Saturday, January 24, 2009

Writing and Spirituality

I'm not a 'Christian Author' per-se. I actually don't even care for most overtly Christian fiction. So much of it seems shallow, and narrow-minded, as if the author had a committee peering over his or her shoulder inspecting it for doctrinal errors. Fiction that has to pass inspection like that tends to bore me to tears. Worse, it strikes me as something that is so concerned with 'correctness' that it doesn't have any truth in it.

But good fiction? Ah, that's a totally different animal.

I believe that we all have a call; something that God has given us the tools and the opportunities to accomplish. I don't see it as something that God tries to force us to do (though I've certainly had times when it felt like that). No, I think it's more that there is something that each of can do that will give us deeper satisfaction--and be of greater benefit to others--than anything else. I don't remember the source of the quote but I remember hearing a definition of a sacred call that I really like.

"Where your deepest passion intersects with the deepest needs of the world, you find your call from God."

That is different for different people, it can be anything from healing, to teaching, to to art, or writing.

Many writers are non-religious, but I would argue that the best writers tend to be deeply spiritual. I've known a few who fall into both of these categories; they feel uncomfortable with scriptures and traditions, they are skeptical of doctrines and pronouncements, and may feel far from the God of religious devotion.

Yet, I would argue that many of these are deeply rooted in the reality of God, even if they wouldn't call it that. I say that because the essence of God flows through their writing. Without being heavy-handed, their works embody a deep sense of justice and compassion. They flow with wisdom, humanity and and grace. They don't offer anything remotely like doctrinal instruction but they touch the soul and call forth the very best and truest from the reader. When I find a story by one of these writers, I feel like my deepest faith is affirmed.

It is a wonderful gift to be able to do that, and I believe it is a sacred call. It's also the kind of writer I would like to be.


Bobbie Metevier said...

Sometimes when I'm writing, the spirituality of the character comes up . . . actually it happens a lot and I have no idea where it comes from.

Like with Walleye, two characters--Duck and Wyatte--spend the most time on stage, but it's been obvious to everyone who's read it that a girl named Caro is the main character.

The only explanation I've been able to come up with is that she's spiritually sound--not dogmatic or anything, just correct.

That sounds immature, but it's all I can think of.

Paul Maurice Martin said...

It hasn't been my experience, especially in the realm of trying to operate in today's publishing industry, that God is the one providing or not providing the opportunities. Maybe it's different in Christian publishing, but in general trade publishing, the "marketing platform" is all.

I know what you mean about writing religious fiction. Trying to adhere strictly to sectarian views is not only limiting but needlessly so. There is so little known about the historical Jesus that imaginative speculation is both justified and interesting.

Bobbie Metevier said...

Maybe it's just me, but once you set out to write about "people" the spirituality is already there--whether it be of God or of something else. People . . . their fears, faults and the whole nine yards.

I haven't read much religious fiction, but I did read a coming-age-story put out by Zondervan when I was young. I didn't even realize it was religious fiction until much later. I think it was done right--a falable young girl who goes through everything that life throws at her and comes out all the better for it.

Matthew Baugh said...

LOL. Paul, I can't vouch for the Christian pubishers as I've never submitted to any of them. I do have a healthy collection of rejection letters that makes me think that God isn't necessarily kicking all of my stories to the top of the pile. :)

As for the historical Jesus, yes there's a lot we don't know (though there's always LAMB by Christopher Moore :D).

Matthew Baugh said...

Bobbie, I think you've got something. There are characters who can convincingly portray, not just the weak and flawed side of humanity, but also the breath of the divine in us. When you see a fictional character rise above his or her flaws to do something transcendent, that's a lot of what I'm talking about.

I know that other writers would say that characters like that, and moments like that don't necessarily connect us to God. They may connect us to other things, like compassion, or justice, or a sense of shared humanity.

From my perspective, all of those things have their source in God so I see God in all those moments.

But the key difference for me in writing that is truly spiritual and merely religious is whether that moment of transcendence comes. Those moments, IMO, are what can challenge and inspire the reader to higher and better things. When you write one, it's a great thing.