicians, producers, advertisers, and distributors) may grow in wisdom and uprightness, living and spreading worthy human and Christian values;

— that the undertakings of Catholics in all forms of media may continually increase, so that by more effectively promoting genuine human and Christian values, they will silence the voices that spread error and evil;

— that well aware of our inadequacy and unworthiness, we may recognize our need to draw near the font of life with great humility and trust and be nourished with your Word, Father, and with the Body of Christ, invoking light, love, and mercy for all men and women.

Humanizing the Internet: 2019 Message for World Communications Day


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“We are members of one another” (Eph. 4:25)

From social network communities to the human community.

This year’s Message for World Communications Day provides a helpful overview of the internet, detailing some of the challenges of the pervasiveness of the digital continent which we find so greatly influences so many aspects of our lives. These challenges become the basis for the Pope’s insights and concrete suggestions as to how we can make the internet fulfill its great potential as a resource for building up the solidarity of the whole human family. Rather than offer a commentary on the Message, I am simply going to give a quick summary, with the challenges Pope Francis raises, his insights, and the wisdom he offers to “humanize” the internet.

In this year’s Message, Pope Francis highlights these challenges of the internet today:

  • The internet used as a source of disinformation (conscious and targeted distortion of both facts and interpersonal relationships)
  • The internet used to manipulate, for political or economic advantage, while disrespecting the person and his or her rights
  • Cyberbullying
  • The internet “works” [only] when all its elements share responsibility
  • Social network “communities” are not automatically true communities, but often promote an identity based on opposition, or what divides us. Social network communities that start with what divides gives rise to suspicion, exclusion, the “venting” of prejudice, the growth of unbridled individualism and narcissism, and can incite spirals of hatred.
  • The illusion that connecting digitally is the same as in-depth personal relationships—an illusion that most easily deceives young people
  • The risk of isolation or alienation from society

All of these challenges threaten the building up of true communion of the human family. Pope Francis offers us a metaphor drawn from Saint Paul to give us a framework in which to respond to these challenges: “Therefore, putting away falsehood, speak the truth, each to his neighbor, for we are members one of another” (Eph. 4:25).

This metaphor is particularly helpful for Christians, who see ourselves as members of the Body of Christ. And it helps us to remember that other people are not potential competitors, nor adversaries, but persons like us: our brothers and sisters.

The question then becomes, How can we find our true communitarian identity, aware of the responsibility we have towards one another in the online network as well?

Pope Francis offers these helpful insights:

  • Multiplying connections is not the answer.
  • We don’t need an adversary in order to define ourselves.
  • Created in the image of the Trinitarian God who is Communion and Communication-of-Self, every human being longs to live in communion, to truly belong.
  • As Christians, we are called to manifest that communion which marks our identity as believers. Faith itself is a relationship, and our encounter with God’s love for us becomes the impetus for us to welcome, understand, and respond to the gift of “the other”
  • See (and use) the internet as an extension of in-person (in the flesh) encounters.
  • In the Church, true unity is based not on “likes,” but on the truth, on the “Amen” by which each one clings to the Body of Christ and welcomes others.

The advice Pope Francis offers is not easy; in fact, I think this year’s message is among the most challenging of all the World Communication Day Messages. But, the solutions offered here are more urgent than ever before. In this Message, the Church is calling us to infuse all our interaction on social media with the same human characteristics that we use in face-to-face interactions: respect, friendliness, seeking common ground, sympathy, compassion, even smiles and tenderness. 

  • Learn to see with the all-encompassing gaze of Christ, from whom we can discover that “otherness” is an integral part—and condition—of true relationship and closeness with another. (We can only receive the “gift” of the other when we are open to their “otherness.”)
  • Invest in relationships.
  • Affirm the interpersonal nature of our humanity—including online. We are truly human only if we relate to others.
  • Move from “individual” to “personal”: the authentic path of becoming more human is to move from being an individual who perceives the other as a rival, to a person who recognizes others as traveling companions.
  • Use the internet as an extension of in-person (in the flesh) encounters.

This year’s World Communications Day Message offers us all timely, much-needed wisdom of how we can use the internet to liberate, to protect communion among people, to promote truthful and respectful encounters, to open the path to dialogue, deeper encounter, and expressions of genuine human connection.

Radical Prayer: Offering Reparation for the Misuse of the Media

 

Some years it takes me longer to reflect on the Pope’s annual World Communications Day Message. Sometimes it is because I want to deepen it, sometimes it is because it contains a theme or idea that I haven’t thought about before and want to explore, and sometimes because it is extra challenging.

