|Trees ready to take flight?|
In the beginning, I simply wanted to become a better writer. Of all the things I tried, writing seemed like one I was decent at or at least seemed capable of improving upon. As I fumbled through those childhood and young-adult years of trying to figure out who and what I was to be, whenever things became fuzzy, writing always felt like a sort of homecoming, a place that led me back to myself.
But a spiritual writer? That’s something that seems to have evolved beyond the original scope, though I consider it one of the greatest surprises and blessings of my writing career. Certainly, there are times I need to take on projects that don’t require the kind of depth that spiritual writing effects, but inevitably, most end up feeling so shallow that I have a hard time sustaining my interest. The spiritual element doesn’t even have to be overt to hold my attention. But if there is nothing within a project that connects to something beyond the material, I can easily fall prey to boredom.
Over the past year or two, as I’ve taken on more assignments that have been spiritual in nature, I’ve found my editors naturally eying those sorts of stories for me, whether or not I’ve requested them. That’s where the surprise enters in. What was it that told them I loved that kind of story? Did they detect my excitement at being assigned these topics, note the immediate spark in my eyes? I’m not sure how it happened but more and more, my editors began to identify the spiritual story as a “Roxane story.”
I marvel at all of this, realizing things easily could have gone in a different direction; one in which my passions and my editors’ ideas didn’t line up. Instead, I’ve been identified as a writer inclined to go deeply into the heart of things. Through this, I feel I’m coming closer and closer to the center of myself and my best work.
One of the ways I nurture this leaning is through my Catholic writers’ listserve, where spiritual-minded writers gather to discuss not just what it takes to be a writer, but a writer of spiritual works. Through this communion, we encourage and empower one another, usually agreeing that our common path often leads to fewer material benefits but greater spiritual nourishment. It’s a payoff we’re willing to tolerate to a point because we understand that writing for the spiritual sector is as much vocation as job. And the implications of our work have the potential to extend beyond this world.
Sometimes our group discusses writers who’ve inspired us along the way. The most recent has been the great Flannery O’Connor. Compared to some in our group, I’m still at the beginning of an acquaintance with this fellow wordsmith, but I’m intrigued and hope to get to know her more in the coming months.
The other day, one of our members shared the following excerpt from a lecture O’Connor once gave entitled, “The Catholic Novelist and the Protestant South.” In it, the late novelist described the Christian disciple who is a poet or storyteller in this way:
“The poet is traditionally a blind man. But the Christian Poet, and the storyteller as well, is like the blind man Christ touched, who looked then and saw men as if they were trees – but walking. Christ touched him again and he saw clearly. We will not see clearly until Christ touches us in death, but this first touch is the beginning of vision, and it is an invitation to deeper and stranger visions that we shall have to accept if we want to realize a Catholic literature.”
Like my friend from the listserve, I was affected by this short passage, which helps define for me why I do what I do, and why I am so powerfully drawn to it. It also provides me a renewed sense of purpose that will surely help me not lose heart when the bumps come along. Even more, it reminds me that if I keep at it, I might just begin to see the humans around me not as mere walking trees, but something much more detailed and astounding.
Q4U: Do you see a writing niche evolving in your work? If so, what is it?