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The Writer’s Three Priorites

Over the next few months I’m sharing excerpts from Writing the Sacred Journey so I can take a break from writing about writing to actually do some writing!

One spring I attended the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and was privileged to hear Jane Yolen speak. Yolen, the author of over a hundred children’s books, identified herself as a Jewish Quaker. She spoke on the hazards of addressing spiritual questions in books for children, explaining that children’s book buyers are primarily public schools and libraries, which tend to shy away from spiritually inclined literature. Nonreligious publishers are often unwilling to take on material that might prove controversial. Yet as Yolen pointed out, children ask spiritual questions: Where did Rover go when he died? Why do some people attend church and not others? Who is God? Yolen argued that we do wrong by our children when we censor stories that might aid them in their seeking.

After Yolen’s lecture a member of the audience asked, “To whom do you think children’s authors should be accountable for the moral quality of their books?” The questioner was concerned that indoctrinating content might wind up in her children’s hands. Yolen responded fiercely, “Every writer has three responsibilities: first to the story, second to yourself, and finally to your audience.” Continue reading

What’s Next?

One evening when I was in college, I attended an orchestral concert in the large Gothic Revival chapel. The atmosphere was elegant, subdued. The space was dim, candles on two grand wooden candelabras burned up front, and hundreds of listeners were swept up in the rise and swell of the music.

I sat toward the back. In my late teens and early twenties I was terrifically shy; I avoided talking to professors, stuck tight to my core group of friends, and did my best to avoid any limelight. The student body at my college was extreme in its intelligence and talent, which intimidated me terribly; for three years I was convinced admissions had made a mistake by accepting me, and I struggled mightily to prove to myself or anyone that I belonged. I’m not sure when or how that feeling dissipated, but the night of this concert certainly helped. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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