I’m in Rockport today, taking a break from what has been a busy, crazy schedule. Fog covers the area stretching out over the ocean, creating a thick blanket over both reality and imagination.
We drove up yesterday, one of the many cars leaving the city during afternoon rush hour. While the morning offered bright sunshine, clouds rolled in during the afternoon and a light rain was falling by the time we arrived. The minute we drove over the bridge on the highway leaving the mainland and heading into Gloucester and then Rockport a deep peace always settles over me. Gone is the frantic pace of city living. Gone is the worry about contacting people who need to be contacted whether it be via email or phone. Gone is the sense of urgency or guilt of not doing enough.
Ahead is peace, quiet, order, and rest. I am well aware that this is a luxury not shared by so many in our world, well aware of the privilege of rest and peace. I have found that the necessary response is not guilt but gratitude. Not anxious worry that I’m not doing enough but inner peace that will allow me to do well in whatever task is put before me.
As often happens when I stop, I find tears close to the surface. The tears spilled over into a conversation with my brother and sister-in-law and after the phone call ended, I sent a text thanking them for holding my tears. We all need tear-holders in our lives. It’s amazing how much peace I feel after a good, long cry, the weight and burden of tears finding a shared space instead of staying bottled up in isolation.
We are heading into the home stretch of Lent in my faith tradition, with Holy Week just one week away. I am ready for the Paschal celebration of all things new, and if I’m honest, the accompanying eggs, milk, and meat that signify that Lent (and the vegan diet accompanying Lent) is over.
Things outside of me and my control feel difficult. Whether front page news or the resulting commentary from all of us about the front-page news, or actions of others that can’t be controlled, it all feels too much. In a word – it feels hopeless. And this is why I write. Because when I write, I never feel hopeless. I feel hope and joy. I feel ready to move forward. The act of creating is a catalyst that propels me out of sadness or grief into a world full of imagination and hope. So today, I needed to write, to get a few words out to you, but mostly to me.
One of my favorite recent reads is the book Everything Sad is Untrue by Daniel Nayeri. I had begun reading the Kindle version when I received the print version from one of my sons for my birthday. I had already decided I wanted to buy the hardcopy, so it was a surprise and delight to receive it as a gift. I could never write a review of this book. It far too original and creative, and my words would never do it justice. But I want to end with a quote from the book that describes what I feel about the world and about writing.
Does writing [poetry] make you brave? It is a good question to ask. I think making anything is a brave thing to do. Not like fighting brave, obviously. But a kind that looks at a horrible situation and doesn’t crumble.
Making anything assumes there’s a world worth making it for. That you’ll have someplace, like a clown’s pants, to hide it when people come to take it away. I guess I’m saying making something is a hopeful thing to do. And being hopeful in a world of pain is either brave or crazy.
Everything Sad is Untrue by Daniel Nayeri
I write because there’s a world worth writing for. May your weekend hold hope and life and may you make something, anything actually, because it’s a world worth making something for.
I’m not sure when I first discovered the comfort of cafés. Perhaps it was years ago when I discovered the Marriott Bakery within the Marriott Hotel on the island of Zamalek in Cairo and found the best brewed coffee in the city. Perhaps it was a bit later when I discovered another bakery walking distance from our flat in that made amazing croissants.
Or perhaps it was after that, when cafés became more available, coinciding with more freedom in my life as my kids got older.
But it has been through writing that I have discovered the true magic and comfort of cafés. When I began writing 11 years ago, I found it difficult to concentrate if I just wrote at home. I would sit with my fingers hovering over the typewriter, my mind blank for things to say. I’d pack up my things, walk out the door and down the street to Central Square in Cambridge, find a café and with a coffee by my side my fingers went from hovering to furiously typing words and sentences.
Though I sometimes struggle with insecurity in public spaces, all that insecurity leaves me as I sit in a café. I am surrounded by life, by music, by sounds from the kitchen, and by conversation but within that noise I’m completely focused. Usually, I hear English as the dominant language followed by Spanish and then others. Living in a busy city it is never English only.
There is something deeply comforting in the anonymity of sitting and working, or reading, or simply enjoying a hot drink by myself in a café.