This year, I have to confess that it has taken me longer, in part because the Message itself is challenging, but also because I have been personally wrestling in my prayer with the evils that the misuse of the media can cause. It’s not that I’ve been naive about the harm that the media can cause—it’s something I have been aware of and prayed about for most of my life. But for some reason, a number of recent instances of the misuse of social media—some participated in by people of good will—touched me more personally.

To overcome the temptation to discouragement I’ve felt, I have been digging deep into both the Message and our Pauline spirituality, bringing the misuse of the media repeatedly to prayer over the past several weeks. My prayer has brought me face to face with one of the most beautiful and demanding aspects of our spirituality as today’s media apostles.

One of the reasons that Blessed James Alberione founded the Daughters of Saint Paul was because of the great harm that the misuse of the media was causing in his time—and he foresaw how much this harm would multiply. The mission that he gave the Daughters of Saint Paul was really twofold:

1) To evangelize with the media, and

2) To offer our prayers, actions, consecration, our very lives in reparation for the evil caused by the misuse of the media. (He invited us to do this with a daily prayer, originally entitled: For Those Who Thirst for Souls as Jesus Does, which you can find here. I’ll post more about this beautiful, powerful prayer laterBut I invite you to bring your use of social media to your daily prayer, if you don’t already.)

So in these weeks, I’ve prayed specifically for the people using social media who, lacking in goodwill, have deceived and misled others, even those with the best of intentions, to the point that the truth has seemed lost. I’ve also been praying for those who, despite their goodwill, have been swept up on social media by the trends, sensationalism, or “causes” that really don’t reflect the Gospel. A focus of both my prayers and sacrifices has been reparation for the lies, division, and hatred fostered by this misuse of media.

This year’s Message for World Communications Day directly addresses this challenge of people who misuse social media by stating outright, “The [inter]net works because all its elements share responsibility.” This is where we can find the hope of using social media for good, for building up human solidarity: to increase the number of people who want to use social media for good. But it’s not enough just to have good will. We also need to be wise and discerning in how we use social media. In that spirit, I’d like to share this insightful article written by social media Catholic hipster Tommy Tighe, who invites each of us to reflect on our personal use of social media, in the spirit of Blessed James Alberione.

Next week, I will post some of my reflections on this year’s World Communications Day Message, which is so timely and relevant to what is happening in and through social media today. In the meantime, if you are looking for a patron for your social media, I cannot recommend Blessed James Alberione enough. Even though he died in 1971, his use of the media and his influence in changing and developing the Church’s approach to media is amazing. You can read more about him here. He is the saint to pray to about the media, because he promised to watch over and care for those who seek to use the media for good:

“This is how I intend to belong to this marvelous Pauline Family: as a servant both now and in heaven. There, I will care for those who use the most effective modern means to do good: in holiness, in Christ, and in the Church.” – Blessed James Alberione

 

 

Here is the prayer that I pray daily for his intercession:

Most Holy Trinity,
who has willed to revive in the Church
the apostolic charism of Saint Paul,
revealing yourself in the light of the Eucharist
to Blessed James Alberione, Founder of the Pauline Family,
grant that the presence of Christ the Master, Way, Truth, and Life,
may shine in the world through Mary, Mother and Queen of the Apostles.
Glorify in your Church this apostle of the new evangelization
and raise up men and women open to the “signs of the times,”
who, following his example,
will use the modern means of communication
to lead all of humanity to you.
Through the intercession of Blessed James,
grant me the grace that I ask for at this time…
Amen.

How To Get Back into “Creative Mode”

Photo by John Sekutowski on Unsplash

The good news is that I am rewriting or editing at least a little bit on my next book just about every day. The bad news is that after just a couple of days I found myself totally stuck. What I wanted to do with the book and what the book seemed to want to do were at odds.

This book that I am revising (from rough draft to first draft) has a couple of big challenges to the material that I haven’t completely figured out yet. On top of that, some new resources have become available since I started writing, and I need to find ways to work that new content into the book, which, in its rough draft state, is already way too long.

Probably the biggest problem, though, is that I was trying too hard to get too much done too quickly. My best way of writing is to gradually immerse myself into the work itself and into my writing process. And I didn’t really take the time to do that. I’m also very out of practice doing it because the short-form, quick-turnaround, online writing that I have been doing hasn’t allowed for any kind of immersion.

Whenever I have stepped away from writing for a significant amount of time, I seem to always forget:

* Taking deadlines away and pulling the pressure off enables me to write better and faster.

* I am a slow starter when it comes to writing long projects.

