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 Catholic Writer’s Must-Read List

There are so few great writing resources that offer solid spiritual and artistic foundations that we can turn to when we feel ourselves “lost” or confused at the crossroads between  faith and culture, between the demands of our art and the depth of our spiritual lives. I’ve read a lot of books about writing, and a strong selection of books about the artistic process and spirituality, and I’ve only come up with a handful. These are the resources that I go back to when I need inspiration. Here they are, in no particular order, with links and my highest recommendation for writers and artists!

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The Soul Tells a Story by Vinita Hampton Wright

The Christian Imagination edited by Leland Ryken

Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle

Letter to Artists by Pope St. John Paul II

Mystery and Manners and The Habit of Being by Flannery O’Connor


The Year of Mercy for Writers

This morning, I rose at 4:25 and immediately checked to see if Pope Francis had opened the Holy Door yet. (Of course he hadn’t; I wasn’t sure what time it was in Rome.) But I was excited to begin the Year of Mercy with the Blessed Mother, today being the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the woman who received and lived such great mercy that “Mother of Mercy” could easily be her most fitting title after “Mother of God.”

Like many other sisters in my community–and many readers here, I’m sure–I’ve been praying with Dives in Misericordia (St. John Paul II’s Encyclical on Mercy, published in 1980), and Misericordiae Vultus for a few weeks now. Last night, I fell asleep to the questions, “How do want to live this Jubilee Year of Mercy? What will this Year of Mercy mean for me?”

I have to confess that for me, mercy has always been an occasion of deep, heartfelt thanksgiving. But it’s never been a virtue that I’ve thought very much about practicing, except when I’ve struggled to forgive others. Now that I have this opportunity to focus on mercy, both receiving it and extending it, I would like to also give my writing special focus on mercy as well.

In a special way as a communicator of Christ, I can connect with the Spiritual Works of Mercy:

  • To instruct the ignorant
  • To counsel the doubtful
  • To admonish sinners
  • To bear wrongs patiently
  • To forgive offenses willingly
  • To comfort the afflicted
  • To pray for the living and the dead

How can I be a communicator of mercy this year, not just in my life but especially through my writing? In addition to various projects we are working on together here at Pauline Books & Media, I came up with a few more ideas:

  • Write and highlight stories about mercy in my writing
  • Visit more often the online sites where I have previously connected with those who are sincerely seeking to understand the Church’s teaching, and “hang out” there to answer questions about faith and the spiritual life as best I can
  • More thoughtfully practice the works of mercy in my life and write about those experiences
  • Write more about the way the Church practices mercy, especially the sacraments of mercy
  • Open my heart more fully to the needs of the world, especially those for whom mercy is not a way of life…perhaps because they have not received mercy as I have, and be open to where God leads me
  • Review movies that explore the theme of mercy (see link to Sr. Rose Pacatte’s article about “The Cinema of Mercy” below); perhaps even put together a series of cinema divina guides for movies that explore the theme of mercy more deeply
  • Finish my “blogging a book”!
  • To integrate the theme of mercy in the one-day and three-day retreats I am developing

I would love to hear how you hope to live the Year of Mercy, whether in your personal life, your writing life, your ministry, your family, etc. If you share your ideas here, you may inspire me or someone else in their living this grace-filled year!

 
jubileeofmercywebsite

There are many wonderful resources for the Year of Mercy. (You can launch your celebration of the Year of Mercy by reading what it’s all about here in Sr. Kathryn Hermes’ insightful article.) Here are a few of my favorites:

Advent for Writers

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Photo by Sr. Mary Emmanuel Alves, FSP

Advent feels like it has arrived early, but it is a wonderful season for jumpstarting creativity, both in our writing lives and in our spiritual lives. Here are a few parallels I’ve been pondering: maybe they can inspire us to live Advent in such a way that we grow both spiritually and as writers.

Hiddenness & creativity

Advent is the season of hidden service which brings forth new life.

During Advent, we ponder how Our Lady prepared in countless little ways for the birth of the Son of God. We ponder with her the mystery of how she carried the Lord of heaven and earth in her womb. As far as we know, no one but Elizabeth recognized Mary as Mother of the Messiah. Did Mary know that her acceptance of the immense call to serve as Mother of God would put her life at risk more than once?