I write, I look around, I stare into space, I think, I get ideas, I type the ideas into a document, I pray, I wonder, I repeat.
These public spaces help me pay attention to life around me even as I get immersed in my writing. They envelope me with the joy of people watching and remembering the shared human story. And describing the human story and experience is one of the things I love best about writing.
I know I am not the only one. As I sit in a cafe today, I am with several people who came in before I did and will probably stay after I leave. This shared experience of those I may or may not meet does not feel lonely. It feels companionable, as though we have membership in an invisible club.
I also know this is not accidental. We are human beings who are connected not only to each other, but also to place. Place attachment and forming emotional bonds to place begins early in life and there is a lot of research on what makes a place meaningful for people. Places root us to the environment around us and form a context for us to flourish.
But it’s not the academic nature of this that I care about. It’s the physical and emotional nature. For in a world that often feels restless, frantic, and fractious, it’s the wonder, the peace, and the comfort that comes with finding my space in a café.
I’ve been quiet in this space. In the past few years, February has been a time of quiet reflection and muted colors. It is equal parts winter, past tragedies, and me. I don’t hate it and I don’t try and push it away. Instead, I probably bake way too much (cinnamon rolls anyone?), find myself frequenting coffee shops even more regularly, and do a lot of reading and journaling.
As I write this, I have escaped the city to Rockport’s beauty and quiet. It was the anniversary of my brother’s death and I needed time for reflection and some mourning. This morning I literally chased the sunrise, knowing that it had to be just around the next corner, finally happening on its magnificent break over the horizon, flames of color spreading across the sky. It was deeply satisfying!
Into this quiet, my dear childhood, now adult friend Mikaere Greenslade posted a beauty of a poem online, specifically tagging me. The poem was titled ‘belong’ and I’m quite sure he has little idea of how much it meant to me.
Mikaere is a beautiful poet who lives in New Zealand. I found out recently from my mum that she considered Mikaere’s mum to be one of her closest friends. We lived in the same city from around 6 years old to 10 years old or so. Then, as is the case of so many global friendships, we parted, each to our respective passport lands. I was to return to Pakistan after a year, but Mikaere did not. Before the advent of social media and the finding of these long-lost friends I never imagined that we would reconnect. But reconnect we did over a shared love of Pakistan and writing.
On this quiet February, where introspection is not an enemy but a dear friend, I offer you his words. Enjoy!
where is home she asked
four walls or
where do the birds call
where does rain caress
the stones that cover your
where a sigh and smile
can hold hands
and the dog sleeps late
nau mai haere mai
haere mai ki tou kainga
whisper the trees
Mikaere Greenslade 2023
To purchase this beautiful book, contact Mikaere through Celestial Press by clicking here. Here is a recent poem he shared on his page. Do think seriously about supporting him for where would we be without our artists, our poets, our writers, our dancers?
it whelms from deep
bones and memory
not a story but
what you know
dark turns and wait
after the cold comes stand
after the joy come scars
it is all precious
and you child
You have to keep living your story. You have to keep living faithfully, seeking God, praying, caring for those things you know are critically important and you have to keep writing about them.
A Kind Friend
Since 2012, at the beginning of every year I’ve gone through a mini writing crisis. 2012 marked a milestone: A year of writing publicly every day. In 2011 I set out on the journey to communicate across boundaries through writing. As 2012 rolled around I was both proud and apprehensive. Now what? I had done what I set out to do, but was I beginning to be a loud noise in a louder world? Was there a place for me to write and an audience for me to write to and for?
Every writer asks themselves the same questions at different points of their journey. Self-doubt is a faithful, all be it depressing, companion to writers, artists, musicians, scientists, doctors, priests, monks and any other vocations that involve the heart.
About a year and a half ago a dear friend of mine who had published a successful book was featured on a podcast. Toward the end of the interview, she was asked a question about writers who meant a lot to her or inspired her. She named two writers who are fairly well known, and then she went on to talk about a writer friend she had who inspired her but wrote largely “in obscurity.” She talked about how much she valued her words and friendship. The writer friend was me. It was incredibly kind. I heard it and I began to cry. My friend was so kind and also, the word obscurity stung.
