“Writing is a form of contemplation.”
— Thomas Merton, monk and spiritual writer
“Writing is a form of praying.”
— John Keats, poet
“I’m not sure I could contemplate at all if it wasn’t for the fact that I have spent most of my life surrendering to the experience of going down into the dark of the writing process.”
— Joan Chittister, contemplative and Benedictine nun and host of a new online retreat at Spirituality and Practice, where she posted the above quotes.
The theme of Chittister’s retreat: reading and writing as a spiritual discipline, the sort of discipline that “fills the soul,” changes us, takes the hectic out of us, that brings a person into the presence of God. Consider, for example, the early monastics, who spent hours reading scripture and psalms, reflecting on them and memorizing them. Reading deeply, thinking deeply, and writing honestly, she says, transforms lives.
Her month-long retreat, which has just begun, focuses on writing journals and reading essays and poems, which Chittister calls “small shining examples of great insights into what it means to be alive.”
“Fifteen minutes of a good poem can set the soul at the level of contemplation for the entire day and ring inside of us for the rest of our lives. Poetry,” she says, “is the spiritual exercise that takes us down inside ourselves so the spirit can see what we are hiding from ourselves.”
The first poem she chose was Emily Dickinson’s “I Dwell in Possibility.” She concentrated on the first four lines as a call to live in possibility, or hope, and to see through many windows or many perspectives. I include here the rest of the poem for an obvious reason: It’s wonderful.
I dwell in Possibility –
A fairer House than Prose –
More numerous of Windows –
Superior – for Doors –
Of Chambers as the Cedars –
Impregnable of eye –
And for an everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky –
Of Visitors – the fairest –
For Occupation – This –
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise