A few months ago, I received this question from a reader: What would you tell a writer who wants to write and create and be artistic but doesn't exactly know how to figure out what her specific bent is? Suppose that one is a spiritual writer, then how does one come to terms with the desire to create good content, original art (even if not artistically inclined), and be true to not just their spirituality but to her God without feeling as though one might be prostituting the gift, the call, the talent, or the sacred?
This is my response.
I'm thinking of Flannery O'Connor. I'm thinking of the way she captured the Southern gothic without flinching and wrote of the difficulty of finding good men, the impaired view of racism, the all-too quick way we trust others and lose our leg.
In her prayer journals, O'Connor is noted to having lived in "a deeply human world." Her fiction echoed this belief and yet, in her private pages, she begs for deeper meaning — for more stories — to get down under things and find where You are (4). It was a circle: her writing influenced her prayers, and her prayers influenced her writing.
You ask how to be true — not only to your spirituality but also to your God. I ask, do they have to be separate?
When I was writing Come Alive, the original draft of Every Shattered Thing, I ended it much like the books of my childhood: clean, pretty, spiritual. That particular scene was very much where I was at personally in my own working through of memories and hurts.
But it wasn't the answer for a deeply human world. I knew almost immediately I'd done wrong to the character, and when I got my rights back from the original publisher, the ending was the first thing I changed. Stephanie's reaction to Kevin is very much born out of her need for deep trust. The more I thought about it, the more I realized: even the first ending, created out of my own psyche and processing, would not hold true to how I would react had I been in Stephanie's exact position. In fact, regardless of my beliefs, I very much would turn and run.
This is my calling: stay true to my beliefs in word and deed and show the realism of a deeply human world that longs for an even deeper hope.
I prostitute the sacred when I overstep my bounds and spell it out for my reader. I prostitute the sacred when I don't write, don't read, don't enjoy the artistry around me even though it pulses in my veins. Painting is my worship. Art journaling is my prayer. Writing is my witness.
There will be different levels of conviction for different people. For me, spirituality and God are interwoven into this mystical fabric of being. I cannot separate my thoughts from the Spirit — I cannot move away from His presence — I cannot forget about how I'm held in the darkest of nights. To cut that away from me would be to maim me irreparably. I may not write explicitly spiritual pieces of literature, but every word is irrevocably spiritual.
What I'm saying is this: you don't have to write about faith in order for your faith to be seen.
But what is most important is that you answer this question for yourself. When do you feel as if you're prostituting the gift you've been given? When do you know you've crossed a line in which you feel uncomfortable? We all have different stories, each of them wild and begging for attention. Listen to yours. Keep your eyes on your page.
Your Spirit will know what to say.