Saturday, September 7, 2013

"Writing is a great grace of God"

This summer I have been thinking about writing and particularly about blogging, perhaps partly because I have been doing so little of the latter. 

Is there really a need for one more blog?   Is journaling a valuable exercise, or a waste of time that could be used elsewhere?

The answers are clear in themselves, of course.  There is no "need" for another blog out there; in fact, the world did quite well for millenia without any blogs at all.

Journaling can be valuable, or can be a waste of time, like most other activities in the world, depending on how you do it.

So I may need to reframe the questions.   Should *I* keep blogging, devoting time in my day regularly to the work it involves?  Is it worthwhile for *me* to journal?

 This is not an existential crisis. These are the sorts of things I try to discern every summer, just as I pray and discern about whether we should keep homeschooling and if so, how we should do it this year. 

When I have a question, I tend to research while praying (sometimes to excess -- the research, not the praying).

There is not all that much I could find out there on the question of whether writing was an important part of a Catholic/ Christian life, but I remembered a few years back reading Alicia's notes on a talk given by the late holy Jesuit Father John Hardon at Thomas Aquinas College.

Father Hardon is up for canonization, by the way.  He was a remarkable man.   His father died when he was only a toddler, falling off a construction scaffold trying to help another worker.   His mother raised him while working two menial jobs to pay the bills.   He wrote many, many books and articles (many of the articles are online) and was a fervent advocate of homeschooling

I found an article by Fr Hardon on  Writing and the Spiritual Life

I also found a word for word transcript of the talk he gave at Thomas Aquinas College.   The style and format is more verbal, less structured, but it is an interesting expansion on the basic ideas, and there are some questions and answers at the end. 

He quotes St Augustine who wrote in a letter that he (the great saint and one of our blog patrons) was:

"one of those who write because they have made some progress and who, by means of writing, make further progress" 
Here is  Father Hardon's list of reasons for developing a habit of regular (he recommends daily) writing -- for more details you can go to the article.  
In our first week in the Jesuit novitiate, we are told, “part of your spirituality is to write.”

  1. Discipline for the Mind. -- basically, thoughts are often circular and unfocused.  Writing focuses your mind and shows you where your thinking is going wrong.  
  2. Intellectual Humility.    There is nothing so humbling as seeing your errors and relapses and silly stylistic flaws in writing or even more, in published form.   
  3. Moral Inventory.  Father Hardon kept a small book in the Ignatian tradition where he records his daily examens (he said he keeps it in code).  He mentions that St Ignatius carried with him in his travels only his Divine Office, Imitation of Christ, and his log book or diary.    You can look here for details on how Ignatius kept a chart of the virtues he was trying to work on.   Ben Franklin did something similar.  ... Fr H said that Franklin got the idea from Jesuits he met in France. 
  4. Record of Graces Received.   We forget what God has done for us, the progress we have made due to His grace.  (This is an argument to actually hold on to our journals -- I usually toss them in the trash because I'm not too great at that Intellectual Humility thing listed above, and it's embarrassing to see my same issues crop up over and over again).
  5. Cultivating the Memory.   He says writing fixes things in the mind.  This is something I certainly find to be true.  He says he keeps a copybook with quotes from the saints and scriptures.   One of the most touching things I found in going through my parents' papers is the copybooks both of them kept of Scriptures.    It was particularly touching since I have done the same for decades without knowing that they did this as well. 
  6. The Art of Speaking.   Writing can help us learn to speak better.  To explain this bit I will put a quote below this list.   By disciplining ourselves to write well we learn to bring our spoken language under our control.  
  7. The Charity of Sharing Our Souls.   He says that our dearest possession is the "reason for the faith that is within us."  Writing is a way of sharing that gift.   He says speaking is not a movement of lips per se but a soul speaking to another soul.    Writing is the same, but it's more refined than speaking, because you have to think out what you are going to say.  
Here's the quote on "The Art of Speaking"
 “Every kind of beast and bird, serpents, and the rest is tamed by mankind. But the tongue no man can tame--a restless evil, and full of deadly poison” (James 3:7-8). The Apostle does not mean that we cannot tame the tongue; what he means is that we cannot tame it alone. We need the constant help of God and God will give us the grace to tame these wild beasts if we do our part.

 A most valuable way of taming our tongue is to write down our thoughts while saying a prayer before we start writing, as we write, and after we have written; to obtain the divine light to see what God wants to say and the divine help to say it.

I know the Sisters who care for the Holy Father’s private household; his domestic needs; take care of his personal, private correspondence. He’ll go at night, after midnight. Strange sounds. Holy Father’s private chapel. They get out of bed and see what’s going on. Holy Father was in the sanctuary writing before the Blessed Sacrament.
 Apparently Father Hardon did the same as the Pope, by the way (that would have been John Paul II, back in 1998 when the talk was given).   Someone who worked closely with him wrote:

 He spent at least three hours before the Blessed Sacrament, writing all his letters and books on his knees. Calculating from what he has told me, I would be very comfortable saying he spent 50,000 hours before the Blessed Sacrament as a Jesuit.
I think this visual encapsulates how Father Hardon thought of writing in connection with the spiritual life.   Writing is not just a means of self-expression, not even "just" an art, noble though writing is as an art (the whole Trivium is devoted to it, after all). 

 It is certainly not meant to be a Weapon of Mass Destruction, a way to extend the fire-power of verbal speech over the whole cyber-globe.  It is not meant to be a vehicle for propaganda or half-thought-out opinion or personality plays.  These are some of the abuses of the power of the written word, but not of their essence. 

Writing in Father Hardon's way of thinking is something that brings us into God's presence and allows us to share the graces of that experience with others. 

Many Jesuits and others inspired by them write AMDG (Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam -- For the Greater Glory of God) before they start writing anything, whether it be a checklist or a letter or a chapter of a book.   This is basically how Father Hardon fulfilled his writing vocation and what he recommends for others.

One encouraging thing about all this is that even if you have a small blog and don't update it every day or every week, you could still be carrying out a lot of the goals he mentions above.    Of course, as mentioned in the beginning there is no necessity to blog, but if you take Father Hardon seriously you might want to consider grabbing a notebook and starting to copy out a few Scripture verses or jot out some spiritual thoughts or aspirations.   He says that writing is for everyone and it is a great act of charity to teach a non-writer to write! 

Blessings on all your writings and teaching of writing this year!   

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