The Practice of Writing

The Practice of Writing

Henri Nouwen once had this to say about the practice of writing:

"Writing can be a true spiritual discipline. Writing can help us to concentrate, to get in touch with the deeper stirrings of our hearts, to clarify our minds, to process confusing emotions, to reflect on our experiences, to give artistic expression to what we are living, and to store significant events in our memories. Writing can also be good for others who might read what we write. Quite often a difficult, painful, or frustrating day can be “redeemed” by writing about it. By writing we can claim what we have lived and thus integrate it more fully into our journeys. Then writing can become lifesaving for us and sometimes for others too."  (Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey, “Writing to Save the Day”)

For as long as I can remember, I have loved to write—certainly long before I would have considered it anything like a “spiritual discipline.” When I was in graduate school in early 2007, I jumped into the then relatively new world of blogging. It was a good way for me to “claim what I had lived.” And I was enormously gratified to see that what was life giving for me also connected with others.

I’ve been blogging for over thirteen years now. I’ve been a pastor for twelve. Occasionally I’m asked how I navigate those two parts of my world. Do I feel pressure to write “pastorally” on my blog? Do I say things on my blog that I wouldn’t say from the pulpit? Do I hold back or worry about what members of my congregation might say if they read my blog? The short answer to each of these questions would be “maybe occasionally, but not really.”

I certainly feel a bit more freedom in writing online than in speaking, but these are different tasks for different contexts, in my view. I do keep members of my congregation in mind when I write on my blog because I know that some of them do read, but I’m proud to say that I have a pretty intellectually engaged and curious congregation that isn’t averse to hard questions or even a bit of irreverence now and again. Occasionally what I write can be a springboard into some interesting conversations in our community.

For a good chunk of my blogging career, I asked myself one question before I pressed “publish.” Am I ok with my grandmother reading this? I knew I could count on her to read pretty much every word I ever wrote (and to not hold back on correcting my theology or my grammar!). My grandmother is no longer with us, but I still think of her when I write online. I do this not so much as a litmus test for what I decide to publish but as a reminder to emulate her character, to seek to write with integrity, curiosity, and honesty.

And I am convinced there is value pastorally in “claiming what I have lived” in a publicly accessible way. Perhaps it will encourage and embolden others to do the same.