How Good Prayer is Like Good Writing


How are prayer and writing similar? You’ll appreciate this insight I came across recently:

“The author, George Moore, in replying to a question of a young woman on how to go about the business of becoming a writer, suggested to her that she buy a table and a chair, and get a pad of paper and a pen, and then be there. When the muse comes to dine with you, you have to be at home. Being present is a first condition of hospitality. But unless you want terribly to write, you will not be at the table. A thousand legitimate reasons will appear that will call you elsewhere, and anyone who has ever written knows how insistent these calls away from home, these calls from the table, can be. So it is with prayer.” (Steere, Douglas V. Dimensions of Prayer. New York: Women’s Division of Christian Service, 1962, p. 23-24.)

How do you become a writer? By doing what I am aiming to do here and now. Show up. Sit down. Stay put. Listen. Watch for the creative Guest. Don’t fail to be present when He arrives. I must let my desire to write something God has invited me to write to rise above the other desires, impulses, or inclinations. Not easy.

The same is true of prayer. There are a million things I can think of to do other than bring my attention to Jesus, live in His presence, open my heart to Him and enjoy relationship together. In this, prayer is like writing or any other creative effort. Prayer is a creative effort.

Father, help me in this work I desire and intend to do, both writing and prayer. Protect me from letting fears or perfectionism hinder me. These impulses would have me give up today and wait for some “better time.” I could go that direction, but I wouldn’t be glad at day’s end that I did.

For Reflection: What creative work have you told yourself you should do “someday”? Prayer, poetry, writing a story, painting? What if someday were today? What simple first step could you take?

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The Essence of Creativity


As I think about my blog posts and the work I’m doing on Unhurried Time, it feels like I’m collecting maple tree sap that I can boil down later to make some delicious syrup.

But a little web research tells me that amount of syrup produced is about 1/40 of the original volume of sap. That’s quite a reduction. Perhaps my ratio won’t be as dramatic (or maybe it will be). But something like this must occur, tapping into inner sources of life, then later editing them down into their essence. I think it works as a metaphor, even if it is a little overwhelming to think of writing that much to get usable material. Creativity is good, hard work.

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Unhurried Time: Accepted for Publication


I’m pleased to let you all know that I received the following email notification this afternoon from InterVarsity Press about my “Unhurried Time” proposal: “Your book is quite happily accepted for publication! We like the concept of the book and your approach very much.”

I got the news having just returned from a day at a Trappist monastery in the hills above Jarabacoa, Dominican Republic where I was working on a couple of chapters.

I’ll have a deadline of June 2012. Thank you for all of your prayers and encouragement along the way. I’ll look forward to keeping you posted.

–Alan.

The War of Art


Came back across this helpful counsel on writing and resistance this morning in Donald Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years:

“I read a book a couple of years ago by Steven Pressfield called The War of Art. The book is about writing, about the process of getting words onto an empty page. Pressfield said a writer has to sit down every day and write, regardless of how he feels. He said you can sit around and wait for inspiration to come, but you’ll never finish your book that way. ‘The muse honors the working stiff,’ Pressfield says. He also says that every creative person, and I think probably every other person, faces resistance when trying to create something good. He even says resistance, a kind of feeling that comes against you when you point toward a distant horizon, is a sure sign that you are supposed to do the thing in the first place. The harder the resistance, the more important the task must be, Pressfield believes.” (Donald Miller. A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009, p. 15.)

For Reflection:

  • What creative work have you wanted to do your own life? Writing? Music? Landscaping? What? How might you take this counsel about simple, daily faithfulness to heart?

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Unhurried Time Writing Project Update


For those of you who have been following my rather unhurried progress on this book project (and the jokes just keep multiply in my mind), here’s where it stands:

  • I have a 19-page third draft of a book proposal ready to be reviewed by an editor friend.
  • I have a 14-page, 4,500-word second draft of chapter one (my introduction) ready for review.
  • I have a 13-page, 4,200-word rough collection of material for chapter two on the theme of Jesus resisting temptation as an illustration of the dynamics of unhurried (and hurried) living. This needs further work.
  • I have the remaining eleven chapters in various stages from title and a few ideas, to title with research and writing done, to a fairly full first draft of materials needing editing.

