Last year, I stumbled on “Castle,” a television program about New York City detectives. Rick Castle is a mystery writer who models his novels’ main character after the show’s Detective Kate Beckett. Castle pulled some strings with a friend in the mayor’s office to follow Beckett and her fellow detectives on their crime solving in order to get material for his books. Before going out on a case, Beckett slides a gun into a holster slung low on her waist and snaps up a black, bullet-proof vest; bold, white letters march across the back – POLICE. Castle looks at his police-issue bullet-proof vest, too. The letters on his spell out WRITER.
As much as she hates to admit it, Beckett depends on Castle’s creative mind to anticipate moves the criminals she’s tracking might make. She accepts Castle’s presence but, with his lack of police training, she fears for his safety; they usually encounter murderers or armed robbers when they’re on a case. She insists on the bullet-proof vest.
I want one of those vests to wear when I sit at my writing desk.
Popular advice to writers goes something like, “Writing is easy. Just sit down and open a vein.” That sounds dramatic, but putting my beliefs and experiences into words on paper can seem as risky as when Castle slinks around an abandoned warehouse. When I sit down to write, I’m not exposing myself to criminals’ weapons, but I am opening myself to feelings that can rip at my heart with the near-force of a bullet or knife blade. When I’m present to the source of my writing, I encounter beliefs, memories, truths, grief, and joy that can leave me gasping for breath, choking on tears, or sweaty-palmed.
I know there’s no gun aimed at my chest when I write, no actual possibility of physical harm. Yet my heart can race and my mouth can dry as if I were being pursued by some danger. What is it I fear? When I’m writing my truth, when I’m writing with a desire to minister, I have to go to those deep, tender places within. To the places where I reveal my weaknesses and flaws. Where I expose my faithlessness, my desire to be in control, my fears that others will reject me if I share my true self or that they’ll disagree with what I hold most dear.
In To Be Broken and Tender, Marge Abbott writes of how she sees “God at work in the hearts of individuals so that they are tender to the pain of the world and the selfish power of the ego is broken apart.” The process of writing opens me and makes me tender to my own pain and the pain of others. My heart may be broken open as I seek to find the words. My ego may be broken as God works in me.
As Abbott writes, “Bringing the painful into the Light does take courage and can open many wounds.” When I write, I often access feelings and knowledge I didn’t know I had or that I’d ignored. I awaken memories of hurting, fear, or sadness that I’ve buried so deep in my unconscious, the pain can feel like a stab to the heart or a punch in the gut. That’s the depth I want to get to in my writing, to those places where the memory and the knowing are alive, touchable. But I ache as I open my heart, and my tender spots need protection, the shielding of a bullet-proof vest.
I could keep my beliefs and awarenesses private. I could, and have, kept them locked deep inside to avoid long-standing self-judgment that I’m not good enough or that I’m not following God’s will. Yet, I’m already known fully by God. And I know that God loves me unconditionally. Isn’t that knowledge my bullet-proof vest?
When I write from my center, I’m surrounded by the light and love and strength of that essence I call God. I’m carried by the spirit that wants me to use and develop my gifts as a writer, that loves me no matter what I put on the page, that yearns for me to minister to myself and others through writing.
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The sky outside my window this morning is gray. Fog cuts off the tops of the trees and hangs over the bay like a false ceiling hiding a higher one. Somewhere—above that layer of fog—the sun, the light, is shining.
And I’m venturing into the day with the bullet-proof vest of God’s love within me and around me, protecting those tender and broken places waiting to be opened.
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To Be Broken and Tender—A Quaker Theology for Today by Margery Post Abbott, Western Friends/Friends Bulletin Corporation, 2010, http://www.WesternFriend.org