The Incarnation is mysterious at all times and places, but especially in the Infancy of the Son of God. During the weeks before his birth, Jesus, the Son of God and Lord of all creation, was hidden from the world as a preborn infant. He humbly “hid” his divinity because he came into this world to serve, not to be served; to save us and give his life for us.

Advent can inspire our hidden creativity. Unless we are posting everything on social media, our writing is hidden. (And even in those moments when we are composing our best social media posts, the composing is a hidden step.) The best writers seek to serve the Truth and their readers. Writing, as any process that generates, is both a service and somewhat mysterious. How do we get new ideas? From where does the inspiration to write come? How do we know what we are supposed to write? And how many times has it happened that the piece of writing that we are most insecure about is the one that touches others more deeply?

During Advent, we can consciously choose to nurture our creativity and sense of service. It can be as simple as lighting a candle while we write, squeezing in a few (more) minutes a day to write, or praying to the Blessed Mother for the grace to open us more fully to the inspiration of the Spirit. Or it can be more thoughtful, such as finding a way to “hide” a spiritual truth in something we are writing, and then reveal it at the end in an unexpected way.

Advent inspires us to go on a journey. Everybody loves new beginnings and Advent, perhaps more than any other Church season, seems to offer this opportunity. Advent is only four weeks long, just long enough to help us create a new pattern in our lives, but not so long that we will become discouraged or lose focus.

All of the major figures in the Christmas narrative (Mary on her visit to Elizabeth, Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, the shepherds in search of the angel-sung Messiah, the Magi in search of a newborn King) are on a journey with one focus: to discover and welcome Christ.

What is our focus for our journey this Advent?

One blessing of being a writer is that new experiences open us to new insights. A journey—whether interior or external—offers us the opportunity for new experiences.

During the two winters that I lived downtown in the wonderful city of Chicago, I’d occasionally start to feel skyscraper-locked. I learned to bundle up in as many layers as I could fit under my coat, walk over to a nearby park and contemplate the city—and my problems—from the lakefront. It was amazing how simply moving to a fresh-aired perspective could help me to see my problems in a whole new light, giving me the hope, courage, and insight to approach them from a  new direction.

If we have already prayerfully resolved to take on a certain practice for Advent, let us stick to it, allowing that resolution or new practice to become the way we focus our attention on Christ. If we haven’t chosen a focus for Advent yet, maybe this first week we can take some time to prayerfully do that. This new practice or resolution can become our “Advent journey,” that opens us up to fresh insight.

During this Advent, maybe we can try to take our readers on a journey through something we write. Perhaps we can use aspects of our interior Advent journey as metaphors for a fictional journey we are writing about. As writers, we always want to help our readers to be transformed, to go on a journey—however long or short it may be—so that by the end of the journey they have grown, changed, or received new insight for their own lives.   

Advent is a time of listening for the voice of the Lord, of discerning the presence of God in our lives.

One way to prepare to receive Jesus more fully into our hearts is to listen for him, to be attentive to his presence. How many people in the Scriptures we read at Christmas don’t recognize who Jesus truly is!

God is present in our lives in many ways, and seems to delight in surprising us. Like the virgins waiting for the bridegroom in the parable, we want to have our lamps lit and our hearts ready to recognize him. We can learn to recognize him more quickly and easily by spending time with God in those ways and places where we already recognize him, and by praying to the Holy Spirit. (The prayer below stands on its own, even though it is day one of a nine-day novena to the Holy Spirit.)

For me at this moment in my life, some of the ways I can most easily discern God’s presence in my life are found in:

  • the Word of God
  • Eucharistic and other forms of prayer, most especially adoration
  • others’ kindness
  • others’ challenges
  • nature

If we can be more attentive to the ordinary ways that God is present in our lives, we will more easily recognize him in the unexpected, in the ways that he surprises us.

This kind of deeper listening will serve our writing because we become better listeners overall. We may want to take a few moments and jot down how we are inspired to write. Whom or what do we listen to that gives our writing direction? Is there a place or activity or way of thinking that helps us to be more receptive? Perhaps we can pay more attention to our sources of inspiration during this Advent, renewing our creativity.

One way of bringing a deeper listening to our writing is to begin each writing session during Advent with a prayer to the Holy Spirit, asking for his light to inspire us.

For another insightful take on Advent from the writing perspective, enjoy these tips from Charlotte Rains Dixon’s blog.