I’ve been devoting my mornings to this project since mid-December and will continue through the first week of January. My aim is to have the book proposal and two chapters in good form to submit to one publisher who opened a door to me a while back. I’d be grateful for your prayers as I continue to move into uncharted territory with all of the adventure and terror it involves. Thanks.

 

The War of Art


Came back across this helpful counsel on writing and resistance this morning in Donald Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years:

“I read a book a couple of years ago by Steven Pressfield called The War of Art. The book is about writing, about the process of getting words onto an empty page. Pressfield said a writer has to sit down every day and write, regardless of how he feels. He said you can sit around and wait for inspiration to come, but you’ll never finish your book that way. ‘The muse honors the working stiff,’ Pressfield says. He also says that every creative person, and I think probably every other person, faces resistance when trying to create something good. He even says resistance, a kind of feeling that comes against you when you point toward a distant horizon, is a sure sign that you are supposed to do the thing in the first place. The harder the resistance, the more important the task must be, Pressfield believes.” (Donald Miller. A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009, p. 15.)

For Reflection:

  • What creative work have you wanted to do your own life? Writing? Music? Landscaping? What? How might you take this counsel about simple, daily faithfulness to heart?

Buy a copy of A Million Miles… on Amazon.com

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Most-Visited Recent Posts (April)


Today, I am grateful to be taking a rest day after three good solid weeks of ministry. I’ll probably get out and take a good long ride on my bike. I’ll probably read plenty.

So in light of the fact that I’m not working today, I thought it would be good time to schedule ahead this list of most-visited recent posts:

  • Writing” – First, I had the treat of having a small article published in the latest edition of Conversations Journal. It was a response to David Kinnaman’s book unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity… and Why It Matters. You can download a copy of my article by clicking on the article image on this page.
  • Podcast” – I launched a new audio podcast on March 29th and have uploaded ten episodes now. You can listen to them on the web directly or on iTunes (and your iPod if you subscribe there).
  • A Practice for Burn-out Prevention” – I didn’t set out to address burnout as a primary focus of my ministry over the last ten years, but it has turned out that my work in spiritual direction and retreat leading has borne a great deal of fruit in helping Christian leaders experience God’s refreshment and His sustaining Presence. Here I shared some simple, practical insights about a core practice of our ministry team: one day a month to be alone and quiet with God.
  • Bookstore” – You can see what I’m reading here for the April to June 2010 quarter.
  • Wisdom for the Wayward” – Here I shared a great quotation from the desert fathers on a prostitute who experienced God’s mercy. I love this line from one of the fathers who tells the story: “If a spark can set on fire the sea, then can thy sins stain His whiteness: it is no new thing to fall in the mire, but it is an evil thing to lie there fallen.”
  • A Good Word: Soul-Honest Prayer” – Here I shared one of my all-time favorite C. S. Lewis quotations offering counsel on how to pray.

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Update on my Writing and New Article


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I’m grateful for many of you who let me know you were praying for me last week as I was working on my Unhurried Time book project. I made some good progress there, but it seemed God intended to give more attention to my soul than to my project.

When the week was over, I had journalled over 22,000 words. If it helps, a typical double-spaced manuscript page is 300 words, plus or minus. So I ended up writing about 75 pages of journal. In a normal week, I might write 5-7 pages. Most of that was soul business between God and I. Some of it was related to the retreats I was leading, and some was related to Unhurried.

One little present I returned home to yesterday were my complimentary copies of the latest Conversations journal (Spring/Summer 2010) in which my little article, “How Might the Spiritual Formation Community Respond?” If you’d like to read the PDF version, you can access it from my new “Writing” page. I’d love to hear your comments on that page if you’d be willing. Thanks.

