About five years ago I had a vision for a book at a conference. The idea came in something of a flash. I had a manuscript on my hard drive of a project that was going nowhere. But suddenly the question occurred to me: “what would be the most fun thing to write?”
Instead of trying to write the great American novel, or a picture of “the way we live now,” what I was truly after was capturing some component of the process of inner transformation.
What came to mind immediately were two books written centuries apart that were about this process of inner transformation. One written by a 13th century Italian poet, and the other a book about getting creatively unstuck written by a screenwriter from New York.
I wanted to a write a book where Dante’s Divine Comedy meets The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. That book was light on its feet, easy to digest, it invites the reader to take some kind of action to remove blockages to creative growth.
I had come to see the spiritual life in much the same way: the Paschal Mystery is the term for this in the Christian tradition. We dig in the dirt to become more conscious of our wounds and offer them up for genuine transformation, to become open to a new kind of grace and expand our capacity for awareness and compassion of others.
In the process we have a radical reorientation and come to change what we think of as our very selves.
This process is captured poetically in Dante’s epic poem capturing his journey through hell, purgatory, and paradise. This becomes a metaphor for the soul’s journey home to God.
Other ancient myths can also be read in this light. As a world lit professor of mine says “we’re lost. We’re trying to get home. This is the enduring theme in all great world literature. It’s what keeps us coming back. To learn how to get home.”
In seminary, one of the things that struck me deeply was how much more personal narrative like that of, say, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, impacted me from other more academic theologians who remained in the abstract.
I’d have to share something of my own journey moving from addiction to openness.
One key component of my own journey had been the discipline of ongoing contemplative practices as a daily touchstone.
This teaching goes way back, of course, to The Desert Fathers and the Prayer of Silence, it runs through the writings of 5th century mystic Dionysius the Areopagite, through the anonymous 14th century English language classic The Cloud of Unknowing, preserved down through today by monastic traditions.
The idea focused my work and thinking. I read deeply in the ancient mystics, revisiting Dante’s work, listened to lectures, read modern mystics like Richard Rohr, Thomas Merton, Thomas Keating, Anthony De Mello.
The ideas started congealing and I dashed off the first draft in a matter of months.
The Odyssey was just beginning.
I’d have to learn what it took not just to get something written but published. I started a web site. I created regular posts. I connected with like minded writers and practitioners. I refined the books many times over.
I connected with a wonderfully enthusiastic editor at Anam Chara Books. There were nudges of encouragement and help along the way at just the right times: a text from author Bob Goff, helpful feedback from author and editor Julia Roller, praise from author and world-class Mensch Dean Nelson.And finally an offer from author and editor Ellyn Sanna at Anam Chara Books. Illness and other challenges caused the book production and publication to be postponed for roughly a two year period.
From inception to publication there have been lost lives, illness in both my family and professional circles, divorces, but also new births, reconnection, communities rallying around with love and support.
The powerful play goes on. And if we attend closely, we allow the ego to be whittled away to make a greater space for love.
It’s finally out. I couldn’t be more grateful for all the help along the way in ways large and small.
A Book 5 Years In The Making…Or Centuries, Depending On How You Look At It