Writing Exercises: Best of 2011
Conflicted desire: My daughter Gwyn (two-and-a-half) often gets confused about her wants these days: ”I don’t want cheerios.” Okay, I say. “Waah! I want cheerios.” I know the sentiment (although not for cheerios). Rarely are our desires clean. For today’s exercise, consider a current desire about which you also feel conflicted. Write that dilemma but then link it to the past. What memories inform both sides of your conflict? How have you–and how will you–listen for the spirit’s movement in this desire?
Disconnect: I spent yesterday afternoon welcoming spring at the May Day parade–dressed in long johns, winter coat, and huddled under blankets. More often than not, we experience a disconnect between the external season and what’s happening in our hearts. A loved one dies on Easter or Christmas. We feel joyous during Lent or exuberant on a cloudy day. When have you experienced such contradictions? Write that story, attending to the underlying, paradoxical spiritual life.
Scar: Choose a scar on your body; write your scar’s story, exploring what it means to be scarred and other, internal ways you’ve been scarred.
Scent: If God had a smell, what would it be? Describe a scent that has transported you into an experience of holiness. Then flesh out the scene.
Imagination: I’ve been thinking recently about the role of the imagination in our faith lives. Imagination is usually dismissed by believers and nonbelievers alike. But if we treat imagination seriously, as I think we should, it can be a means for understanding the world and what’s sacred in it. Describe a time, perhaps from childhood, when your imaginative life enriched or deepened your felt presence of the world.
Imagination: Choose a period of your life (childhood, teenage years, young adulthood, middle age, retirement, now) and describe a fantasy you had about your spiritual life during that period. For example, perhaps you had a particular image of heaven, or imagined yourself to be saint-like, or dreamt of being a guru. Then reflect: What were the origins of this fantasy? What role did it serve in your life? What did it teach you? Did this fantasy harm you in any way? What does it reveal about your beliefs then? You may want to compare this fantasy with one you have today.
Imagination: Continuing with our exploration of the role of the imagination in our faith lives, I invite you to identify one article of faith you subscribe to (the immaculate conception, the big bang, reincarnation) that requires a bit of imagination. First describe your belief in as much detail as possible. Can you identify a lived experience that shows this belief in action? Write that story, paying particular attention to how imagination participates in your active faith.
Doubt: Write a tenet of your belief system about which you also feel some doubt. Write two memories: One showing this belief in action, the second showing your doubt in action. Weave these two memories together with reflection on the nature of belief and doubt.