Its 1:00 a.m. as I sit to write.
It amazes me that I am awake, and that what I am choosing to do at this post-midnight, pre-dawn hour is to write here on my blog. I have been doing a good deal of contemplative work, and writing quite a bit of it in my reflective journal this week. I am excited to have scheduled a personal writing retreat for tomorrow as part of my New Year resolution to formalize a sustained, year-long writing project. I am also working hard to pull together a Lenten project for my faith community; I was just engrossed in music, art, and writings in preparation for “Cultivating Sacred Space” in the coming liturgical season. None of those noble pursuits involves this blog, though. I feel like with all my other projects, I have neglected this little space that has, in the past year, become a home for my stories and my snapshots of divine light and inspiration. Who knew that would happen? Surely, not me. But undeniably, it has.
I had just stretched out to rest when my blog entered my mind, and I was compelled to write.
Compelled to write.
I heard those words in my mind, and suddenly I was awake. Those words are important to me, and deeply familiar. I have struggled with this notion of being compelled to write for nearly a decade. I came to the academic life not really knowing what compelled me to write. Certainly, I was compelled to write my dissertation so that I could complete my PhD. I was compelled to publish articles to climb my way to tenure. But, that kind of “compelled” is really about feeling obligated and goal-driven. I was writing for an outcome, and that is perfectly fine and utterly reasonable in the academy. But, I was always hoping and searching for something more. As the song goes, I still hadn’t found what I was looking for.
In the office I worked in for the past six years, I lined my ample desk space with many quotes to inspire me in my academic work. Together with my card deck of famous women writers, I always hoped they would free up my inner muse. One of those quotes that I hung up stood out to me in particular because it reflected a mysterious longing, something that I wanted to feel and experience, but really couldn’t quite imagine:
“In the deepest hour of the night, confess to yourself that you would die if you were forbidden to write. And look deep into your heart where it spreads its roots, the answer, and ask yourself, must I write?”
― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
I had never felt that. I imagined that people did, and I longed for it. But for me, writing remained a chain-myself-to-my-chair proposition, just as it had been all throughout my life. I wrote because it was necessary to document my words and experiences. Writing was evidence of what I had done, peer reviewed proof of something observed. Sometimes, I have even had moments where I enjoyed it, and I felt like I was contributing to the academic dialogue. I even thought, and occasionally was told, that I might be pretty good at it (except for the dubious Reviewer 2 who loves to break down any shred of remaining ego). But to feel compelled to write? That one must write? Or die if forbidden to write? That seemed mysteriously distant and utterly unattainable.
But here I am. I am in the deepest hour of the night, and I cannot rest. I must write. It doesn’t even matter what I write, because I have come to know…experience…believe…that inspiration will find me. It doesn’t matter for whom I write, because the message finds its way to where it needs to go without my directing that process. My words take root and sink more and more deeply into my own soul, spreading their reach to others whose words also touch me. The roots spread in the darkness and emerge into light. The words are life, and light. I am simply setting them free.
I didn’t know when I first began this blog, nearly a year ago, that I would start to take in those mysterious and elusive words of Rilke. I didn’t know that their mystery would become real, words made flesh in my visceral experience of spirit finding free passage through words, phrases, stories. But now, I must write. I am compelled. Writing is living, and breathing, and being.
Writing has become my small point of light.