When words become flesh . . .
It happened to me for the first time in first grade. The Milwaukee Catholic Herald published my writing as part of a Catholic Schools’ Week essay contest. The prompt invited students to explain how Catholic education would shape our future. I wrote:
I believe my Catholic education will help me by teaching me to help other people that are in need. I can teach other people about God. I read Bible stories. I also learn how to pray. I am learning about God, Jesus, and the saints. I am learning how to be a good person.
I remember holding the printed paper for the first time, the ink rubbing onto my tiny fingers. I can encounter God in many ways, I learned in that moment. And I can write about those sacred encounters.
Writing is the spiritual practice of my vocation. It’s first and foremost a deeply prayerful, personal practice. Writing is the avenue through which God and I can be most honest with each other. Messy, holy dialogue fills stacks of journals on my coffee table.
Over the years I’ve grown to understand my call to write on topics of faith as twofold: to share where God is already at work in our communities and to envision a more inclusive, loving, just world.
God the creator inspires this call, the one who in the very beginning used words to create the heavens and Earth and everything in it. God said, “Let there be light”—and there was light. God said, “Let the dry land appear”—and it was so.
Words create. Words bring ideas to life. Words become flesh. We celebrate this great gift during the Christmas season. Mary birthed Jesus Christ, the Word, into the world. The divine Word took on human flesh. The divine Word took on human suffering. The divine Word dwelled among us, revealing God’s deep love for all creation. The divine Word rose again—and continues to become flesh today in ways big and small.
Where words become flesh . . .
It’s no secret that God reveals Godself all over the place: in early morning runs and late-night chats, along tree-lined trails and freshly fallen snow, among family and friends, between strangers and seekers. Many moments we keep to ourselves, tucking away the feeling of closeness to our creator.
But many times we long to share the experience with others—and we do so with the help of words. Words communicate glimpses of the divine. “Tell me about the experience,” one may ask. My first call as a spiritual writer is to share where God is already present. We have no shortage of examples to choose from.
Each day gifts us countless stories and insights to take in. As a writer, I feel like a vessel being filled with stories from the past and present and visions for the future. At some point the sacred stories of people like the psalmists, prophets, friends, colleagues, and migrants on the border fill up my vessel. Their stories and hopes get to be too much to keep inside. My vessel brims over.
This brimming over, when my cup overflows with wisdom from the world, is when my best writing happens. These are times when I can’t not write. The stories and insights need to be shared. There’s nowhere else for them to go but out.
Why words become flesh . . .
The second part of my call as a spiritual writer—to offer visions for a more inclusive, loving, just world—begs even deeper questions: If I believe the divine presence is everywhere, don’t I want everywhere to mirror the divine? If I experience the peace of God while watching the sunrise, don’t I also wish for that peace to be extended to all places—places like the border, our streets, our mosques, synagogues, and churches?
We all know sin creeps into every community. We know the vision Christ offered—of a world in which love of God and love of neighbor win out; in which the hungry are fed, the naked are clothed, and all are respected as children of God—is far from reality in too many places.
Christians share a common call to support Christ’s gospel mission. We are his hands and feet in the world today, missioned to make his vision of love and justice a reality.
One way I answer this call as a writer is by envisioning hope. What does hope actually look like here, today? I imagine what hope feels and tastes like. How does hope smell? What does hope sound like? I have to constantly remind myself not to hold back because it seems unrealistic. It’s not. God promises that one day love and justice will be the reality.
Once images of hope start floating around in my head, I write them down. Writing as a spiritual practice holds me accountable. It gives me space to imagine and dream big—and create a record of it. I make my hopes explicit.
Then comes the hard work of turning the words to flesh. It’s not enough to relegate hope to a piece of paper. Action must follow.
The influence of words challenges me as a writer to ask: How do my words become flesh? How does writing about faith inform how I live out faith—and invite others to do the same?
How words become flesh . . .
Consider how your words become flesh this Christmas season. What role might writing play in moving your hopes from thoughts to actions?
If you’re looking to try your hand at spiritual writing—for an audience of one or 100—here are some practices to get the creative juices flowing:
• Lectio divina and Liturgy of the Hours
I start my days with these two practices. In doing so, the stories of the psalmists, prophets, and Christ himself become the lens through which I interpret the stories around me. For instance, I recently spent a week doing lectio with the transfiguration passage. When I received difficult news that week, I was able to connect with Jesus and the apostles who had to come back down the mountain. Like theirs, our lives aren’t lived on a mountaintop where everything is glorious all the time. Making these biblical connections enriches the stories.
• Long walks and conversations with loved ones
• Service and activism in the community
Two of the most important practices for my spiritual writing have nothing to do with pens and paper. I spend an evening a week at a center for youth experiencing homelessness and volunteer with a baseball league for kids with disabilities. Writing is a motivation or accountability check for social action, not a substitution for it.
Going out and being with people on the margins puts real stories to big ideas like “human dignity” and “option for the poor.” For example, I don’t think I can write about a topic like gun violence with any integrity if I stay behind a desk. It matters that I participate in marches and call my legislators about gun safety issues.
Every writer’s process looks different. Discover what works for you. The world benefits every time your words become flesh.
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