Obscurity – the state of being unknown, inconspicuous, or unimportant.
I was unknown, inconspicuous, unimportant. My words didn’t matter.
Of course, my friend didn’t mean that at all. She was giving me praise. She was saying I inspired her. She was honoring me in a public forum. But I didn’t hear that part. All I heard was the part about obscurity.
It is a humbling journey being faced with your own desires and weaknesses within those desires. Because here’s the truth – I would love for my words to journey across the hearts and minds of millions. There are times when I fantasize about walking up to an airport bookstore and standing with sunglasses on looking at my own book, just grinning. I’d love to stand to the side and watch others walk up and peruse the stand, finally landing on my books saying, “I love this writer!” There are times when I dream about an agent taking calls about interviews on public radio and speaking at events across the country.
It’s about then that I hear my alarm and know that it’s time to get up and face my day job, where I grab time to write before work and after work and not much in between.
Despite the obscurity, every time I think I’m going to quit putting my fingers on this keyboard, every time I get discouraged and think my words don’t matter, I get a message like the one at the top of this page. And even when I don’t, I remember how much I love writing; how much I love the craft, the ideas that flow or don’t flow. The words and descriptions, the stories and how they are birthed onto the page, the staring into the distance at a coffee shop when suddenly a phrase comes to me. The feeling of hitting “publish” on my own blog, or “send” in an email submission and then waiting to hear if my essay was accepted for publication, the utter joy of seeing my words on the printed or online page…or not, because whether published or not there is deep joy in creating.
It’s during those moments that I know I will never quit. I may go through sabbaticals of quiet, I may take time out to not write publicly, but I’ll keep writing every day.
But I also know another truth that overrides all of this – and that is that my identity cannot be found in writing alone. My security cannot be rooted in who reads or doesn’t read my words. That would be a fickle identity indeed. My security doesn’t lie in my ability to create words, sentences, paragraphs, and stories but as one who is created and beloved by God.
In these 12 years of writing, I’ve learned much about myself and about the human condition. I’ve learned more about what it is to live well in places that are hard, in places where you don’t feel you fully belong. I’ve heard from people who are displaced or in transition, who are struggling to find their place. I’ve received messages from teenagers in France and retirees in the United Kingdom. I’ve connected in ways I could never have imagined. I’ve gone through public and private crises, and asked readers to come along with me in the grief. I’ve learned more of what it is to give both identity and desire to God, to invite him into my writing space, and pray for words. And I’ve come to see that it’s a big world out there and within it there is a place for small writers in small spaces.
“But let me tell you something about the love of God, even as we muddle through life on this earth. He is never constrained by our decisions. In fact, perfect decisions, if such a thing were possible, might lull us into thinking that we had sufficient wisdom. Imperfect decisions on the other hand, which is to say human decisions, allow for the possibility of grace, this thing that always reminds of how freely, how extravagantly God loves.”
Jen Pollock Michel – Monday Newsletter*
This quote arrived in my inbox under the heading “Grace for imperfect decisions.” It was a Monday morning gift, and I hope as you read this it will be the same for you. I have sometimes had paralysis around decision making. What if it’s the wrong decision? What will I learn later that I don’t know now, perhaps wishing to have made a different choice, a different decision? What has helped me has been my conversations with others around decision making. I’ve had dozens of conversations around the idea that many decisions in life are not about right or wrong, about morality or someone getting hurt. Rather, they are about taking what we know at the time and moving forward in the next right thing. This quote reminds me that grace covers all of the imperfect deciding moments.
One of the gifts that I have been given this past year is a project connected with a recovery community in Southeast Massachusetts. The work has included starting a community advisory board for an organization that does wholistic and comprehensive work with those who struggle with addiction. The project was to create a cookbook that would connect cooking with the recovery journey. Like recovery itself, collectively creating the cookbook was a slow process. But the result is a beautiful book called One Cup at a Time: Recipes for Recoverythat contains stories and recipes from all over the world.