When God Changes Your Plans


Today was an interesting writing day. I had a plan. I thought it was a pretty good one. It would have resulted in quite a few more book pages written. God seemed to have other plans. Instead of book writing, I found myself soul journaling. I wrote another 4,000 words of journal capturing thoughts, feelings, memories, wrestlings, whatever that were just pouring out of me onto my MacBook. I most certainly won’t be publishing this stuff! It might make interesting gossip, but I’m not writing for the Inquirer.

One of the tasks I had to take some time this afternoon for was grading some papers for a course on Fasting & Simplicity that I taught in January at Hope International University. This is a modular, residency course that I’ve always enjoyed teaching in.

One element of the process that I enjoy, as strange as it sounds, is grading the final papers. I’m not saying it’s easy, or even fun exactly. It just feels like an opportunity to do spiritual direction with students. It’s easier to do this when the focus on the paper is not just learnings about the subject, but on their practice and then reflection on that practice. Many of my comments were specific, but some of them seemed general enough to share here as a sort of potpourri of spiritual direction insights:

  • We never really know how we’ll respond to unforeseen crises because we don’t realize God’s unforeseen grace.
  • For many, the experience of fasting comes first as an outward challenge or exhortation before it moves to a more personal or inward response.
  • It is helpful to recognize that all of the spiritual practices work in concert with one another.
  • It’s good to be honest about our resistances. Noting them in God’s presence can help us see our way past them through His loving companionship with us.
  • The spiritual life is always a process—a journey. We celebrate little steps of progress, rather than being overwhelmed by inevitable moments of struggle and even failure.
  • Prayer often begins by our pouring out our hearts to God, and then God’s Spirit will nudge us to a more listening posture out of that.
  • Hurry is the air we breathe, and therefore spiritual disciplines are a critical way to become aware of a pace we often taken for granted.
  • It’s good to see the continuum in our lives between addiction and freedom. I would argue that all of the spiritual disciplines are a mean of recovering spiritual freedom and releasing us from some of our compulsive attachments to certain ideas, things or behaviors.

(I’ll share a few more of these tomorrow)

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An Unexpected Start to a Week of Writing


Yesterday was the first morning of another focused week of work on my Unhurried book project. I had stayed the weekend with my father near Cal State University Sacramento after leading a Saturday “An Unhurried Day with Jesus” in the area. I drove surface streets 14 miles from there to the Passionist retreat center where I’m spending my days this week writing. I’ll lead a retreat there next Saturday.

My route took me past the Country Club Centre mall (one of my many high school stomping grounds), El Camino High School (from which I graduated in 1979), a gas station that was once called the “Magic Tunnel Car Wash” (and was my first official paycheck after childhood paper routes), and a Carmichael house with an overgrown yard where I grew up from 1964 to the early 1980s (and that now belongs to the bank thanks to many factors beyond anyone’s control). I arrived at the retreat center brimming with memories—good ones, grateful ones, hard ones, painful ones.

So my writing today had nothing to do with the book project. It was a journaling of countless childhood and youthful memories that flooded my mind and heart along this morning’s drive. By lunchtime, I had journalled more than five thousand words. The sentences poured through my finger onto the keyboard. I wrote gratitude and grief, celebration and sadness. It felt like an unloading, an unpacking and a preparation for the work of this week.

I needed to get these words out of my mind and heart to uncover thoughts and words that will, by God’s grace, become a book one day. I didn’t write what I thought I’d write today, but I needed to write what came out. I ended my day with this prayer:

“Father, either You did or didn’t invite me to do this writing. I suppose another possibility is that You don’t care either way. But that’s not likely since You are the One who knows the exact, but steadily decreasing number of hairs on my head! I know You care. So did You invite me to do this writing, or have I sought to authorize it by saying You did?

The message of being less hurried in life and ministry is a fruitful and good word. I believe that hurry and rush cause more long-term harm than good. Many more tasks may get done through hurry, but I don’t know that much good fruit is borne that way. The sprouts in our micro-garden back at home are sure taking their sweet time in becoming green onions, carrots and kohlrabi. May I learn the fruitful patience of unhurriedly tending my life and doing the work You’re inviting me to do this week. Amen.”

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