Thursday, January 15, 2015

My Spiritual-Literary Life - More Prewriting

The students in my current Literature of the Latter-day Saints class have intrigued me with their first, modest personal essays ("My Mormon Literary Life"). I want to hear more.

We are looking at the Book of Mormon through a literary lens; reciprocally, I want my students to look at non-LDS or non-religious works through a spiritual lens. My current students are all English majors attending BYU (where one's spiritual life is respected and cultivated, hopefully in every class they take). So, I want them to brainstorm, to reflect on moments when they have felt themselves receiving inspiration and insight not while reading scripture, but while reading literature or when writing.


  1. Read the prompts below about different aspects of one's literary life to be considered from a spiritual angle. 
  2. Use one of those prompts, or something along the same vein, and write one short account of a spiritual-literary experience (that is not based on an explicitly LDS or religious book or occasion). As a model, see this post, but keep it much shorter (around 200 words).
  3. Then, unrelated to that story, add to your post a list of various spiritual-literary experiences, giving just enough info so that others can get an idea of the experience without it being too cryptic, but without you having to tell the whole story. (See my model below)
  4. Respond to others' posts and state what sounds like something you'd like to hear more about (either the main story or one of the seedling stories in their list).

  • That novel that strongly affected me spiritually (not an LDS novel)
  • Writing something out (in a letter, in a journal entry, etc.) that helped me figure something out (Please avoid accounts of church meetings or activities, family history, etc. These are all very important but I'm pushing you to think about the spiritual nature of non-religious writing)
  • Creative writing that I did (or that someone I know wrote) that helped me to cope, or change.
  • The performance of a play (again, not of something with religious content) that caused me to reflect deeply (a performance you viewed or that you did)
  • Moment in the library
  • Reading to someone; being read to
Please avoid overtly stating the spiritual outcomes, especially using church-speak. You are not writing a testimony or a lesson for church. You are practicing writing about something meaningful but outside of the Mormon idiom or the LDS practice of drawing abstract moral conclusions.


Example of a short account (responding to the prompt about creative writing that helped me to cope):
I've faced many unpleasant moments in my life, but none seemed more horrible to me at the time than when we were summoned to the room where my daughter-in-law was receiving an ultrasound for the baby she would lose the next day. The baby was perfectly healthy, but my daughter-in-law was not. Her preeclampsia came on suddenly, spiking her blood pressure and threatening to shut down her kidneys and take her life. The only choice available to her and to my son was whether one life would be lost, or two. 
What made this moment so excruciating, however, was the ultrasound. The technician doing the ultrasound didn't know any decision had been made to take the baby. She cheerfully pointed out every feature of the growing child, giving measurements of length and pointing to the healthy heart, etc, --all as though these young parents would see this baby properly born. I was angry. I was deeply concerned for the mental and physical well being of my daughter-in-law, my son, and my wife. It was a terrible, terrible experience.
And writing about it really helped me. I wrote this sonnet about little Olive and that terrible last moment we had with her, dramatizing the incident. This helped me find some peace. It has helped others, too, who have told me so. Writing sonnets isn't easy for most, but it is for me because I have done it so often. It's a go-to way for me to express myself, to understand my life, and to come to terms with things. I was deeply grateful to have this way of meaningfully dealing with and sharing a difficult experience.  
Example list of spiritual-literary experiences:

  • That time I performed as Charlie Gordon in Flowers for Algernon and connected with this mentally troubled character in a way that freaked me out.
  • Sitting on my back porch with my paper journal and just the right pen on a Sunday afternoon in the Autumn
  • Discovering Pablo Neruda's poetry in a bookstore when I was 17.
  • Helping my father with his autobiography and hearing him show some real empathy for his foolish younger self who was taken advantage of by a heart-breaking woman.
  • Reading Perelandra by C.S. Lewis and imagining a world with floating islands and hearing echoes of my own beliefs about God in this strange allegory about the Garden of Eden
  • Connecting with an odd Quebecois poet as we talked in French about the concept of the ineffable at a violin recital.
  • Memorizing and reciting to myself John Donne's "Batter My Heart" poem
  • Reading my friend Patricia's amazingly literary Facebook posts about everyday things like the weather in Southern Utah and being mesmerized at the poetry in her soul

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