I wrote this in the book:
“One Cup at a Time: Recipes for Recovery is a community project that focuses on food, community, and recovery. Through these recipes and stories, we want to take you on a journey – a journey that is not a single story, but a collection of lives and experiences, of food and family, of resilience and recovery. Through stories we will explore the courage it takes to move into recovery; through food we will savor the tastes and traditions that honor each person’s journey.
Cooking is not about one ingredient or one recipe. It’s about a series of steps: a cup of this, a teaspoon of that, stir this, and mix that. It takes time, thought, and care. Just as in cooking, recovery does not have only one recipe for success. Instead, recovery is about taking one step at a time….
We invite you to the project. Read. Taste. Savor. And through it, become someone who can walk alongside those in recovery.“
I’m not telling you recovery is going to be easy. I’m telling you it’s going to be worth it.
What an honor it has been to do this work! In truth, there were times when I couldn’t imagine that the project would come together. Isn’t that true of so many things? In the middle we can’t imagine what the end will look like. We can’t imagine healing when physical or emotional pain is so strong. We can’t imagine a resolution to a conflict when we feel anger every time we think about the person. We can’t imagine joy when sorrow is so overwhelming. We can’t imagine redemption when all around us is decay. And yet – the cookbook, arguably a human project that will not change the world, is complete – a finished product that is beautiful and useful. And though it won’t change the world, the impact on those who contributed is unquantifiable.
The book is for sale on Amazon and all proceeds go to the recovery community. It is expensive, but it is full color and gorgeous. You won’t be disappointed if you purchase this for yourself or a friend.
A Thought or Two: What I’m dreaming, deciding, watching, and reading….
I had a dream the other night that it rained and rained and rained and rained. Then it rained some more. We are in a drought here in Massachusetts, the grass all around as brown as the desert. The dream wasn’t just about the weather – it was also about my heart. I’m in a drought and longing for the refreshment of rain on my soul. Amazingly, yesterday it rained all day! It gives me hope that the rain for my soul is a heartbeat away.
Speaking of grace for imperfect decisions, I made the decision to leave my 9-5 job and go into consulting full time. It is a good decision, but not without its risks. One of the reasons that I did this is that I want more time to write. I have some writing projects that have I have been unable to get to because of a full-time job.
I’ve watched two excellent movies that I want to recommend. The first – 13 Lives – is about the true story of the Thai soccer boys and their coach trapped in a cave in the Chiang Rai region of Thailand in 2018. I had to stop the film several times while I watched it as the intensity does not let up. What I appreciate about that intensity is that the creators help you feel a fraction of the tension the parents, boys, divers, and all involved felt. It is a profoundly moving film. The courage, the teamwork, the thinking way outside of the box, the faith it took – there are no words left to describe this film. If that sounds too intense – and I don’t exaggerate this – then watch The Bookshop, the story of a widow who opens a bookstore on a coastal town in England. It is a lovely story with an ending that I wouldn’t choose.
I’ve just finished Apeirogon – an exceptional story of the friendship between a Palestinian and an Israeli, based on both of them losing a daughter to the conflict and struggling to find and seek peace despite the pain. “It struck him early on that people were afraid of the enemy because they were terrified that their lives might get diluted, that they might lose themselves in the tangle of knowing each other.” p 124
And that’s a wrap. I appreciate you. I appreciate that you read my words when there are so many millions of others to read. I will never have a large space in our wide world, but I love my small space and want to steward it well.
I’ll end with words from the late Frederick Buechner, a writer that I have quoted before, with the encouragement to all of us that good words last. These words are for us – the nomads, the travelers, the ones who sit a spell, and then travel forward.
You can kiss your family and friends good-bye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world but a world lives in you.
*I subscribe to Jen Pollock Michel’s newsletter and appreciate her thoughtful reflections and wisdom. If you don’t know Jen’s writing, then I’m delighted to introduce you to her. Her book, Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home is a book for nomads and travelers – people like you and me. She has several other books as well, but this one in particular resonates with me.
In a recent Whatsapp conversation with a good friend, I posed these questions: “Can you become someone well known and still maintain your integrity? Can you be great in the world’s eyes and still be humble? Can you be great and not lose your way?” The conversation was in response to a well known organization that recently released a statement about the organization’s questionable leadership practices.
