As I read Paul talking about prayer I know I have often struggled with how to talk about the reality of the practice of prayer, more so, the experience of prayer. As a writer, and reading letters written by Paul, who reached his audience by writing, it occurred to me that prayer and writing are a lot alike.
The writer’s life is much like prayer life: one is always in the throes of doubt. Out of the depths I cry to you, God hear my prayer. One lunges ahead, in the dark, no voice answers, we can’t see the next word. Both require unstinting faith. In life itself, to be in-spired given over to the process, alive only in that moment to which all other life moves toward and away from. Both require a certain amount, no a fierce amount, of fearlessness and faith. Faith that if you show up, you will be able to write. Prayer, like life, becomes your life where it’s all about showing up. Mindful in the presence of mystery. If you show up you trust the impulse, the invitation and know all you really have to do is show up. Surrender to the process. Both invite the one to be open, observant, mindful, self-forgetting, courageous with/both/each having its own daemon and its own angel. Both change your life. Both are your life. Both stand on the threshold of the unknown. Perhaps the unknowable. But that is what invites, impels and that is what drives us. Perhaps this time I will discover the secret of life. Meaning will reveal itself. The world will open again and out will fall all those hidden wonders we intuit must certainly be there, just as surely as sunrise and sunset.
And neither one is wholly describable. Each is more experience. Neither has found exactly the right words to describe its magnificence. For one there may come that time call ‘writer’s block’. For the other it is called the dark night of the soul. But if you have been doing it a while, keep at it regardless, because you must, you know neither of these terms convey the core of it: that each of these states is gift. It is the time when things are bubbling below the surface. But our tinkering egos don’t and shouldn’t know it. If you have been at both a while you know that this too shall pass. And you can attend classes on prayer but it is like any other relationship. It is unique to the parties and no one can teach you how to pray. And truth be told, no one can really teach you how to write. You learn how to write from writing. Fill up the page. Storm heaven. Put it all out there. Eventually it will all get sorted through.
We persist. The longer we persist the more assuredly we know that the false labels of success and failure, good or bad, recede like mischievous children around the corner when caught stealing our confidence. These are no longer criteria for a prayer life or a writer’s life. We learn as we go. For they live beyond categorization and critic. The reward is in the process, the always present moment whose exhilaration, wonder and stubborn insistence on itself, keeps us going back to the place we write, the place we pray. We can do no other.
Words lie somewhere waiting to take flesh and we surrender language in order to hear the language of being.
We reach for gods, for ourselves, endlessly becoming, always ever self-creating, dissipative structures winnowed, sorted and sifted, burnt in the fire of each new day leaven for each new day’s manna. We merely receive at the appointed hour we do not know.
In both we are ever close to the abyss and to bliss. Flow and folly. In both we keep the life alive, we believe. I write, therefor I am. I pray therefore I am – forever. We fend off death as we breathe into beingness the experience beyond thrall. And in both we are taken up, we know not how, but that we are.
The dark night of the soul is the writer’s block. We feel nothing. No words come. Nothing is happening. But it is just then that everything is happening. But if we persist, look elsewhere, busy ourselves somewhere else, we will get lift off. Beyond the seeming emptiness something is at work beyond our tinkering egos. Inspiration has sidled away with the earthworms making holes in the earth. But if Spring and Easter are our teachers, we know that the buds will sprout, what was dead will come back to us, the leaves will lengthen, the flowering of each season giving way to the next. The season of fire, the season of color and diminishment. The season of waiting where the barren trees write their calligraphy against the sky and the new fallen snow is a palette for spring and our dreams.
We wish to be forgetful so the truest thing can be born. We approach each with reverence. Each asks us to attend, show up, not measure. Each brings those grace given moments when we are caught up, captured, in-spired, and we go to the pen or pew and write/right ourselves when called, this is a holy pact we make with each knee bend, with each mark upon the page. We are writing in order to catch up to eternity. We pray so as to enter eternity and perhaps find something familiar there.
Each asks us to be open. Let life be unpredictable. Flexible. Fluid. The encounter with our depths, our soul’s depth where god is waiting for our return.