The Art of Spiritual Writing by Vinita Hampton Wright

Today I’m delighted to introduce you to Vinita Hampton Wright and her new book The Art of Spiritual Writing. Vinita is is a Loyola Press editor and the author of many books, including Days of Deepening Friendship, Simple Acts of Moving Forward, and Dwelling Places. She has led witers’ retreats and workshops for nearly two decades. 

The Art of Spiritual Writing is such a wise and wonderful little book. The first time I picked it up, before I even cracked the cover, I had the visceral thought, “This is going to be a classic.” It’s a small book that fits perfectly in hand, like any good guide should and it’s beautifully designed which doesn’t hurt, but why I want to run out and buy a copy for every writer I know is that it’s chock full of practical wisdom. Vinita was raised in Kansas so it’s only fitting she is plainspoken in the best sense of simple honesty. Although her writing is elegant and profound, it’s entirely approachable. She never condescends nor does she pull any punches. Point number one in the chapter “The First Five Things Every Spirituality Writer Must Know” is “Nothing makes up for poor craftsmanship.” Selah.



 These turned-down corners pretty much tell the story. 

 I also love the way she talks about writing and prayer in tandem.

To be honest, I have to say that I see little difference between writing and praying. They both happen in the same place—that core of my person where all the wisdom lives. They both require attentiveness and honesty and an open heart. And the two disciplines—the art and the spirituality—are so intertwined that it’s really inaccurate to refer to them separately. When I tend to the one, the other is helped. When I dismiss either one, both suffer.

I keep leafing through the book trying to decide what not to except since quoting every other page isn’t practical.  I’ll end with this taken from the very first pages of the first chapter.

I could go on at length about Ignatius’s insights, but I mention him in this book because he understood that the spiritual life is an ongoing engagement with reality. He understood that prayer must always be an experience, not merely an idea or a belief.

As a writer and one who has assisted many other writers, I have learned that creativity also is bold engagement. Good “spirituality” writing creates an experience for the reader and makes demands on the reader, but only after it has done all of that to the writer. True creativity is a spiritual function, a form of engagement that requires openness, attentiveness, honesty and desire. These same traits are necessary for spiritual growth and enlightenment. The best spiritual writing is what I would call thoroughly Ignatian in that it creates an experience for the reader. This sort of writing goes further than providing information or giving instructions; it creates a space of engagement in which the reader might connect to reality and be moved forward into her life and gifts.


So when you bring together the act of writing with the realm of spirituality, you have encountered engagement in one of its finest embodiments. “Spirituality writing” transcends words on the page, yet it forms through words.  When a writer takes on the task of exploring the world of the spirit, she has invited a process that will change her permanently. If she has done her work well, it will change her readers too.

If you are a Christian and a writer, regardless of your genre, I highly recommend The Art of Spiritual Writing





Survival Diary: The Accident

 Photo: Tanner Wolfe

I beg you to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will  gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer. 

Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

I was in the front passenger seat, asleep. It was some time between four and five in the morning—dark.

Paul’s yell, and probably the jerk of the van as it hit the rumble strips, woke me and I was plunged into a tunnel of movement, force and terrible sound.

“JESUS!” I screamed.

This is a prayer.  When I was very young my mother taught me, when in trouble, to call on the name of Jesus and I always have—literally.

Underneath it all is the question. I am not awake enough, and it’s all going too quickly for me to actually form the thoughts “Where are we? What is happening? Or to wonder about the future: are we going to be OK? As we are hurtling through I am living completely in the moment, in utter uncertainty. I am not loving the question but I am living it, fully.

And then it all stops and I find I have lived my way into the answer too.

Oh. This.

I am upside down. My head is jammed against the roof and I can hardly breathe.  My ankle is wedged and my head is bleeding. I’m bleeding so much and everything hurts. I want to get out now, but I’m jammed in. Stuck. I fumble for the clasp of the seatbelt but it’s just beyond my reach. I think I will need to be cut out which means I will have to wait for help to arrive and I don’t know how I’m going to bear staying here one more second. I’m panicking  I know I have to stay calm. I try to breathe.

Paul is already out. I can hear him moving around the van. I call to him softly because I’m staying calm, “Paul…I can’t get out…Paul.”

He doesn’t hear me or, if he does, he doesn’t answer. I don’t know why he isn’t checking on me and helping the kids. I don’t know what he is doing and am annoyed by his priorities.