My initial response to this organization was not kind and I am embarassed to admit it. My inner “Nasty people will have their come uppance!” arrogance was quickly confronted by a Holy Spirit willing to continue working on my heart. As quickly as the thought arrived, a deep sadness replaced it.
How do we lose our way so quickly? How do we fall for the bright lights and shallow praise over and over again, ignoring the big heart issues, willing to give up our integrity for a short dance in the spotlight?
Thankfully, I listened to the prompt and began my own soul searching.
This searching and self reflection brought me to my writing. When I first began to write publicly, I was so excited to be writing, so anxious to begin something that I had wanted to do for a long, long time. I would get emails from friends saying “Oh! I love that you are writing! I love your words!” and this encouragement reached a hungry, willing part of my heart. Early on I discovered the ‘daily stats’ section on my blog. It was so exciting when I had 10 people who came to Communicating Across Boundaries. Then 30, then 40, then 100! It was amazing! People were reading my words and my words resonated! Then one day, I thought there was a mistake. Within a short time, 4,000 people had come to my site. I started getting comment after comment from complete strangers. Someone Important had discovered my blog, my words. At the time, it was the uprising in Egypt and the start of the Arab Spring. My daughter was in Egypt and I wrote about her. I wrote honestly and from a position of anonymity. When the response came, I felt anything but anonymous. I couldn’t peel myself away from the movement on the stats page.
I became obsessed. With a current world population of almost 8 billion people, my words had reached a whopping 4,000. Wow.
Hopefully, you’re seeing the humor of all of this with me. I thought I was hitting the big numbers. A quick reminder of the world’s population was all it took to bring me down from my floating cloud of glory to a hard earth bump.
I’ve since realized that yesterday’s internet sensation or hero is tomorrow’s villain and spam.
But the bigger issue is the message all around me that I am so willing to absorb. The message to get, have, or be more. More posessions, more house, more education, more status, more followers, more influence. I am assaulted with this from sun up until sun down in blatant and subtle ways throughout the day.
How do I have the courage and the willingness to stay small?
It is critical that I learn to live beyond the messages of more, to live securely in the message of “enough.”
On a side note, it helps immensely to have adult children. They keep me incredibly and delightfully grounded. But, it’s not their job to call out their mom on her striving for more.
This I know: Striving to be bigger and more is exhausting, defeating, chaotic.
Enough is calming. Enough is sobering. Enough is freeing.
A constant striving to be bigger and more leaves me depleted and continually searching for contentment. If I just get this, then I will be content. If I just get one more degree, one more follower, one more writing piece accepted…the list is never ending.
As I write and reflect on the courage to stay small, I remember an incident from a number of years ago. I applied to a graduate school program. I was convinced that I would get in to this program. After all, I reasoned, I’ve watched mere children of 21 years get into this program. The program will be so happy to have one such as me. I mean, what wasn’t to love? My writing was good, my essay sound, my background impeccable. Oh – except for the grades I received in my nursing program, but that was a long time ago.
I was soundly rejected. The day I received my rejection I cried until there were no more tears. I knew in that moment, I was not enough. I would never be enough. And then I called one of my brilliant brothers – in this case, the youngest one. The one who I lovingly offered a scowl and a doll to when he was a tiny baby. I thought I had cried enough tears, but they came on again at the sound of his voice. I tearfully told him the story.
He listened. He comforted. And then he said something that I’ve come back to over and over. He said “I think you need to figure out why it matters so much.” He then reminded me of a C.S. Lewis essay that came from a lecture Lewis gave in 1944.
In this essay, CS Lewis takes a profound look at our desire as humans to be “insiders.” He calls it “the inner ring.”
“I believe that in all men’s lives at certain periods, and in many men’s lives at all periods between infancy and extreme old age, one of the most dominant elements is the desire to be inside the local Ring and the terror of being left outside.” “As long as you are governed by that desire you will never get what you want. You are trying to peel an onion: if you succeed there will be nothing left.”
This inner ring can be in any area of life…whether it’s about academics, status, belonging, or influence. We are not born understanding these rings or how to get into them.
