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Writing as a Spiritual Practice
"Out of the mysterious place where words first come to be “made flesh”— that place which is all holiness—I am given the grace to work with words in a spirit of right livelihood which calls me to peace, reflection, and connectedness."
– bell hooks
Around last year, I found myself writing about how journaling could be a part of a spiritual practice. It hadn’t dawned on me until then that journaling could be a portal to the Sacred, intertwining itself into our everyday lives. After looking back at old journal entries, I became a bit more settled into who I was (and am) as a writer and what I now recognize as the cloud of witnesses who support, inform, and transcend my writings.
Now, as I move from journaling alone to writing more expansively, I find myself engaging with what I believe is a spiritual practice for anyone to partake in – writing to transform self and community.
As liberating as this writing practice has become in its new shapes, I still find myself reckoning with the new ways of doing and being that have resulted from writing-turned-sacred transformations. It can be far too easy to remain and hold firm in the doing of writing alone, which leaves little space for flesh and Spirit to mend sinews over our words, too. It is these sinews – this essential connective tissue – that pull thoughts from corner to corner and make new worlds possible. It is these sinews where words now fully form and manifest. It is these sinews that are cornerstones that become flesh, take breath, and emerge with life.
Transcending the Mechanistic
Embracing the ethic of writing as a spiritual practice sometimes transcends physical writing. If writing shrivels to a static mechanical structure only used to rapidly build a large audience, then the ebbs and flows of a writer’s journey may conflict with the depth of their writing. Enabling writing to swell in its widening reach through connecting physical and spiritual realms creates ways to express that could not have existed otherwise.
I wonder about those who seek to break out of the static mechanical structures.
Who find themselves enthralled by the possibilities of life.
Who feel the urgency to collectively take part in building new worlds amidst a crumbling one.
Who engage with Spirit beyond the written word.
Who avail themselves to the multiple ways that Spirit chooses to reveal themselves to artists, like ourselves, in all that is – human or not.
Especially for those of us who have been blessed with the gift to create something out of nothing through words, even in our periods of not writing, creation still exists.
I am finding that as someone who engages in radical Black feminist and womanist writings – in both my doing and being, the root of this sacred work is a “spirit of resistance against the commodification of human life… a collective struggle, a tradition.”
I believe the shift of our ethics towards our writings sharpens our ritual practice, our practice forms our sacred canon, and to whom whose Gardens we remain. Ultimately who we are and our writing can be said to be done “well” by our ability to connect.
I consider writing a sacred act with every high and every low and the seemingly extended in-betweens that life continually offers. I see writing as the light that guides our actions and as a medium for intimate conversations between us.
As writers, we know all too well how hard it can be to keep writing in a world that constantly demands our attention. Between the teetering of life, busyness, and rest; between quick writing sprees or extended periods of deeper work. However, if we shift our perspective, we can see that writing can help us inhabit a new form of being, one that is not solely for the consumption of others but a medium to give ourselves the care we need.
Through every word strung together, echoing the melodious nature of what it means to be alive and human, these periods of capturing moments in words, written and unwritten, reveal portals of spirituality and healing.
Writing stems from life beyond stoic guards. When we consciously make an effort to resist the pull towards machine-like production, writing as both a physical and spiritual practice has the power to create, dramatically shift present worlds, conjure life or death, and bring humans together.
Equally, when words become difficult to write, when thoughts begin to overwhelm our minds, or when re-imagining the future seems to be the only source of hope, perhaps it’s a moment to go beyond and come back to self, back to home (birthed or chosen), and back to each other.
When the spirit moves into writing, shaping its direction, that is a moment of pure mystery. It is a visitation of the sacred that I cannot call forth at will. - bell hooks.
The process of writing can be seen as a ritual, a routine. The intention to begin can start with you or through the encouragement of others and manifests by carving out time throughout the day. And, worth repeating here, even in our periods of not writing, creation still exists.
When I was younger, my Grandmother taught me how to build a spiritual routine. One of the ways she taught me was to have me memorize two main quotes, “guard jealously your time of meditation and devotion,” and “‘may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing in your sight.’” At the time, I thought her adamancy and passion for me to know such words were unnecessary, but now, I find myself remembering these words many years later, in awe of their evergreen nature.
In our world, which will do everything it can to pull us away from writing, we must create and protect the writing ritual in our lives. I think of writing as an act that affirms and sees the writer’s hidden, overlooked, and purest core. Not as a fixed machine creating fodder for a grand lord but as a moving, breathing, flexible being that beautifully morphs with each written creation.
A Writer’s Canon
Even when we feel we can’t change things, it’s important to have awareness of what has happened. If you are unaware of what has happened, it means you’re not alive in many respects. And to be unalive in many places within yourself means you are missing a lot of the experience of being on this planet. And this planet is not to be missed. - Alice Walker
Between last year and now, the practice of building my personal and spiritual canon, ultimately for my well-being and my community, has been shaped by (radical) Black feminists, womanists, and critical thinkers globally: Alice Walker, bell hooks, Ntozake Shange, Hortense Spillers, Ijeoma Umebinyuo, Sylvia Wynter, Joy James, Toni Morrison, Slyvia Tamale, and Assata Shakur – to name a few. Meditating on their words has been food to my soul.
Creating a writer’s canon enables me to have nourishment for the moment and allows Spirit to bring their words back to my memory in times when writing is a challenge. This canon is a writer’s support system. They are ancestors made alive. They are answers in dreams. They are catalysts to new sites in written words.
Writing Done Well
If I write about Palestinians being deprived of water and land, of Aung San Suu Kyi and the precious instruction she is capable of giving us—not only about democracy but also about morality—if I write about violence and war, collards and chickens, I can connect with others who care about these things. Hopefully, together we can move the discussion of survival, with grace and justice and dignity, forward. We will need to know many different kinds of things to survive as a species worth surviving. - Alice Walker
When our writing takes a new shape, we move with the flexibility to speak about what is real, what is true, and what is dire in our world. Writing and periods of not writing transcend beyond the pages and connect us to all that is happening in our world. Going beyond on a deeper level enables spirituality to exist. What I find most profound about the work of radical Black feminists and womanist writers and thinkers is that in the pursuit of healing, survival, and new ways of thriving in a world that says otherwise, there is a connectivity to each other in the process.
Black feminism (having many sub-disciplines) and womanism (also having many sub-disciplines) are not only identity markers declared by the person but also methodologies, frameworks, and sites of knowledge to exemplify through practice. I find the repetition and specificity of naming these fields necessary in this piece because this world continually seeks to especially erase and hide the voices of truth-telling Black women and gender-expansive folks. Writing to move past only doing and into being – the process of physical writing and also embodying what is written —is not only for ourselves but an instrument that can be used as a force and a bridge.
Here is where spiritual eyes can see beyond the physical; in partnership, our writing can transform any world.