I don’t know we have landed in the middle of the highway. The moment the van came to a stop Paul grabbed my pillow and crawled out his window, jumped to his feet and began waving his arms above his head to stop oncoming traffic. I don’t know he is probably saving our lives.

This is what I know: crash, stuck, pain, blood, fear—I know Paul. I know Christopher and Lydia—I hear their voices—but I don’t hear Eden’s—

“Eden! Eden! WHERE’S EDEN?”

“She’s right here. I’ve got her.” Lydia said and that panic subsides.

I’m in so much pain. My body is wedged in my seat so tightly. I am hanging upside down, my head pressed into the roof. I can barely breathe. How long will it take to get me out? I am trying to stay calm, trying to stay calm, trying to stay calm. The blood is pouring down my face.

I feel movement behind me, somehow I know it’s Lydia. I hear the click of my belt and then I fall over, free and I’m scrabbling between the seats on my hands and knees.

All the windows have blown out. Glass is everywhere, but I’m not thinking about that. I’m making for the side window. There is blood in my eyes but I see Lydia cradling Eden to her chest, hiding her face, protecting her. I see smoke curling billowing out and up, curling towards the sky and I panic.

“GET OUT! GET OUT! GET OUT!” I scream at the girls.

“Stop yelling at us!” Lydia screams back but I don’t hear her. I’m scuttling out the window, crawling onto the highway and pulling myself to my feet.  I see the smoke and hear the dripping of fluids. We need to get out and away. Out and away.

Paul is there with Christopher who he has just helped out. I take the pillow he is still holding. It is huge, large and puffy with real feathers. My head was resting on it minutes before but that is a lifetime ago. I press it to my head to staunch the blood.

Cars have stopped. I see headlights lining up in the distance. I’m having trouble holding my head up. It hurts so much. With the pillow pressed to my forehead I can barely see. A man is there.

“Are we in Canada?” I ask him. We were driving through the night. We were on our way to Rochester, New York but through Ontario. We were going to have breakfast in Niagara.

“Yes, you are.” He says and I hear his accent.

Oh no, I think. This is going to complicate things. Part of my brain is running logistics. This is not my first disaster.

Out and away. I want to get as far as I can from the van and away from traffic which is slowly beginning to creep by.

We are on a bridge but I don’t know it. We make our way to the edge of the highway and Paul looks down, sees the river and feels sick. I need to sit down on the ground and I lean against the guardrail. I can feel my children around me. I am doing an inventory: Paul, Christopher, Lydia, Eden. I need to touch each one of them.

I am whimpering. I can’t keep it in. Eden is beside me and I put my arm around her, clutch her to my side with one arm and hold the pillow against my head with the other. I see Paul’s legs. He is standing in front of us. He is only wearing one sandal. He is holding one of his arms which is streaming with blood. He looks like an extra in a horror movie.

“I’m so sorry.” He says. His face is terrible with regret.

I reach for his leg and touch it. “It was an accident.”

After a while a fire truck arrives and then the ambulances. They strap me to a board and carry me away from my family. I don’t like this. I want my children.  I know I’m going to be OK, but that I’m not much help right now. I know I need to get fixed up, but first this evacuation needs arranging.

“I think it would be best if you kept my little girl with her Dad. And please put my older daughter with my son. He’s deaf and he doesn’t have his processor. He can’t hear right now. I know my daughter will help him.”

“We’re going to be taking you all in separate ambulances,” the paramedic informs me.

“I think it would be best—” I begin again, gesturing back towards the bridge. Separate ambulances don’t work for me.

“You and your husband will be taken to the E.R. and the children will be taken to the pediatric hospital.”

My heart stops. I do not like the way this car accident is going. The day an arsonist burned our house down we ran out of the house together and we stayed together. Separate hospitals do not work for me one bit.

But I am strapped to a board. They slide me into the ambulance and shut the doors, the paramedic says we’re ready and we drive away.

What to do after a Concussion? Not This.

It wasn’t my plan to take the month of August off, but I had a big deadline and a series of small deadlines and then I spent a lot of time pulling glass out of my arm and head, not to mention how busy I was being concussed.

The problem with having a head wound is that it impedes your ability to think and remember. About a month after the accident it occurred to me it may not be a good sign that I had at least one form of a headache every day since, and wondered if I had a concussion. I have a vague memory of someone, somewhere (A nurse in the ER in Canada? My doctor in Michigan?) asking me how many fingers she was holding and asking me to track them, but that’s it.

