Saturday morning at the Art & Soul conference Lauren Winner presented “On Writing and Prayer.” Lauren Winner is best know by her autobiographical Girl Meets God. She is also author of the devotional text Mudhouse Sabbath, and the co-author of Protestantism in America.
Some excerpts from her lecture (Part 1 of 2):
Writing and Prayer
Some have pointed out the irony of much modern prayer. You work hard all day at a job, be parent to your children, and then save prayers until right before bed. But is waiting until the most exhausted hour of the day the best time to pray? Writing, like prayer, is another task you might not want to save until you’re about to fall asleep.
Lauren Winner speaks at the Baylor Art & Soul conference
The Myth of Productivity
Prayer has freed me up to think that not all writing must be productive. Society says our work has to be measured by productivity. Prayer is not productive the same way a factory is, although it is fruitful.
Winner talked about the liberating and sometimes healing aspects of writing creatively without the artificial constraints imposed by task-focused writing. She continued:
There has been a cost of sorts to being a productive writer. I felt for three years I felt that I was wasting my time if I wrote a paragraph if it didn’t see it into print. The measure of my writing was the finished paragraph I produced that made its way into publication.
She no longer has this worldview. Many days she writes just to write.
The Silence of Writing
Like prayer, writing is more about listening than talking.
Winner quoted something she read once:
People that pray and people that write both need time to be silent.
Prayer is not just about petition. It is also about listening. Most of our problems in prayer stem from that we don’t listen to God enough.
The root of the work comes from listening to the story we already know.
Winner also gave an interesting story from a Rabbinic Midrash. The first letter of the first of the ten commandment is Aleph — a silent letter. This is because, the Rabbis explain, in speaking the 10 commandments God was not saying anything new. As we enter silence, we can hear beyond the static noise in life and hear the ever-present truth of God’s presence about us.
The task of prayer, and of writing, is the task of the letter aleph.