Question from Michelle …
I am a 23 year old college grad, a writer and actress, but I have always felt very called to God in some way. I feel as if I should write about spirituality… but I’m unsure what to write! Anyway… this “calling” (I hesitate to call it that because I’m really not sure)– has gotten stronger lately, but the problem is that I dont have anyone to talk to about it. I live in New York City with a lot of actor/artist friends, and generally when you talk to them about religion, they get uncomfortable. I have lost some friends this way. I also work at a church, and every time I attempt to talk to a priest about it, they seem as if they dont really have time for me.
Dear Michelle, Thanks for writing — sorry for the delay in responding. Very cool combination of talents you have! Spirituality is a great topic to write about — especially because it is in everything we are and do! It’s about seeking something deeper, something “more than” … it’s about being aware and present to the moment, to where you are and to how God is calling you. I encourage you to tend to your feeling of wanting to write about spirituality.
One of the best authors on this subject is Vinita Hampton Wright. Vinita is one of the reasons I got back into writing. Back in 2004 I did a retreat with her called “The Soul Tells a Story”. It rocked my world!
Seriously the retreat changed how I thought about myself as a writer and Vinita gave me wonderful skills and encouragement to persevere, to delight in, to reverence the art of writing. Vinita still does these retreats and she has a book on the same topic — The Soul Tells A Story: Engaging Creativity With Spirituality In The Writing Life.
I encourage you to pursue this calling, Michelle, and to think on those elements of the spiritual life that attract you, that intrigue you, and maybe that even scare you! Those are good places to start. Also, read good literature and spiritually-minded authors like Joyce Carol Oates and Virginia Woolf (especially Mrs. Dalloway). In terms of non-fiction type stuff, start with some of the classics by the saints and holy people of various religious traditions. And you can always check in with me. I’ve always wanted to be part of a spiritual writers club!
Now in terms of having folks to talk with, let me put it out to the A Nun’s Life community here — Any suggestions for Michelle to connect with writing groups online or in NYC that deal with writing spirituality? Any nuns in the area who would enjoy hooking up for spiritual conversation with Michelle?
Cló Mhuire July 20, 2009 at 6:43 am
Dear Michelle, If you have time in your schedule to visit the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, you will be visiting He who calls you! The most intimate and graced moments with Our Lord can be found there, whether in silent rest and adoration before Him or giving to Him your personal thoughts and questions. From there, grace guides!
Jeff July 20, 2009 at 6:48 am
Hi Michelle and Sr. Julie, I’m not sure if this will be of help to you but it might be so I thought I’d pass it on to you. I also live in NYC and while I don’t know of any spiritual writing groups in New York, I do know of a couple of very vibrant parishes in Manhattan that have A LOT going on, particularly for young adults. They are St. Francis Xavier on West 16th St. and St. Paul the Apostle on West 59th St. If you go to either of their websites, you can find out more about them. They are both wonderful active parishes that offer a great sense of community. Maybe one or both of these churches could provide you with a springboard to finding the network you are looking for. You may also want to check out the Elizabeth Seton Women’s Center on West 7oth St. as well as Pauline Books and Media on East 51 St. I hear they offer some good programs as well. Best of luck on your journey!
Annie July 20, 2009 at 7:47 am
Check out the beautiful literary journal IMAGE. It calls itself a journal of “Art and Religion.” They also sponsor a week-long conference every summer offering workshops in fiction, poetry, the visual arts and spiritual writing. Their website includes a blog with contributors offering short reflections on art and religion.
Michael Shepherd July 20, 2009 at 8:38 am
I am very happy to have found this organization and website. Thank you, Sister Julie, for sharing your life, your thoughts and your wisdom with all of us.
Katie July 20, 2009 at 10:31 am
Hi Michelle and others, In terms of finding a priest or a sister who is actually available and has time to discuss spiritual things, especially your calling to write, I highly recommend this website: Spiritual Directors International. You can search by zip code for spiritual directors. I have a number of friends who’ve used it before with great success when there just haven’t seemed to be any other options. Prayers!
Michael Hallman July 20, 2009 at 12:40 pm
Hi Sister and Michelle Another book worth checking out is Echoing Silence: Thomas Merton on the Vocation of Writing. And Michelle, I suppose the best advice I can offer (which from me isn’t worth very much) is to find a way to connect your writing with your prayer. The beauty of a deep life of prayer is the depths of self-discovery it enables, the depths of self-knowledge. St. Tersa of Avila described self-knowledge as true humility. So in deepening your own prayer life and discovering more and more about your own humanity, and your humanity vis-a-vis God, these discoveries will then flow directly into your vocation of writing. I think the best spiritual writings are those that address the human condition with honesty and with an awareness of God’s presence in our lives. So that would be my advice, to harmonize your prayer and your writing.
Peggy July 20, 2009 at 8:38 pm
There are annual anthologies published with the title “The Best American Spiritual Writing of ____” [insert year], edited by Philip Zaleski. These always have some wonderful pieces, and demonstrate the diversity of spiritual writing. I’d also STRONGLY recommend the work of Patricia Hampl. My favorite is “Virgin Time,” but almost anything she’s written is worth exploring. [Please, people, if you have not read her, you are in for an ENORMOUS treat.]
Out of print, I think, but easy to find used online, is “A Company of Women: Journeys through the Feminine Experience of Faith,” edited by (Sr.) Irene Mahoney, OSU. [She's also the author of one of my favorite--and too-little-known "nun novels," "An Accidental Grace." READ IT, folks!]
Elizabeth July 21, 2009 at 3:25 pm
I know this is old advice, but sit in a quiet area with what ever you write with and then start writing words… any words… or you can start with a mantra… or finish a sentence… “My idea of Spirituality is…” and write everything you can think of… You will find yourself writing surprising things that you didn’t realize you thought or knew… Also, finding people to talk to who are not afraid of Spirituality or Religion will help. Bland advice, I am sure… But best of luck!
Sr. Hildegard July 23, 2009 at 8:45 pm
Thanks so much for the book recommendation. “The Soul Tells a Story” is already waiting for me at the public library (God bless them!). I ditto the recommendation of “Virgin Time.” I also love Kathleen Norris – “Cloister Walk” and “Dakota: A Spiritual Geography” etc., etc. I sure hope you journal everyday – this effort feeds my writing. Just read “On Writing” by Stephen King. His advice – Read, read, and read.
deerose July 28, 2009 at 1:41 pm
Wow! What an awesome topic. And so many good suggestions. I am going on a retreat for one week starting tomorrow and then helping out for a week. But when I return, I plan to check out most of these recommendations. I too am a writer and often write on spirituality. It’s kind of funny that we are connecting on this board right now because I find some of the best people to talk to on spirituality are actually nuns! That’s probably one of the reasons I have some close nun friends! You know, common interest.
Jerome August 6, 2009 at 10:51 pm
Thanks for your beautiful writing. You’re doing a great job through your writing. Please keep up the good work. Spirituality and our day-to-day life go hand in hand. God made us and sent us to this world. We live in this world and serve, praise and love him through our daily chores — at home in the family, at work, at play and in our relationship with others. We need to see and feel the hand of God everywhere in this world. God is as much present at home, in us, in others, and in the Nature. The experience of this God is the spirituality. As writers, we need to write about this very experience.