So, this past week was essentially a tug-of-war between trying to write fast and on deadline, and slowing myself down to fully enter into the work. And I think that I have finally succeeded. I am not stuck, but am working on two levels: revising a short piece each day and then also stepping back and looking at the work as a whole, so that I can start figuring out how to integrate or interweave the various elements (old and new) that I want to include.

I would like to note the concrete steps I took to slow down and focus, so that next time, I can enter into a project and my writing process more smoothly, thus avoiding getting stuck, freaking out, or plain old running from the blank page. So this list here is for myself for the future. I hope you find elements on this list helpful, too. (Plus, you may have other suggestions to share with me—and please do so!) Here they are:

  • I stopped running from writing, but wrestled with what I was stuck with until I had a grasp of what was wrong (although not how to fix it)
  • I read some short writing encouragement during the week to encourage me to let go and have fun while writing.
  • I stopped worrying about how much I got done each day. (For this project, I don’t have a hard deadline, just a desire to finish. But it is still hard to let go of deadlines!)
  • I went back to my original inspiration and desire for the book, focusing on the project and its (future) readers.
  • I brought it to prayer every day, either in my meditation or in my Hour of Adoration, asking the Lord, “What do You want to say in this book?”
  • I started listening to the work itself, to become an obedient servant of the work (as Madeleine L’Engle so eloquently describes in Walking on Water.) Ultimately, I have been praying to the Blessed Mother to help me become a listening servant to the Holy Spirit to “put words to” the mystery of grace at work in our lives. 

Do you have other ideas that help you get back into creative mode?

New Year update: “Hidden in Christ”

A Happy and Holy New Year!

I love the beginning of a new year. I think it’s because, ever since I have focused on creativity and found myself enjoying the blank page when I begin writing, I have developed a special affinity for potential. There is something special and sacred about looking to the future and seeing the promise of so many possibilities. (And this is even more beautiful when I have taken the time to look back and seen how abundantly and lovingly God has been at work in my life in the previous year! And God has been so amazingly, so tangibly, present in my life in 2018.) I think that, in many ways, playing with potential is part of the divinely-given gift of creativity, (which is a tiny, limited way of sharing in the creativity of the Most Holy Trinity, who created us in God’s own image).

This year has started off uniquely. First, I caught a really bad cold just before Christmas that has turned into a bit of a time-& sleep-monster, eating up the first 10 days and nights of 2019. It is improving, but with such miniscule progress that I’m not sure when it will let up. Second, the end of 2018 brought a few surprises that have shifted somewhat my focus in our Pauline mission. This shift means I’ll be spending less time online, but perhaps more time on my next book. And of course, this happens just as I released my new book, Just A Minute Meditations To Grow in Self-Esteem, and started a new Facebook Group, where I was looking forward to offering audio meditations!  (More about that in another post.)

On top of all of this, the Holy Spirit seems to be “giving me” a new book—even before I have finished the one I’m working on. Of everything that has happened this year so far, I find this so deeply moving. What a gift! I am praying that I will be open and receptive, and somehow able to “capture” his inspirations on paper.

Praying and discerning with all of this, here are my tentative plans for 2019:

– I will try to blog weekly here, on Windows to the Soul, mostly about writing inspiration, spiritual inspiration, and my journey with my next two books, which I am going to try to focus on.

– I will also try to stay in touch online via my Facebook Author Page and Facebook Group via messages for now.

– My Twitter account and some of my other work—including on the amazing group My Sisters (on Facebook)—will be mostly, temporarily, on hold. (I miss you all on My Sisters!)  But Sr. Kathryn has great plans for My Sisters for 2019, so if you haven’t checked it out, I highly encourage you to do so. It is a great way to find resources and support for your spiritual life, and you can try it for the first month for only $1.

Above all, know that you are in my prayers daily. Here is a short Writer’s Prayer which I wrote a while ago, but have never shared. It seems to be especially appropriate for me at this time:

 

A Writer’s Prayer
“Hidden in Christ*” 

My Jesus, I adore You, I love You, I thank You!

Today, as I sit down to write in this “hidden,” unseen apostolate, I pray You: bless me—my mind, will, and heart! Bless my desires. Bless my efforts. Teach me how to work, when to push forward, when to pause to listen, and when to relinquish control. You are the Artist par excellence: in carpentry, in sand-drawing, in creating a life perfectly harmonious with the Father’s plan and the needs of humanity, in creating a new heavens and a new earth!

Make me Your artist, a writer after Your own heart. I offer You all: work, write, craft, in me as You want. May my writing and all my thoughts, words, and actions, always serve Your glory and peace to humanity.

*Col. 3:3 where Saint Paul tells us, “Your life is hidden in Christ.” 

 

Photo by Etienne Boulanger on Unsplash