In my Creative Nonfiction class, our first assignment was to take some bland imagery and rewrite it to paint a picture or fix a camera lens on the subject. This was my first attempt:
We were given: A beautiful view
And I wrote: She threw open the slider and stepped onto the rough-hewn balcony, inhaling the scent of pine, sage and damp rock. The glint of the creek in the deep valley drew her gaze just as the eagle drifted past, sending up the rasping cry of one completely free and powerful. How small she felt in the immensity of space, even as she hovered above this king of the skies, majestic in his white-crowned glory.
In my second attempt, I wanted to work on developing not just a view, but characters. So I wrote this:
A luxurious condominium
He had never felt a towel as lush and feathery soft as this white Egyptian-cotton confection laying at the base of the marble tub. The tub itself, shot through with fine gold filigree, was as big as his whole bathroom in the ramshackle apartment he and his wife called home. The glass enclosed shower at the far end of the room would have easily slept all four of their children or offered Marci space for the full-sized range and refrigerator that lingered in her daydreams even when she refused to speak of it. And this was just the bathroom. It might take him the rest of the day to explore the other rooms of this penthouse condominium.
I was less pleased with my third attempt, but as I read it now a few weeks later, I’m feeling better about it. I think I knew where I wanted to arrive, and a few more tweaks and I could have gotten there.
A depressed worker
No amount of lighthearted teasing could rouse even a smile from Jonathan today. Usually one who did the teasing, or laughed the loudest at another’s laser-pointed wit, his melancholy was unusual. But I wondered if it wasn’t actually deeper than unusual, if, in fact, it was quite usual but no longer hidden behind society’s expectation of joviality.
In the weeks since these first attempts, I have written more than I have in years and it strikes me how sometimes it flows and sometimes the well is just dry. And that seems to be the case with my spiritual practices as well. Sometimes I just drop right into a time of meditation and rest in God. Other times my to do list and the dog (who always seems to need to go outside just as I settle in) are competing for that space in my brain and my heart.
What I have found interesting as a writer and a contemplative is how often the dry wells of writing and prayer are connected. If I can’t do one, then I find I don’t do very well at the other either. Recently at a retreat I set aside some time just for writing… and I spent a good portion of it staring at a blank screen.
I finally threw in the towel and went to the retreat center’s labyrinth and prayed for almost an hour. Again, it took me a while to settle into it. But a labyrinth has a set beginning and end, so I forced myself not to rush and to stick with it. By the time I was coming out of the labyrinth I had settled into deep prayer. When I finished, I raced back to my room filled with ideas for writing. Three hours later I finally closed up my laptop, exhausted, but delighted in my work.
Do you find your prayer practices are linked in some way to other creative endeavors in your life? How are writing or other art forms integrated into your spiritual practice? When have you experienced times when you know your well has been dry, both spiritually and creatively? Do you find those times are linked? What kind of practices do you do to put yourself in a creative frame of mind? Do you have anything in your life that you have set aside and thought was not very good? What might happen if you pulled it out and looked at it fresh?
Are you a creative person who knows you could be even more inspired if you were in better touch with your spiritual self? Consider spiritual direction with Openings: Let the Spirit In. We can also develop a retreat for your creative group to integrate prayer or spiritual discernment into your work.