Writing as Longing

 Over the next few months I’ll periodically share excerpts from Writing the Sacred Journey–I’m taking a break from writing about writing to actually do some writing!

When I was attending Sleepy Hollow High School, I’d occasionally forsake the rowdy bus ride home and walk two miles down the steep streets of North Tarrytown, New York, over the infamous bridge where Ichabod Crane is said to have disappeared, and down to the Hudson River… Once I reached the beach, I…ran to a log polished silver and reclining on the sand.  Here I could have the river to myself–the murky water and the private tuck of shoreline that lay flat like a vast, open palm.  In that rare moment of solitude I felt a terrific ache.  I wanted to cleave my heart to that dynamic, undulating force that smelled of sea salt and spanned boundless distances.  My teenage life was small–fretted with self-consciousness and my peers’ misguided expectations.  Still, I knew the passion buzzing in my adolescent body was also rolling in that tide.  I watched the waves push and pull, and the coarse sand simmer before absorbing the water.  I breathed the moist, kelp-scented air.  Passion fused me to the river, but there was no release.  I was still my lanky, lonely self.  I could never dissolve into such magnificence.

What, then, could I do to ease my ache?  If I prayed, God’s pervasive, dissatisfying silence only intensified my longing.  Instead I dug into my jeans’ pocket for scrap paper and a ballpoint pen.  I did the only thing that transformed my longing into something of substance.  I wrote about it.

I no longer have my teenage writing as evidence, but two things remain clear in my memory.  One is the inexplicable longing that pushed my pen forward.  I remember wanting to burst out of my skin, to become as big on the outside as I felt on the inside.  The fac that I was separate from the undulating fabric of the natural world–that I was an independent being–discomfited me.  I wanted unity.  I wanted to be bound to the tide, to be awash with the created world.

The other thing I remember is that I wrote about what I knew:  the river beating against sand, the driftwood hard against my legs, the seagulls holding wind.  I wrote my world and, in doing so,, felt myself participate fully in its unfolding.  I might never accurately describe the salt scent kicked up in the spray, but the attempt changed me; it joined me to the work so evident around me:  birthing, changing, destroying, and roiling with beauty.

Today, my drive to write is the same–language, penned to paper, binds the inner world to the outer, satisfying my desire to unite with creation.  Why does the effort of translating experience into story satisfy a spiritual need?  Over the years I’ve written three (now five!) books, countless short memoirs, personal essays, church newsletter columns, poems, and journal entries.  I’ve written myself out of the closet, out of depression, out of regular employment, and into work that fosters a similar passion for writing in others, And still, how writing binds self to creation remains a mystery.  I write to find out.

from Writing the Sacred Journey: The Art & Practice of Spiritual Memoir by Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew

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