At the beginning of the essay, Lewis poses this question: “I will ask only one question—and it is, of course, a rhetorical question which expects no answer. In the whole of your life as you now remember it, has the desire to be on the right side of that invisible line ever prompted you to any act or word on which, in the cold small hours of a wakeful night, you can look back with satisfaction? If so, your case is more fortunate than most.”
To be a part of that inner ring often means acting or speaking in ways that we end up regretting, we forget who we are, we lose our way, all in the quest to get to the inner ring. Sometimes getting to the inner ring involves giving up our integrity, our honesty, and pretending we are someone who we aren’t.
Call it influence, status, or the inner ring – it all leads to a similar place.
This brings me to my initial questions of my friend, Rachel: “Can we become someone well known and still maintain our integrity? Can we be great in the world’s eyes and still be humble? Can we be great and not lose our way?”
Lewis’ response to the dilemma of the “Inner Ring” is to break the cycle. “The quest of the Inner Ring will break your hearts unless you break it.” If we break this cycle, we will no longer wear ourselves out by trying so hard to make it, by striving so desperately for ‘more.’
Breaking the cycle of longing for the inner ring, whatever it is for you, for me, is about the courage to remain small. It is the courage to not seek an inner ring, to not strive for more. It is the courage to seek God first, middle, and last. It is the courage to give any praise or influence we do have or receive into the capable hands, heart, and mind of the omnipotent God of the Universe.
The courage to remain small is perhaps best worded in Matthew’s Gospel “Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.”* May I have the courage each day to remain small, to lose my life in the service of the One who must remain large.
Do not despise the day of small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin.
In March of this year I happened on an opinion piece in the New York Times titled “The Empty Religions of Instagram.” The subtitle was telling “How did influencers become our moral authorities?” I am not from the demographic that this piece was written for, but I found myself nodding along as I read, struck by the author’s insight into what I’ve seen, what I’ve perhaps feared. As is often the case when you are nodding along thinking “yeah! people need to read this!” I found a mirror held up to my own life. How often do I go to social media for my soul, not even realizing that’s what I’m doing? How often do I get my own dopamine rush and look to my online crowd that I sometimes, and perhaps wrongly, call my “community” to console, praise, and approve of me.
I urge you to take a look at the article, but let me quote a couple of paragraphs to frame why I am writing about this today.
“I have hardly prayed to God since I was a teenager, but the pandemic has cracked open inside me a profound yearning for reverence, humility and awe. I have an overdraft on my outrage account. I want moral authority from someone who isn’t shilling a memoir or calling out her enemies on social media for clout.
Left-wing secular millennials may follow politics devoutly. But the women we’ve chosen as our moral leaders aren’t challenging us to ask the fundamental questions that leaders of faith have been wrestling with for thousands of years: Why are we here? Why do we suffer? What should we believe in beyond the limits of our puny selfhood?
The whole economy of Instagram is based on our thinking about our selves, posting about our selves, working on our selves.”
It was about two months later when I began reading a completely different genre than a newspaper article in George Saunders new book A Swim in the Pond in the Rain. This book is like taking a graduate school course in literature, something I have longed for but never had the time to do. Saunders references other big questions in his introduction: “How are we supposed to be living down here? What were we put here to accomplish? What should we value? What is truth, anyway, and how might we recognize it?” He talks about the process of writing as a way of “training oneself to see the world with new openness and curiousity.” Saunders then takes us through several essays/short stories written by Russian authors with exercises and commentary mixed in between. It is a wonderful book.
But both these writers who come from completely different places and generations have me thinking about some changes I need to make so that I too can connect to those big questions in life, so that my writing doesn’t stem from a desire to please, but instead stems from a desire to challenge, to encourage, and to chase beauty. Why? Because my own observations are that those three things are lacking in our online discourse.
Quite frankly, I have become a lazy writer. I have become too reliant on quick responses and feedback that are abundantly supplied online, instead of pursuing the rigors of writing longer pieces with substantive content. And that is not fair to those of you who read or to myself. I sell both and all of us short.