A friend who is a doctor, but lives in Virginia, sent a list of symptoms:

Headaches
Nausea
Balance issues
Visual changes
Light/noise sensitivity
Numbness/tingling
Difficulty remembering/concentrating/thinking clearly
Sluggish mentally
Irritable
Nervous
Agitated
Sad

Granted, that could be any day around here, but yes.

I called my doctor to just make sure a concussion had been ruled out when we did a follow up visit with her a couple days after our day in the E.R. I had already called back once and spoken with the nurse a week before this after I pulled a chunk (and that really isn’t an exaggeration) of glass out of my forehead to make sure this wasn’t a problem, because it certainly seemed like a heck of a problem to me. And then there was the fact that my forehead felt lumpy. I just don’t think it’s a good sign when lumpy can describe any part of one’s anatomy.

The doctor referred me to a plastic surgeon the next day since “This really isn’t her area expertise,” the nurse said.  It would have been lovely if this had occurred to my doctor when I first saw her, several weeks before this, but I’m picky.

Almost a week after my concussion call, I heard back from a therapy hospital confirming my referral.

“For plastic surgery?” I was surprised since I thought this was a rehab hospital.

“No, this was a referral for a possible concussion.”

It’s hard to keep your dances straight when you’re the belle of the ball.

This call was only a confirmation, a nurse would be calling me to interview me the end of that week or some time in the next.

“Wow! No hurry, huh?”

The scheduler didn’t know quite what to say. It wasn’t her fault so I thanked her and let her go.

It was another week before I heard from the nurse. I told her I’d read through many of the symptoms and had all of them, but I tended towards many of them on normal days—Ha! Ha!

“Well, what about when you enter a room do you find you can’t remember why you went in there?”

I’m the one who may or may not have a concussion, but I wasn’t the only one having trouble tracking.

“Yes! I’m always forgetting why I’m in a room. Every.single.day. That’s not a symptom, but here’s the thing, I’m prone to have headaches, but I’ve never had one every day for a month. And I’m prone to insomnia but I’ve never gone this long without sleeping through the night. Also, I’m a writer, I may have trouble gathering my thoughts and procrastinate, but a deadline is like magic and I always meet it, except now, I’ve had to turn down some assignments and really deep thinking is almost painful.

The nurse decided I definitely had many symptoms of a concussion and needed to be seen but I can’t remember if she scheduled my appointment or if someone else will be calling me. Her name is Becky—I remember that too—and I know I wrote down everything else, I’m just not sure where.

How To Figure Out Your Career: Disaster Can Be Your Guidance Counselor

“Mommy, would you ever want to work in insurance?” Eden asked me the other day.

“No. Never.” I said without a second’s hesitation.

“Me neither,” she agreed.

“Why not?” I was clear on my reasoning but I’m always curious to peek inside Eden’s mind.

“I think you’d have to hear so many sad stories and you’d need to do a lot of math and I don’t like math. I can do it, but I don’t like it. Do you?”

I agreed  with  her on everything and said so.

Staycation

The first couple of days home the major task on our agenda was taking our medicine and trying to keep ahead of the pain. That’s decreasing and our number one activity now is changing our bandages twice a day. Since Paul’s entire forearm is a mess and Eden and I have two wounds a piece, it’s quite the production.  Eden is a child and I’m squeamish, so it’s entirely Paul’s show.

Ever since I looked in the mirror at the hospital and instantly burst into tears, I’ve averted my gaze. I don’t like any gore, and certainly not a mess of it on my face. Eden’s being a little toughie and other than being a little bored, she’s cheerful and in good spirits.
I’m sad our vacation was co-opted. It’s no fun being tired and in pain and missing out on all the fun things we were going to do. I’m still incredibly thankful to be alive: it’s not either/or; it’s a both/and.
I’m thankful for several refunds on hotels, tickets and programs. One, the largest—hundreds and hundreds of dollars—we didn’t even have to ask about, they just quietly credited our account.
I’m thankful for arnica. My eyes seem to be settling into a sallow yellow. They still may turn into black and blue, perhaps green, but today they’re a light mustard and I’m grateful for that.
And I’m so thankful for family and friends. This accident is a small thing. I’m not minimizing it, I just believe we’re going to recover soon, and it’s not going to dominate our lives once the bandages are removed. We may have some scarring, but we won’t be scarred, if that makes sense. And yet, in the short term at least, it’s a very big thing and the kindness of people who care about us has helped so much.