“Any attempt to plan or engineer your own enlightenment is doomed to failure because it will be ego driven. You will see only what you have already decided to look for, and you cannot see what you are not ready or told to look for.”
-Richard Rohr, Falling Upward, 66
The most important turning points of my life and my faith have come when I have felt least prepared for them.
Rohr says it well here: we cannot see what we are not ready or told to look for.
Ironically, when God breaks into our world and pushes us beyond what we know and have experienced, that is the moment when we are “ready” to see it, even if the moment of realization is overwhelming and disruptive.
If I could hold onto an explanation of what prayer is capable of doing, it’s this sort of enlightenment where God takes us beyond ourselves. It’s the transforming power of the Spirit in our lives that makes the life of God apparent in us.
This is why prayer and writing can be particularly powerful when they work together: writers are seeking clarity and enlightenment through our creative work. We’re trying to get a slight edge, and it’s often very slight, on how everyone sees the world. We’re pulling back the fabric just a bit to say, “Hey, have you ever looked at things from this angle?”
If we’re just repeating what everyone already knows, why would they bother reading our work? That’s why the commonplace tropes such as, “Everyone knows…” or “It’s a time-honored adage…” are such terrible ways to begin any piece of writing. Every college composition teacher surely has hands raised, shouting “Amen!” at that point.
Prayer is a leap into the void of the unexpected. We don’t know where God will take us. If we have a clear map in mind of what’s supposed to happen when we pray, then we’re not actually praying. We’re just paying God lip service rather than entrusting ourselves to God’s loving presence. It’s not up to us to set the agenda when we’re in God’s presence.
Writing is a similar leap. We begin the creative process and submit ourselves to it. We go where it leads. Yes, we outline and take notes and write drafts, but we can only go where the process takes us. At a certain point we either ditch the project or polish it for wider distribution.
Whether writing or praying, the most important part of either process is the part you can’t plan out or see coming. They’re both leaps of faith, acts that put us in positions where could end up in a place that is beyond ourselves and leaves us forever changed.