So I am announcing, in an effort at accountability, that I am heading off of social media. While I won’t be deleting my accounts, and while this blog will automatically post to my facebook page, I will be heading away for an indefinite time. It’s time. I find myself increasingly cynical, discouraged, and dishonest as I observe my own interactions on social media. As much as I want to be a presence for the good and the beautiful, I fear I too often follow the crowd.
My real life communities and friends are where I can have the most lasting impact. My neighbors and coworkers, whom I adore, get less of me when my focus is on my next post. My family gets only half of me when I am focusing instead on those who don’t know me, yet ironically, I seem to care deeply what these strangers think.
I’m writing this as I sit in our cottage in Rockport. In the midst of all the beauty that is Rockport, I feel tired and I feel scared. It’s not only the writing piece. It’s also the significant challenges our family has faced this past year. Challenges that largely go unshared on social media. If I’m looking at the big questions, I find my mind worrying about the small questions: What if I lose the small audience I have? What if I just get distracted by something else? What do I hope will happen? I don’t know. I only know that the questions I ask are a minute fraction of what really matters, and the questions that both Leigh Stein and George Saunders ask are questions worth asking again and again….and again.
It’s time to delve deeper into the big questions. I hope you will come along for the journey.
Contrary to what you might have seen on Instagram, our purpose is not to optimize our one wild and precious life. It’s time to search for meaning beyond the electric church that keeps us addicted to our phones and alienated from our closest kin.
If you would like to keep up with my writing or communicate, please feel free to subscribe to the blog, email me at email@example.com or through messenger.
Though the blog has been quiet, my journal pages are full. Full of what I call my “Pandemic Pages” – page after page of blue ink, my heart poured out onto the lines filling up the page. There is very little in there that I would ever share with the public….we keep private journals for a reason. It’s a bit like talking to God – I can rage, rejoice, weep, shake my head in disgust, and ultimately come back to that simple, powerful phrase “But God.” Perhaps you too have your pandemic pages – pages that walk you through this time, sometimes hope-filled and other times so desolate you can scarcely believe it is you. Yet, these words are important for us, and equally important not to share. To share them might be something of a betrayal.
A few years ago I read the words “Only speak words that make souls stronger.” I copied them down several times. For me that translates into writing – “only write words that make people stronger.” It’s easy for the sake of more readers, more likes, more shares to want to hop onto the latest scandal or crisis. It’s easy to react. It’s far more difficult to restrain myself and write words that do indeed make souls stronger.
Nine years ago, after a national crisis, then President Barack Obama said these words at a funeral:
At a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do, it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.
President Barack Obama
During this time where everything is debated, where job loss and pandemic stress have hurt millions, where worldwide loss and grief are ever present, I am reminded how important it is to work toward offering healing words.
Just this morning I had to ask forgiveness of someone I love dearly because I quipped something that had no connection with what we were texting about.
“Only speak words that make souls stronger….” Only write words that make souls stronger, lighter, braver, and more joy-filled. That doesn’t mean that I won’t challenge and be challenged. It means that I learn to be careful with what I write and with what I say. It means I ask myself these questions: “Does this reflect the truth of my faith tradition? Does this encourage? Does this appropriately challenge? Does this make people laugh or rejoice? Does this spread false rumors?”
As I walk the streets of my city I see the “walking wounded.” I go on social media, and I see more wounds. Yet our default mode is not to speak healing words, but rather words that accuse, criticize, mock, and assume the worst. I’d love to blame just the media for words that wound and criticize, but I know differently. I am far more guilty than I want to admit. The power of language and the way we put our words together is up to us; the way I put words together and how I use them is up to me.
Our world is desperate for healing words. Desperate. Anxiety, depression, and suicide are all on the rise. A few years ago I thought that public bullying could not possibly get worse. I was wrong. With the rise of “cancel culture” and social media shaming it has become infinitely worse. Added to this is the plethora of poor public examples and a dearth of good ones in every area of life – whether that be politics or faith.
I can’t change what other people choose to say. But I can change my own words. I can choose to speak words of hope and grace. I can choose to disagree with civility and respect. I can choose to give people a chance instead of assuming the worst.
I can choose to share words that “make souls stronger.”*