The 13th century mystic poet Hafiz defined prayer as knowing the fire by feeling the flame and the water by bathing in the lake. He said you’ll never know a thing if you imagine how it feels, you need to feel it directly…
So how is writing like praying no matter who your God is or even if you have none?
1. You initiate both. Beyond school or a house of worship, rarely or never are you assigned the task of writing or praying. You choose and usually have to make room for this choice in your day, your home, your mind and heart.
2. There’s never a perfect time and it’s always the perfect time to write or to pray.
3. Both lead to discovery if you let them. You have to be willing to not know. Actually, it’s more paradoxical than that. You have to be willing to not know so there is room to be inspired and delighted. But to be willing to know what you do know gives you the muscle to build something beautiful, whether poetry, prose, or a scaffold of faith strong like the bones of an agile body that can bear weight gracefully.
4. There is inherent pleasure in the surrender to the act itself of praying, of writing. It may happen that what utters itself from the depths of you ripples out and meets with a response. But if you put the wagon before the horse, you will never truly harness the power of the horse, which is your very own heart. The horse-heart is a leader, a hard worker, graceful beyond compare—and not to be confused with an engine.
5. There is mystery in both acts and the sum is greater than the parts. What is offered from a willing and open mind and heart is more than a march of letters or words, one following dutifully behind another. Once the writer or prayer goes beyond rote and finds a true voice, nothing is the same anymore.
6. There is no single path that one must adhere to or defend. To write and to pray do not belong to any one way, although there will always be those standing guard at the borders, marking out the territory within whose parameters you are warned to remain. Renegades are welcome and needed in both writing and praying.
7. There is no contest, no hierarchy, no having arrived, no better or holier than. These are false constructs created to make some feel more secure or perhaps in control. But in writing and praying, a certain lack of control enriches the journey as the mind loosens its grip and something part heart, part spirit begins to trot, then gallop, then soar.
8. There is no hurry although sometimes there is a feeling of shattering the sound and mind barriers.
9. Each changes you unless you stay on the surface of things and only skim, in which case your words become more like spatulas than deep ladles lowered into a well sometimes glistening with reflected sunlight, other times, dark as a moonless night.
10. Writing and prayer can be amorous. They court the soul, make it swoon. Allowed to, writing and prayer will seduce the soul into dropping all that has veiled its brilliance. When passionately authentic, writing and prayer help truth get naked.
11. In each we weave fact, feeling, and flashes of insight like eager birds threading bits of straw to build nests for their young.
12. Imagination is the crucial ingredient in each, the catalyst responsible for the alchemy of words into possibility, of the word into love, into border, into bridge, into silence.
In this new year and beyond, I wish you the gifts of your prayer and your writing.
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