Writing as Listening

On a good morning of writing, the words leave my head entirely and reside in my fingers. Writing is a quiet business. Once I tried to explain this to a spiritual director—the way my heart stills and the room pulses with silence—but she didn’t believe me. How can you work with words and be quiet at the same time? Surely it’s impossible.

Maybe she was right; maybe a mature contemplative knows a quiet emptier than mine. But in my decades of meditation, releasing thought after thought, exercising that muscle of humility that lets go of my small, busy self in favor of the magnificent, empty Self who is also Source, I’ve almost never tasted quiet as thorough as the blanket that falls when I have a pen in hand or fingers on the computer.

In the heat of writing I am not channeling; I do not hear voices which I then live-stream onto the page; I am not a puppet manipulated by inspiration. Nor do I govern what emerges, forcing it out with my phenomenal will power. This listening is something entirely different. It’s more a give-and-take, an inquisitive conversation which demands complete presence and utter receptivity. I must generate and receive without attachment. Something flows through me, but I’m part of the flow and I must actively participate for it to happen.

Brother David Stendl-Rast says that “the more we come alive and awake, the more everything we do becomes prayer. Eventually even our prayer will become prayer.” Writing, I suspect, is how I inhabit that liminal space right before prayer becomes prayer. My mind is harnessed to the story, the galloping thoughts, and the language; it scampers off to play on the page, leaving my body behind. I sit still. The room balloons around me. Creation is a dense gravitational force at the tips of my fingers. I come alive and awake. My perpetual failure at prayer is compensated a bit by this moment, when my heart is at rest and I’m in the thick of creation. –Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew


Upcoming Opportunities:

Second Fridays; 1:30-3:30 p.m.: Spiritual Memoir drop-in sessions, Wisdom Ways Center for Spirituality.

May 12: The Natural World
June 9: Looking Back, Seeing Again

October 2-6, 2017: Alone Together: Living Revision at Madeline Island School of the Arts.

September 24-28, 2018:  Alone Together: Living Revision at Madeline Island School of the Arts.

2 thoughts on “Writing as Listening”

  1. This is lovely. I always feel a deep connection to you through your writing, so I had to laugh — I literally just read (and highlighted) that quote in Brother David’s Gratefulness book last night. We have some of the same spiritual mentors.

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