this Call is streaming live!

When school was cancelled for COVID-19, I had a few days to create videos and Google Classroom assignments for my students. Imagine my surprise when, on the second day of eLearning, after my 5th graders submitted attendance at 9:30 AM and I answered their poorly capitalized questions, I heard my heart (where Jesus communes with me) tell me to get off the computer and read a novel. It wasn’t difficult to obey, even though I felt it was irresponsible on the part of the Holy Spirit. What kind of employee does personal enrichment during hours of the workday?

As the week progressed, God was becoming more and more irresponsible regarding my teaching duties, suggesting that I spend the greater portion of each day on the couch with The Brothers Karamazov (my old friends…) and complete my grading and lesson planning in the night.

And then, at a casual moment:

“Do you remember when I invited you to finish writing your book, and you didn’t?”

“Painfully, yes.” Work had seemed way too urgent, and I’d ignored the call to finish a novel by the end of a summer.

“And remember how once the time has passed, the book is past.”

“Because I’ve become a different person.”

“So now, again, it’s time to write.”

1600 words a day and honesty. I wrote raw scenes I’d be afraid for someone to read, rough scenes, ramblings… I made vocabulary notecards (“fanfaronade” being the best new find), wrote a letter to a literary friend describing my novel. I puzzled over my character’s Enneagram number (9 or a 6?) and discovered she may be a priest rather than a deacon; or does she end up homeless and alone? Most of all, I wrote and wrote and wrote.

A few times during those weeks I had an odd feeling. To use major (and theologically dangerous) hyperbole, it was as if my salvation depending on my writing my book.

The scenes that I most felt the Holy Spirit pressing me to write were moments in the character’s first lesbian relationships. I thought—gosh, if this goes in the final draft, I’ll publicly be a complicated Catholic. Of course, that is exactly the space that God has been pushing me into for a year. Thinking about how members of my Church will react to my writing has kept it bottled up for years. I just wonder if telling a story which speaks of an authentic experience of God AND portrays life which doesn’t sit neatly within prescribed Catholic behaviors might open the reader up. This is my WHY: I can’t stand that someone’s experience would be excluded without being explored.

5 thoughts on “this Call is streaming live!

  1. Hi, Leah. Loved your story. Loved reading how the Spirit moved you to break from work and read a book. I’ve felt the Spirit move me to do the same thing when I’m in the middle of making query phone calls. Just from what I’ve read–your pacing, your fascination with words, your ideas–you are the kind of writer I would enjoy reading.

  2. Dear Leah – I delight in what you have written here, and in the clearly intimate playfulness present in your relationship with God. “Publicly a complicated Catholic” – I imagine that phrase could describe Dorothy Day, St Catherine of Siena, St Teresa of Avila, and oh-so-many holy men and women (canonized and not), both past and present.

    As you describe your project, you seem to be embodying curiosity, exploration, and creativity – which I want to go ahead and name as virtues (even though they don’t show up as such in the catechism!). While I understand your reticence around theologically dangerous hyperbole, perhaps your salvation does indeed depend on writing what you write. I think of Dorothy Day quoting Dostoyevsky: “if the world will be saved, the world will be saved by beauty” – which perhaps includes the creation of art as well. That doesn’t mean that you will necessarily publish it, or publish it in its current form, but it may well be that when that fire is coursing through your veins, writing is “the work your soul must have” and cooperation with grace is to lean into that and simply let the words keep flowing (this has been my own experience on a writer on many occasions).

    A writer/colleague/friend once offered the wisdom: “write with the door shut, edit with the door open,” (a variation on this theme is “write when you are drunk, edit when you are sober”…same idea, but not going to actually recommend that!). That is to say, write the truth, the whole truth, the raw and unedited and embarrassing and vulnerable and complicated and messy and judgy and risky and dangerous truth, and then once that it down on paper, you can go back and say, “hmmm…is that really what I mean to say? Well, maybe this part here I just share with a trusted spiritual director or friend, but doesn’t stay in the final draft.” But the first step is simply, as you say so well, to write and write and write.

  3. Thank you for sharing this, Leah! I’m wondering what the call to write (and read) feels like to you. I hear some urgency, and the “odd” feeling that your salvation depends on writing, but I’d be curious to hear more about what this call feels like. Also, I love the sound of your book.

    (On a personal note, so many complicated feelings came up around my own relationship to writing while reading this!)

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