Writing Exercises

Best of 2011  |  Best of 2010  |  Best of 2009  |  Best of 2008

Surrender:  Surrender is an uncomfortable concept that’s often linked to the spiritual journey.  Recount a memory in which your own surrender brought you more fully alive.  How do you now understand this experience?

Darkness:  Now is the season of darkness and anticipation of the light’s return.  Write a memory of emptiness, darkness, and waiting.  Now that you have some distance from this memory, how do you understand its challenges?  Are there any gifts?

Sound:  I was at a concert last week at which one of the musicians said that sometimes a tone is a far more effective prayer than any word.  His comment made me curious:  What experience have you had of making sounds (other than speaking) that felt connective, communicative, restorative, holy–in other words, prayerful?  Write that memory.

Image:  Describe an image–a painting, an icon, a photograph, a mosaic, etc–that has touched you in a significant way.  If you can, write your first memory of encountering this image.  What other moments has this image proved significant in your spiritual journey?  Use the image to organize a short spiritual memoir.

Supernatural:  In keeping with Halloween, write an encounter you’ve had, directly or indirectly, with the supernatural.  If you don’t have your own ghost story, are there any in your family that you know of?  How do you understand these encounters within the framework of your belief system?

Absence:  Lately I’ve been reflecting on the pervasive sense of God’s absence in the world.  Mystics know this absence or emptiness as one dimension of divine being.  Most of us, I suspect, struggle to find any sense of presence in absence.  This week, I invite you to write a memory of profound aloneness, when all that is sacred seemed far removed.  What brought this about?  Can you describe the experience? How do you understand it today?

Absence:  Keeping with the theme of absence, this week I invite you to write about a moment, sacred or otherwise, when emptiness and fullness were inseparable.

Phone Call:  What is the most significant phone call you’ve ever received? Describe your circumstances just before getting the call, write the story of the call, and describe yourself immediately afterward.  What shifted inside of you as a result?

Way:  The Quakers like to say, “Proceed as the Way opens.”  Have you ever experienced “Way” opening–God’s or the world’s welcome into a new manner of being?  Write this story, paying particular attention to the sensory details.

Way:  Continuing with the theme of “Way” opening, consider a time when you wanted something–a relationship, a job, a thing–and did not get it.  Write the story of this longing.  How do you understand it now?

Doubt:  Doubt is an essential ingredient of faith.  When has an experience of doubt contributed significantly to your spiritual journey?  Write this story, paying particular attention to how the freedom to question, explore, and doubt contributed to or diminished your faith.

Doubt:  What is the biggest question or doubt in your spiritual life right now?  Can you locate its origin?  If so, write that scene.  Then trace the history of this question or doubt, describing moments when it arose and any turning points in your relationship to it.

Worship:  I’m still thinking about worship, perhaps because I both long for it and find the reality amazingly frustrating.  Describe a moment of “worship” that in fact was the opposite.  What happened in your spirit?

Worship:  Have you ever experienced worship–in nature, in a church or temple or synagogue, in solitude? Choose your most memorable worship experience and describe it in detail.  See if you canshow the experience of worship.  What is it, exactly?  What happens?

Photograph:  Find a photograph–preferably one on display in your home, which you look at daily. Describe it in detail.  Then write around the photograph:  What moment does it capture?  What is your felt response?  What does it mean that this image greets you in your day-to-day life?  What is the spirit of the image, and how does the image interact with your spirit?

Romance:  Surely romantic love has something to teach us about divine love.  Write a moment of tender connection or sexual tension or bitter conflict with a sweetheart.  Where do you see holiness shining through that interaction?

Grace:  Grace is an elusive concept–I’d like to understand it better, and so I’ll offer the next few weeks’ writing exercises as an attempt. Consider one moment when you felt physically graceful. Begin by describing the physical sensation, but then be sure to include what was happening in your spirit.  If you wish, afterward reflect on what grace is.

Grace:  Describe a moment when you were aware of being touched by grace, whatever that means to you. Then describe a moment when you were unaware, but afterward could recognize the grace.  If you wish, reflect on the relationship between grace and our awareness.

Grace:  In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and in keeping with our exploration of grace, consider a person who has graced your life in some small or large way.  Choose one small moment of interacting with this person–a moment that is emblematic of their embodiment of grace–and describe it in detail.