Sunday, February 27, 2011
In her memoir, At Seventy, poet and novelist May Sarton wrote:
"Writing for me is a way of understanding what is happening to me, of thinking hard things out. I have never written a book that was not born out of a question I needed to answer for myself."
Writer Anne Lamott echoed these words in her book Bird by Bird:
"Good writing is about telling the truth. We are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are. Sheep lice do not share this longing, which is one reason why they write so very little. But we do."
I have kept a journal in some form or another since I was 10-years-old.
Early on, my "dear diary' entries focused on rock star obsessions, social anxieties and unrequited crushes. In my twenties my focus shifted to job frustrations and real-world relationship angst, and in my thirties my journaling became focused on all things spiritual. God. Religion. The Universe. What did it all mean....and what part was I meant to play in it.
In reality, every journal entry I've written since I was 10-years-old has been about one thing.
A longing to fill an empty space inside of me, a longing to figure out where I belong, a longing to know the will of God.
This is why I write.
Journal entries. Essays. Poems. Sermons. Blog posts.
Chicken scratch handwriting on the back of envelopes, on pages torn out of notebooks, on whatever scrap of paper I find stuffed in the door pocket of my car.
An idea, an observation, a wondering, a frustration, a struggle.
The primary way I know how to work it out of my system is to write.
If I feel it's a universal observation, wondering or struggle, and I think someone may find some use in what I have to say, it finds a home here, or in a sermon.
If it's too private, too embarrassing, or too hard to talk about outside of my own head, then it stays confined within the pages of my journal.
I've been doing a lot of journaling of late.
Every now and then I'll pull out one of my old journals and snicker at what I once thought was too private to share. I'll look back at my 15-year-old self, my 25-year-old self, my 35-year-old self and laugh with a tinge of embarrassment, at what once caused me untold anxiety and fear. All along saying to myself, "Oh how ignorant, and insecure, and foolish I was."
The job that I wanted so much because I was convinced it was perfect for me. What a disaster that would have been if I had gotten it.
The person/relationship that I had convinced myself I could not live with out. Is now but a memory filed under the heading, "What was I thinking?"
The understanding of God, religion, and/or the workings of the universe that I once held as core to my belief system. Now seem silly, trite, or unbelievably naive.
It's perfectly normal to look back at one's life and laugh at who we once were.
Those of us who have kept journals for years have a slight advantage in that regard.
It's kind of neat to have a record of exactly what I was thinking on a Tuesday afternoon in July of 1984.
It's also strangely surreal to be able to step back in time and see oneself through ones own eyes in that moment in time. This is me (now), looking at me (then), looking at me then (who am I and how did I get here?).
I'm hoping that my 55-year-old self will one day pick up the journal written by my 45-year-old self and say:
"My, how foolish you were. Why were you so worried about that? Everything worked out for the best in the end."
But I can't laugh at the past, in the future, if I don't write about it in the present.
So write I must.
The words pour out of me onto the page because to not let them loose is to lose them to time.
And worse....to keep them inside is to keep them unexpressed, unexplored, and unresolved.
To not ask the questions, to not examine the longings, is to keep them chained in the dark, allowing them to pull incessantly against their restraints as they tear me up from the inside out.
Some day, even the darkest entries in my journal, the words I was once too ashamed to share, may find their way into a blog post, or a sermon.
And while some frown upon this practice of public sharing as being too narcissistic and self-focused - and point to it as further evidence of our crumbling me-centered society.....I share these words of mine for one reason alone.
Because every time I do, someone reads these words, or hears these words, and makes it a point to say to me, "I thought I was the only one who felt that way. Thank you for helping me to realize that I am not alone."
This is one of the primary reasons why I feel drawn to ministry.
Because I discovered that unchaining the longings of my heart, my mind, and my soul, and letting them flow out of me in words, loosens the chains of others.
Toni Morrison wrote:
"The function of freedom is to free someone else, and if you are no longer wracked or in bondage to a person or a way of life, tell your story. Risk freeing someone else."
Thank you, Toni. For writing.
And for freeing me to do the same.