Writing With God

By Bruce G. Epperly

Writing can be an act of prayer and worship when we awaken to the presence of the open and relational God.

Open and relational theology is grounded in the moment-by-moment divine-human call and response. Whether in our personal lives or historical processes, I believe that divine providence constantly provides creative and life-affirming possibilities. Our personal, relational, and political responses shape the course of the future and give birth to further interactions between God and the world. This process of call and response is dynamic, open-ended, and creative. God inspires the moral and spiritual arcs of our lives, and our responses add to or subtract from God’s present and future impact on the world.

This dynamic process of call and response describes every divine-human interaction throughout the day, including making breakfast for our children and grandchildren, providing spiritual direction, protesting against systemic injustice, or writing an essay. As a writer, I have found that the writing process is, in varying degrees, revelational. Our spiritual ancestors were aware of this as they experienced the Holy and then described their encounters in verse, prose, proclamation, ritual, and law, giving birth to the world’s Scriptures. We see their holy words inscribed in religious texts as diverse as ancient Vedic hymns, Hebraic prophetic challenges, Taoist maxims, New Testament parables and exhortations, and the writings of mystics, poets, and theologians.

God touches each moment with insight. For some, divine inspiration issues in the artistry of writing, poetry, fiction, and teaching. As a writer, I see my work as a holy task, reflecting divine inspiration in my finite and fallible experience. I write between 500-1500 words every day, except for Sunday and family holidays—blogs, sermons, essays, and books, sometimes all four over the course of a day. Even on holy days, when I receive an insight, I usually jot it down quickly before I return to my spiritual Sabbath. I don’t claim to be a conduit for God’s wisdom: I recognize that in this dynamic of call and response, I am the one who is ultimately responsible for the quality and insight of my writing. I believe that writing is a way of responding to divine inspiration for the good of others. In fact, I see my writing as creatively shaping the lives of those around me, providing inspirational, provocative, and healing possibilities.

Sometimes people say that being a writer is unique and their non-literary gifts are ordinary by comparison. I often respond by saying that “birds sing, and I write. You are also a channel of divine inspiration through your gifts.” I may also respond like Eric Liddell from Chariots of Fire, “God gave me words and when I write I feel God’s pleasure.” I believe that in the wondrous and dynamic divine-human relationship, God provides possibilities and insights to all creation and that each of us has many gifts that we can share to bring beauty, insight, justice, and healing to the world. The totality of our lives, including the writing process, can be our way of “doing something beautiful for God.”

If God is constantly inspiring us, how can we integrate God’s guidance in our writing? How can our writing be revelational as well as inspirational, bringing something new and creative into the world? Over the years, I’ve developed a simple call and response approach to writing that can apply to any creative endeavor from telling a story to a child and writing an opus to taking a photograph of a Cape Cod beach or Idaho vista. The approach I use is an open and relational version of the Jesuit Examen, or examination of conscience, in which we thank God for God’s loving presence in our lives, listen to our lives noting where we have followed or turned from God’s vision, attempt to discern God’s presence related to a particular life situation, and then ask for divine guidance in the day ahead.

Each evening before I retire, I take a few minutes to reflect on the events of the day, prayerfully thanking God for all that I have received. I give thanks for my opportunities to study, teach, and write. Then, I take a few minutes to consider the writing projects I hope to embark on with the new day. I read a few lines from a text or jot down a sentence or two of notes or simply ponder the writing possibilities in the day ahead. I ask God to inspire me with insights as I sleep and guide my fingers when I awaken. I conclude with a prayer of gratitude, including a prayer of protection for myself and the persons in my life. My trust is that the ever-inspiring God willspeak in “sighs too deep for words” while I sleep. I don’t expect God to write my words but to give me inspirations that I can synthesize with my own creative insights. God’s presence in my writing is invitational, and never coercive, in nature. The writing process is always open-ended as it brings something novel into my life and the world.

In the morning, I rise early with the words, “this is the day that God has made and I will rejoice and be glad in it” and take half an hour for contemplative prayer before I write on my laptop. After writing for an hour or so, I take my writing out for a walk, often at a place of beauty such as the Cape Cod beach near my home. Any place, of course, can be inspirational, but I have found that when I move my body, walking either prayerfully or with no agenda at all, creative thoughts readily come to me. I return home typically inspired to write a few more paragraphs or amend my previous work.

My approach to writing is intuitive and inspirational. I experience insights and then go with the flow whether in the first or fifth and usually final draft. But, of course, there is more to writing than inspiration, at least for me. Inspiration does not replace the good hard work of study and scholarship. Our provocative propositions need to be well-grounded in dialogue with the writing and dialogue with other spiritual guides, theologians, poets, writers, and scholars. I believe that the process of study is also a prayer, and these days, I study as a preparation for writing, seeking to discern the deepest insights and intuitions of those whom I read, letting their inspiration flow into my own in creative synthesis of call and response with God as our companion. I bring my entire self and a lifetime of reflection to the computer when I write. When an aspiring author or preacher asks me, “How long did it take you to write that sermon or book?” I humorously respond, “About fifty years, from the time I first began studying philosophy and religion until today.”

There are many approaches to the art of writing. I believe that the Poet of the Universe guides us personally in our unique time and place, noting and treasuring our unique gifts and experiences, and then God lets go of the process, inviting us to share our wisdom and insight as the next step to further inspirations. The Artist of Creation wants us to be artists whatever our medium is. Like a loving teacher, parent, grandparent, or mentor, God says, “Surprise me. Bring something new into the world. Share the love and beauty that is within and around you to bring love and light and healing to this Good Earth.”

The process of writing is a call and response: writers are open to divine inspiration in bringing to birth something new to the world and adding to God’s experience through the interplay of reflection, intuition, and study.

Questions: In what ways do you complement and add to God’s creativity? What processes do you employ to open to God’s inspirational and persuasive creativity?

Bruce Epperly is a pastor, professor, and author of over sixty books, including Walking With St Francis: From Privilege To Activism; The Mystic In You: Twelve Saints For Today; Prophetic Healing: Howard Thurman’s Vision Of Contemplative Activism; and Process Theology: Embracing Adventure With God.

To purchase the book from which this essay comes, see Partnering with God: Exploring Collaboration in Open and Relational Theology.

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