Writing and the Sacred – a reflection by John F Zurn

This is a brief discussion of writing and the sacred.                  

The relationship between writing and the sacred has existed for thousands of years. During the Greek and Roman eras, for example, myths were eventually formalized into story forms and described religious beliefs and practices. Nevertheless, writing also remains one of the most powerful ways to express spiritual themes. I would like to express a few of these relationships that have been important to me. These reasons can be seen as descriptive and are not my attempt to limit or deny other equally important ideas.

The first and possibly most important of these relationships is in expressing devotion. Whether its praise, gratitude or petition, writing devotional words on a page often gives these words special meaning. A spiritual poem or prayer is either written to God or for God, so it must be carefully written with a spiritual attitude. For example, when writing a prayer about “Despair,” the literary poem is transformed into a spiritual exercise. When the prayer is finished, I can feel closure, and my relationship to God may become more intimate. Since the poem may take at least two hours to finish, the whole time may be spent in thinking about our relationship. This sincerity can also provide the opportunity to discover thoughts and feelings that lead to a greater understanding of the divine. After a dangerous experience or memorable encounter, writing can integrate the experience into a higher spiritual awareness. Thus the feeling of exploration and searching becomes a part of writing and the sacred.

For example, sometimes memorable encounters can transform writing into a spiritual experience. When I was nineteen, I hunted at my Uncle’s resort. One day, as I sat under a tree on a sunny afternoon, a huge snowshoe hare, prematurely white prior to the first snow, hopped fifteen yards directly in front of me. If I were to kill the hare, the whole hunting lodge would have cheered. However, I realized it was my soul that I was preparing to kill. I dropped my gun and never picked up one again. Years later, when I wrote the story, it became a spiritual epiphany for me and much more than a woodland adventure story.

Perhaps, the most subjective writing expresses personal spiritual experience itself. Often these experiences are so intense, writers feel compelled to either share them, or never reveal them. Those who decide to reveal their spiritual experiences may be challenged with the doubt and rejection of others. Many years ago I had an experience in meditation during which I realized that: “God is love in the form of light energy.” Like most people who discover something beautiful, I was intent on sharing the experience. However, my friends and family ignored or rejected it.  Now, by writing poems that explain this experience with verses and images, this discovery is, at least, not immediately discounted. Writers often employ literary devices to explain these experiences and this might seem more practical.

Writing about the Divine can be lonely and frustrating, but it can also be rewarding to the adventurous writer who searches for self-discovery.

John F Zurn has an M.A. in English from Western Illinois University and spent much of his career as a school teacher.  Now retired, he continues to write and publish poems and stories. As one of seven children, his experiences growing up help inspire his art and influence his life.

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