What Writing Does for Me (Writing As a Spiritual Discipline Series)

Tamarie Macon continues our spring series on Writing As a Spiritual Discipline with reflections on the writing process—including some in poetry. Read Tamarie’s other ESN reflections here, on Navigating the Rapids and how to Plan Long and Prosper. To see other posts in the Writing As a Spiritual Discipline series, click here.

Writing . . .

focuses me.

Having to write one word—one letter—at a time forces me to focus. On one idea. In the moment. Writing slows my thoughts to one idea at a time. It’s like photography. For the object to be captured in focus it must be still for at least a moment; otherwise the image is blurry and indistinct at the edges. So it is with ideas: taking time to record a thought encourages a stillness, a pausing to dwell with that thought, allowing it to mature and develop.

allows me to focus on other things.

Recording ideas, reminders, and tasks as they come in unplanned moments and scribing interesting but tangential ideas, concerns, and things to do while working on the main task at hand—clears the mind and makes room for creativity to flourish. This may be particularly helpful upon awakening. Writing out what is in the mind clears the mind so that we can engage in purposeful work in a fuller, freer, more focused way.

provides a record of the past for intentional reflection.

Yes, emotion plays a powerful role in cementing long-lasting memories, but we are an inherently forgetful people. I write down those experiences in which God and His beautiful truths have been especially real to me. Recording my journey with God helps me remember—now having the memory of the actual experience, as well as the memory of writing about it—and helps me when I don’t remember—as long as I remember to go back and read about it!

facilitates emotional maturity.

Through writing, I struggle to articulate inchoate or nebulous feelings within. Oswald Chambers wrote: “If you cannot express yourself on any subject, struggle until you can.” Why? Because otherwise we are robbing our brothers and sisters of the strength and encouragement that our unique expression could bring them. We speak into others’ hearts with the wisdom God imparts to us, wisdom that can be fashioned and better remembered when we take the time to write them. I’ve found myself articulating Biblical truths to those who do not yet believe in God in a form that they can relate to, and even agree with—because I had written about it. God prepared me beforehand through the discipline of writing. Struggling in the discipline of writing helps others, and it helps us, too. Writing brings worries and wrong mindsets that might otherwise stay in the darkness of our minds to the light of the page (Ephesians 5:13-14).

feelings are a newborn babe
that has yet to age
tempted to keep them in the mind’s cradle
but the swaddling cortex traps growth.
feelings, when allowed to mature,
start flowing
(maybe growing, maybe slowing)
but keeping them locked in the brain
doesn’t minimize the pain.
most truths are counter
feelings need to flow freely
simply acknowledge them
feel the feeling
let it go
and by letting it flow
the feeling matures
completes its journey—
sometimes dying neatly,
sometimes persevering sweetly

unearths creative solutions to problems.

I love the notion of writing as discovery. For me, such discoveries in academic writing have been as serendipitously complex as uncovering a new pattern in my dissertation results that led to new questions and testable theories. But oh, the possibilities in the realm of journaling! Writing about a problem you face may get icky emotions from inside of you to outside on the page, allowing you to see the situation more clearly (credit to a friend for helping me articulate this idea). Let me be clear: I am not saying that we should wallow in our problems, or that all emotions are icky. But I do believe that when we ruminate about situations in our heads, it is all too easy to continue on that hamster wheel of worry. Putting it on paper can reveal the underlying issue. And adding structure to this kind of writing can be most helpful: setting a 5-minute timer to get started, focusing on answering specific questions, etc. When I journaled recently about an experience, I recognized my anger stemmed from a deeper issue. I get angry when I perceive others not doing what I struggle to do: love. To love in the sense of believing the best about that person (I Corinthians 13:7, AMPC). For me, the fruit of anger has a deeper root, discovered in the discipline of writing.

but whether the feeling dies or grows
check the root
for there lies the source of the fruit

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Tamarie Macon

Tamarie Macon is a Provost's Postdoctoral Fellow at New York University. She studies Black fathers' parenting and how they promote the adaptive emotional development of their young children. She also teaches courses in Applied Psychology. She completed her PhD in Education and Psychology from the University of Michigan. She previously studied at Rutgers University and worked on Capitol Hill.

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