Best of 2009

Writing Exercises

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Waiting:  Consider an intense and memorable experience of waiting. Write at least a paragraph describing one moment during this waiting period.  What was happening physically? emotionally? in your thoughts? surrounding you?  Then reflect:  What did this time of waiting reveal to about the sacred?  Finally, if you choose, rewrite your moment also showing this sacred revelation.

Beauty:  Describe an aesthetic moment when beauty (in nature, art, another’s body, etc.) moved you deeply.  See if you can give your reader your sensory experience of this moment by describing it thoroughly.

Illness:  Virginia Woolf wrote an essay in which she asked why more great literature doesn’t address the topic of illness.  With flu season going around (and with my partner recovering from major surgery), I invite you to remember a time when you were laid up. What was the context?  Describe your physical sensations, and what impact they had on your spirit.  Don’t worry about creating great literature, but do explore how the illness affected you.

Loved One:  In honor of All Souls’ Day and All Saints’ Day, consider a loved one who has died.  In what ways does this person is this person still alive within you–your personality, your life choices, your memories?  Write a portrait of this loved one through the lens of your own life.

Ritual:  Describe some small daily ritual to which you remain absolutely faithful:  making your morning coffee, feeding and petting the cat, praying, etc.  What does your devotion to this ritual reveal about you? About your beliefs?  About your spirit’s needs?

Desire:  Write a memory of a time when you desired something and that desire was or wasn’t fulfilled. Then reflect on desire.  What role does it play in the life of your spirit?  How do you understand its outcome?

Paradox:  Paradox lurks at the heart of any belief system worth its salt.  Consider some paradox central to your faith.  For instance, you might believe in the existence of God without any tangible or scientific evidence.  Or, like James Baldwin, you might invest in the relentless pursuit of justice while simultaneously accepting the world as it is. How do you hold these contradictions?  What stories can you tell about them?

Communal Life:  Consider some organization of which you are a part–a church, a business, a nonprofit.  Write a specific memory of participating in this organization.  Use that memory to explore both your own spiritual life as well as the spiritual life of the organization.  How do they intersect?  In what ways are you both changed by the interaction?  For good or ill?  Where does the Spirit reside in this interaction?

Evil:  When have you encountered pure evil in the world?  Write that story.  How did this encounter shape your beliefs?

First Memory:  What’s your earliest memory?  Write it as a scene, with as many sensory details as you can.  Then reflect:  Why do you suppose is this the first thing you remember?  What does it reveal about your essential nature?  What does it reveal about your family of origin, or your place of origin?  What might this memory have to say to you today?

Prayer:  Write out your most fervent prayer.  Then write three memories of when you have prayed this prayer.  Can you describe the emotions and the sensations of praying?

Ordinary Prayer:  Sometimes ordinary daily activities are more prayerful than prayer or more meditative than meditation.  For example, my mind is most peaceful in the shower. Describe an ordinary daily activity that is your form of contemplation. Can you show how this happens?

Money:  More than any other attribute of our lives, money reveals where we truly place our hearts.  Identify some area where your  use of money contradicts your professed values.  Then identify a memory related to this use of money.  Write that memory, paying particular attention to what was happening in your spirit in that moment.

Whose Am I?:  Most memoir explores the basic question, “Who am I?” Last week, I read a memoir that also asked the question, “Whose am I?”  The author answered this by exploring her relationship to family and to the landscape of her childhood.  I find this a profoundly spiritual question. Write a significant memory from your childhood–a turning point, a formative moment.  Explore how this memory helps you answer the question, “Whose am I?”

Bleak Winter:  The winter is so bleak!  Rather than fighting it, let’s allow the season to invite us into reflecting on our own bleak spells. Describe a time when your spirit was gray.  Try writing a metaphor for that time–what was it like?  Now that you have some distance from that time, how do you understand it in the larger context of your journey?

Wonder: Wonder is an essential element of faith. Describe a recent moment of wonder, and reflect on how that moment connects you with your source.