On Monday night, I invited a small group of church members to let go of language. I asked them to pray in color, but I didn’t ask them to do this in any particular way. I invited them to find their own language. It took several pages of journal paper and some music to distract our busy minds — but after two hours, I watched as this small group of people push past words (even those that alarmed them in our sacred text) and find some communion with God. It’s my prayer style. It’s the language that’s becoming more and more comfortable to how I speak to God so that it seems awkward and a little uncomfortable when I’m asked by friends at #Reverb10 today: What do you do each day that doesn’t contribute to your writing — and can you eliminate it?
There’s an assumption in this question. It assumes that I am a writer. It claims this as part of my identity. Well, maybe that’s true. Maybe it’s a challenge to wonder if you’ll actually reflect each day as is the challenge in this annual event and online initiative to reflect on the year and manifest what’s next. Maybe it’s the challenge to actually take this time and get rid of that obstacle that is preventing you from writing or drawing or dancing your reflection. Of course, the assumption is that you will write. You will put words to this change.
Enter Eliza Dolittle and her adamant refusal: Words, words, words, I’m so sick of words. I’m not sure if that’s true for me. I’m not sure if I’m really sick of words. Instead, I’m trying to find words that will speak clearly to me. I’m trying to find words that are true for me. It’s a journey I’ve been on since that Sunday when I decided to preach without notes for the very first time. I’m trying to practice testimony in my preaching and beyond. I’m reading more. I’m trying to understand what it means to practice my own testimony with others’ wisdom. It’s not that I’ve abandoned words. They are still stacked up around me like Lester in my favorite Shel Silverstein poem. There they are. All shiny and new — here, take a few. Words are all around me, but I’m not writing them. Not as I expected I might. This summer, I began a book proposal for the Young Clergy Women Project imprint of Chalice Press. I submitted the proposal and promptly stopped writing. I haven’t heard anything from the committee reviewing my materials since it was received. But, that’s not really the point. The point is that I lost my steam. I got lost in the words — and so I stopped writing entirely.
Well, that’s not totally true. I stopped writing this book but I started writing more in other places. I’ve been trying to find new ways to express myself, but in doing so, I ended up limiting my words. I’m more and more careful about the words that I use and where I say them. I’m mindful of what happens to my words once they leave my lips or my fingers. I’m trying to pay more careful attention to what others are hearing in me and what is is that I want to say about myself. So, it feels that I’ve lost that voice within. I don’t feel like a writer anymore. That’s why I stopped writing. That’s why I don’t sit comfortably with this question. I haven’t been able to claim myself as a writer. Despite the affirmations from my father, my best friend from childhood, the church members that avidly read my newsletter articles and bemoan that there is no manuscript for my past few sermons, I don’t really feel like a writer. I don’t know if I can eliminate that. I’d like to. Very much. But, it seems that the challenge is to claim this identity myself. I have to believe on my own that I am a writer instead of relying on those many affirmations I’ve received. But, how does one do that? How does one find their one true voice among the other voices?