Friday, June 26, 2015

Prayerful Eyes

Observing and Writing with Reverence

Forgive me if I take a moment, reader, to discuss something close to my devotional heart.
I promise I am not a proselytizer. Nor have I ever identified as a "religious writer," "Catholic writer," or faith-based writer of any kind. Those are terms that, unfortunately, have come to connote the kind of cheesy, depthless work one often sees among Christians trying to promote godly messages with no regard to artistic talent. I know I'm not a good apologist, so I usually steer far away from explicitly religious topics in my writing. Call me cowardly, if you like -- I think it's honesty.

This does not mean I've drawn a line between my religion and my art, however. Far, far from it. My Catholicism is my life. It confuses me when I hear people use the phrase "Religion isn't everything" as an excuse to write it off. No, I don't believe "religion is everything" -- that one's every word, thought, or deed must directly pertain to one's spiritual life. But (and I say this emphatically) everything is religion, in that I believe it's impossible to live a single moment without encountering something that whispers of the divine. If all good things (spiritual, physical, intellectual, and emotional) belong to God, then religion is everywhere, whether we want it to be or not. It may sound like a fluffy, narrow perspective to say that my Catholicism is the lens with which I see the world, but one mustn't forget that "catholic" means "universal" -- all-embracing. Rather than denying the physical world, or blurring it with a spiritual brush, my religion allows me to see it plainly, widely, and to love it passionately.

Perhaps, reader, you are non-religious (which is fine, I'm not here to convert you), and don't relate to the idea of finding a daily connection between spirituality and the physical realm. Let me present it this way: everything we see, whether we look for it or not, hints at something deeper, something hidden. Maybe you don't believe in the soul, but you believe in the mind, so you know that human interactions go beyond external acts -- each movement of the body connects to the brain that powers it, but also contains the nuances of feelings, thoughts, motivations. Simply being aware of those hidden elements is what gives physical humanity the kind of other-worldly aura that artists have tried to capture and lovers have tried to hold for centuries.
What does all of this mean as a writer? Even though religious concepts are mainly lacking in my writing, I want my writing process to nevertheless be permeated with the view that everything has spiritual depth. As a writer, an appreciator, a lover of the world, I am striving to see things with a prayerful eye, by which I mean four things:

First, to observe with a sense of searching. In spite of stereotypes that religion consists of blind acceptance of spoon-fed beliefs, true Catholicism (universalism) demands inquiry, study, reflection -- a careful examination of all areas of life and what it means. In examining her surroundings for inspiration, just as in religious study or literary analysis, the prayerful writers strives to look beyond surfaces and immediate impressions, believing that there is something deeper to be found (even if it's only an invented metaphor).

Second, to observe with humility. I don't know if other writers experience this, but the most moving moments in my life are when beauty (stars, conversations, musical voices) compels me to realize that creation isn't mine; humanity could write and paint for millions of years and never come close to articulating the full splendor of the natural world. Yet somehow, that helplessness to express it -- and the knowledge, as a spiritual person, that it was all created with love for us -- is what makes the prayerful writer desperate to praise, to at least write to this beautiful existence: "How will I ever adore you enough?"

Third, to observe with love. I honestly believe this: there is a virtue in loving beautiful things. If there are callings in life, I believe mine is simply to love and find beauty in whatever is in front of me. Love has many forms, but in the writing process it means having a deep appreciation, an avid attentiveness for the details of everything.  In observing, the prayerful writer must acknowledge that all persons and daily things possess hidden value and story-worthy essence. In actual writing, she must try to express that value. Writing is little more than a love letter to whatever and whomever one encounters.

Fourth, to observe, well, with prayerfulness. While I'm a die-hard church-going girl with traditional ideas about liturgical worship, I'm not one who thinks that God can only be found in explicitly godly things. Like G.K. Chesterton's practice of saying grace before concerts as well as meals, I believe that one can -- and should -- serve God by pursuing our passions ardently, whatever they may be. As Vincent van Gogh stated, "The best way to know God is to love many things" -- which is why I equate seeing a beautiful painting or reading an exquisite poem to a religious experience. Being a writer is my simple, silly way of praying, saying thank you, attempting poorly to give something back. I pray with my eyes open.

My faith has never limited my view of the universe -- only enhanced it. It makes me love and appreciate things passionately, knowing that they have a depth, a meaning; that it's all a glimpse of something more. Whether you believe in deities or not, I think we would all benefit to treat this life with reverence.

Grace and peace to you.

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