For The Someday Book

Posts Tagged ‘writing

It’s been a month since I’ve done any significant writing. It’s not because I haven’t had anything to say–I have a “drafts” folder full of ideas and starters for blog posts. It’s not even because I’ve been working too hard. Although it’s been a full time at church, that has not stopped me from taking time to write in the past. It’s because I’ve been on vacation. The wrong kind of vacation has left me bereft of energy for writing.

I spent a week at a very full conference with other young clergy in the UCC 2030 Clergy Network, then a week back home, then nearly two weeks in my hometown surrounded by family. All of these were good trips, filled with engaging conversations and plenty of material for reflection and good times with extended family. But I returned from this time of vacation feeling incredibly scatterbrained, stressed, depleted and overwhelmed, and I think I have finally figured out why: I am an extreme introvert who has taken extroverted vacations.

None of these trips have been stressful—there was no family drama, no major travel nightmares (although one came close), no frantic need for sight-seeing. Neither has the workload upon my return been overwhelming—just the normal catch-up work on visitations and preparing worship for vacation weeks. The stress, I realized, is coming from within, or, rather, from the inability to spend time within.

Because all these travels have involved a short amount of time and a long list of people to see, the days were packed with one visit after another. Many of them were intense, filled with passionate conversations and deep-hearted sharing among old friends. As an introvert, these conversations themselves—while often enjoyable and exciting—are also draining. For me to make sense of them, I need time apart to process things, think them over and be alone with my thoughts. During vacation, I just piled one conversation on top of another, until they all became a big blur.

Over the last 10 days since I got home, I have had plenty of time in the evenings to sit and write, but my mind has been too jumbled. All I could manage to do was watch television, clean house and go to bed early. It has taken me a week to recover my inner voice and mental space for writing, beyond the normal writing of sermons and prayers and newsletter articles.

My writing is not the only thing to suffer, however. My patient and pleasant personality is probably the far greater victim. I have noticed for years that I get testy and irritable when I go to visit family on vacation. I try to be nice, but I find myself snippy and snarky despite my best efforts.  I think it all goes back to trying to be something I’m not: an extrovert. When I don’t take time to process, think, be silent and alone, I become a very unpleasant person.

I don’t know how to do it, but in the future I need to be more self-conscious about the impact these extroverted vacations have on me as a person and as a writer.

Now that this first piece of processing is written, let’s hope I can get back into gear and spend some time on that backlog of ideas in my drafts folder.

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I had the opportunity to hear a colleague preach this week at an ecumenical Lenten service. He was preaching on the story of the Transfiguration, and Peter’s desire to capture the experience of being on the mountaintop to remember and return to it forever. He opened his reflections with a story about using a camcorder to capture precious moments when his children were small. He realized after a time that he was so busy looking through the lens of the camcorder to capture the moment that he missed being a part of the moment. What we want to be about, he said, is being fully engaged with the moment, because that writes the moment in our hearts, where the memory really matters. We can return to the experience of God in quiet and prayer. It was a good sermon.

Throughout his story, I was reflecting on my (still relatively new) life as a blogger. Since I have been writing this blog, I have found myself thinking, “Oh, I have to capture this story on the blog!” or “I can’t wait to write this down!” I wondered if I am so busy thinking about how to remember my spiritual moments with God or special moments with B that I am not actually present to them.

In reality, though, I have found the opposite to be true. Since I have been writing regularly, I feel as though my senses have been heightened. I feel like I am slowing down and paying more attention to my life. All these blog entries were once just passing moments of closeness to God and people. They did not get remembered at all, much less written into my heart, because I was always rushing off to the next thing. Now I find myself noticing and then absorbing the details of an encounter, with an eye toward writing it later. Writing intensifies my mindfulness and awareness, deepens my experience of events, and implants the spiritual memories deeper in my heart. For example, I am pretty confident I would not remember anything about that Lenten sermon if I hadn’t been contemplating a written response!

Which makes me think there are two key differences between writing and recording. First, a recorder does not need to be present to the moment to record it—the camera does all the work. A writer must be fully present to the moment, because the mind and senses are the only recorders present to capture the experience. Second, what is captured by the recorder is qualitatively different than what is captured by the writer. The recorder is able to capture the moment in all its detail. In video, for example, the camera recalls the color of clothes and the condition of the room, the words that were spoken and the ambient noises, the order of events and the expressions on faces. The written word cannot handle all those lavish details without becoming cumbersome and overwhelming. What the writer captures is what it was like to be there–the feelings, the experience, the words and happenings that mattered most. A writer is reflective and selective. When I write about a moment, I am not trying to tell you exactly what happened, so that you can see it for yourself. I am trying to share with you the experience that I had in a moment, why it mattered to me and what made my heart sing. I am trying to make your heart sing too, in response. Video footage is raw, writing is interpretation.

To continue the example, consider the difference between watching a video of my colleague’s sermon and just reading my brief summation. I make no attempt to capture the nuance of his words or the richness of his outline–I only tell you what mattered to me, and why it spoke to my heart.

All this reminds me of the Bible. The Bible is writing, not recording. This is not a new insight–I long ago abandoned any understanding of the Bible as literal Word of God or factual recording of history. When I teach people about the Bible, I tell them that the Bible exists because people had an encounter with God that touched them, and they were so moved that they wrote it down to remember and share with others.

Then I realized, of course, that this is the same exercise I am participating in today. The technology has changed from parchment scrolls to WordPress blogs, but the act is the same. Encounter God and write about it, because the act of writing inscribes it in your heart and enables you to share the experience with others. I intend no arrogance or pretension by drawing a comparative line between my halting reflections and the words of holy scripture–quite the opposite. I am humbled to realize that I am doing nothing new under the sun, just participating in a long history of faith seekers and faith writers trying to inscribe the moment into their hearts and into the hearts of others, from behind the quill, the pen or the keyboard.

Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith, Anne Lamott, Riverhead Books, 2007.

I love you, Anne Lamott. You open yourself and your life to us, wringing beauty and grace out of the confused and pathetic pile of feelings and mistakes and heartache that is this life. You make me want to be a more careful writer, a more mindful observer, a more generous friend, and a better person. Thank you for opening up your own brokenness so the rest of us don’t feel so alone and ashamed, and rendering beautiful the mess of it all.

The parts of this book about grace were a gift to me. I don’t know how you make yourself so vulnerable. It takes great courage to expose your inward panic and problems–but that vulnerability in life makes God’s grace possible, and the corresponding vulnerability on the page makes you and your writing a means of grace for me, your reader.

I was especially struck this time, this book, by the parts about motherhood. You capture the desperate floundering about that I feel in my own parenting, as well as the absolute joy and delight in my son’s life and discoveries. You give voice to my feelings of helplessness and worry over his well-being and my own, and your words were a beacon of grace to me. You made me feel like I’m not crazy. Or, better, that I am probably crazy, but at least I’m not the only one.

Thank you for the grace that flows through this book.


About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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