I spent the first few hours of my writing retreat on the beach reading my high school writing notebook. It has a couple of poems I didn’t write (think Thriller: circa 1983) and Patrick Henry’s “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” speech that I had to memorize for a high school humanities class. I had one original not-so-great poem and four chapters of a YA novel about a rich girl hanging out on the wrong side of the tracks.
I have to admit I was impressed with the four chapters, though I have no idea where I was going even into chapter five. Does Kristen DuChance end up with the hazel-eyed, but unnamed nice guy or rough and tough cat-eyed Alex? Is it foreshadowing to know only one of their names by chapter four? I think it was supposed to be a bit of a The Outsiders remix, told from the rich girl’s perspective. Despite the fact that I grew up neither especially rich nor especially poor and therefore default to suburban 1980s stereotypes, it’s good writing. The details are richer than I remember to use in most of my current writing. Plot and character are on their way to strength as well. I’m a little worried as I reread it that my best writing might have happened at 16 years old.
My spiritual director has helped me realize that some of my best spiritual work probably happened when I was in high school as well. I spent a lot of dreamy time home alone, sometimes with the Psalms, contemplating the unknown and the unknowable. The other kids thought I was weird. I guess I thought I was weird too – and I was, if weird means being different.
As I’ve reflected on those times as an adult, it seems clear that these were my earliest moments of lectio divina and centering prayer, though my Presbyterian tradition never offered me names or models for those practices.
Many of my peers almost certainly still think I am weird, but it no longer bothers me. That adolescent need to conform and find my tribe has been overshadowed by a rich desire for nonconformity. And that’s not just me. Our society now embraces the insults of my youth: nerd, geek. It’s almost cool to be different, even weird. Which, of course, makes it almost normal and hardly non-conformist.
Although emphasizing and working to develop a rich spiritual life is still relatively uncommon, even among people who profess faith of one kind or another, my business is growing with people who are not afraid to be a little weird. And there would be very few people who looking back on their life would not recognize some kind of spiritual practice – named or not – that was important even before they left high school. After all, our spiritual journey begins from the moment the Divine breathes our first life into our bodies. Some might say even before.
I will continue my writing in hopes that there is better yet to come. I don’t think I’ll finish that YA novel, but perhaps something new and different? And wherever writing takes me, I move forward with certainty that my best spiritual work is still to come.
What did your spiritual life look like when you were younger? Can you think of anything that looks like a spiritual practice from your high school or even younger years? Many times I see awe and wonder in the younger members of our congregations that I am sure indicate a hunger for the Divine. Even that is an important part of their spiritual journey. If you are a writer, do you have samples of your earliest work? What impresses you about that work? How has your style or technique grown or changed? Can you see similar changes in your spiritual practices?
If you want to explore how you can grow and deepen your spiritual life, consider spiritual direction with Openings: Let the Spirit In. Your best spiritual work is yet to come too!