Session 4: Statement of Belief

For about a month now, we have come together weekly.  We have discussed various strategies for writing our spiritual autobiographies, and gathering or recalling that information.  We have shared poems and prayers, and been moved to tears by the same.   Where do we go from here?

The meeting commenced with a reading of William Stafford’s poem, “The Way It Is“.  In this poem, William Stafford seems to capture, with the concept of a “thread”, the metaphorical journey that connects our stories. What is the thread of belief connecting our experience?


The meeting then moved to a discussion of a David Brooks NYT editorial about a recent TED Talk, given by the the musician Sting.  The video of Sting’s talk is not available at the time of this posting, but you should check back here for updates, to view the talk in its entirety when it goes live.   Sting discusses his rise to fame, and the period of time in his life when “the muse abandoned him”, and he was unable to write new songs.  Rather than discussing the future, as many TED talks tend to, Sting went into the past, asking how much richer is historical context, than future visions.  What happens when we impose a narrative order on our past experiences, in hindsight?

“Life”, David Brooks says, “has a way of blowing you off course. People have a way of forgetting what they originally set out to do. Going back means recapturing the original aspirations.” 


In this, our fourth session of the Spiritual Autobiography series, we begin to explore moving our writings from our personal notebooks, to a more public stage, if we so choose.  The model we explore in this enterprise, is the NPR series turned non-profit corporation, This I Believe.  We took a look through the writings we had done since the beginning of this series.  We looked for common threads, or themes, running through the pieces.  We considered whether the stories we had chosen to write could be distilled into a theme of belief.


We read through the essay writing guidelines provided by This I Believe.  We also compared and contrasted the 1950’s guidelines to the current version.  One of the examples of we discussed was Andrew Brodsky’s, “The Space Between Us”.  There are many more examples of these essays available online & in a series of books.

What do we believe in most sincerely?  What have our stories shown us about our beliefs?  We split off to write on our own for 20-30 minutes.  After this, we paired with a class member & read our entries to each other.  The sharing in the room is quite easy & beautiful – it has been comforting to watch the participants grow spiritually together over these past several weeks.

We ended the meeting with a reading of “Kindness“, by Naomi Shihab-Nye.  The poem states in part:

Before you know what kindness really is you must lose things, feel the future dissolve in a moment like salt in a weakened broth.

We adjourned for the week.

Session 3: Cultural Touchstones


But if I write what my soul thinks,

then it will be visible,

and the words will be its body.

– The Words of Hellen Keller as relayed by Annie Sullivan, 1891



This week, as we continue to wander through the Lenten Wilderness together & through our writing, we examine our lives through the lens of Cultural Touchstones.



Cultural Touchstone: Music





Make a list of your top 5 songs (pieces of music) that represent a meaningful or important time in your life.  Pick one song – ZOOM IN – write about it (or list about it).  Who were the important people in your life at that time?  Where were you?  What did you believe?  What did you feel?  (drawn from Nick Hornby’s bestselling novel About a Boy.)


Cultural Touchstone: Literature





Make a list of the important books in your life at different stages: teenager, 20’s… 50’s, 70’s.  ZOOM in & write or describe as recommended for key music, above.  Consult Ann Fadimon’s Ex Libris  & Nancy Malone’s Walking a Literary Labyrinth.



Cultural Touchstone: Visual Art



Identify a work of art that is meaningful to you, or that resonates with you.  ZOOM in – list people, beliefs that were important to you at this time, or just start writing as the spirit moves you.  Consider Henri Nouwen’s Return of the Prodigal Son, and the way in which the Rembrandt painting by the same name influenced his life.



Resources Used in Class


Even if you do not want to purchase the books that are mentioned in this list, you can still read parts of them on Amazon.  For the links that go to Amazon, on each book, in the top left had corner of the page by the Book Cover, click “Look Inside This Book.”  This link will take you to a preview of the book.  These vary in length, but sometimes contain several chapters.  If you have a Kindle, you can send a preview to your Kindle without buying anything, as well.



This tip is care of Natalie Goldberg, author of The True Secret of Writing: Connecting Life with Language & Old Friend from Far Away.  She says when you are stuck and you do not know what to say in your autobiography, try starting each sentence with “I remember” & just keep doing so over & over again until you have a piece, or you start writing on one of the ideas that surfaced.


Assignment for the Week of March 17

This week, please write at least 10 minutes and more if possible.  Next week, the theme of our class will be “Re-Reading”.  Please bring a piece of writing to share and work on.  We will be learning techniques for revising your written work.  This class will be especially important for those who wish to make their writing public.



Session 2: A Spiritual Geography




I have walked through many lives,

some of them my own,

and I am not who I was,

though some principle of being abides,

from which I struggle not to stray….

Stanley Kunitz, “The Layers

This week, as we continue to wander through the Lenten Wilderness together & through our writing, we examine our lives through the lens of place or physical geography.



We enjoyed a reading of Stanley Kunitz’s riveting poem, “Touch Me” before we enjoyed a concentrated time of personal writing during the class.  Here is Mr. Kunitz reading this poem in his own words:





We also discussed Kathleen Norris’ use of “place” as an avenue for exploring spirituality.  Here is an excerpt from her writings:




Resources Used in Class



You can print a map of your hometown.  Use a highlighter to mark the streets or routes that you were allowed to travel on your own at a relatively young age.  What memories surface as you examine your map?





We also exchanged extensively around Georgia Heard’s discussion of querencia in  Writing Toward Home: Tales and Lessons to Find Your Way.  Querencia is Spanish for “the place one calls home”.  You can read an excerpt of her novel here.



Think about places where you have felt the most at home.  Make a list of them.  Choose one & describe it, perhaps your writing will move toward a story of why it is meaningful for you.  Where do you feel happy & relaxed?  Are there memories that you return to when you need a sense of peace?  Describe them.


If you feel stuck, and have nothing to write about, you can choose a line from another author’s writing to use as a jumping off point.  You also can choose to write for ten minutes – then choose the most poignant sentence from those 10 minutes of writing – rewrite that at the top of the page & use it as the starting point for your next entry.



Additional Resources


Assignment for the Week of March 10


Power of Words


Many in our group found it somewhat difficult to write for 10 minutes per day – many expressed that external commitments for work or life made finding the time difficult.  Others expressed that they were still coming to terms with the task of writing, and found it did not come easily.  For this week, the assignment is to write at least one 10 minute session.  Please write more if you can manage it – this is an invitation, not a forced requirement.


Session 1: A Sacred Journey

This Lenten season we are privileged and honored to have First Church member Ashley Martin instruct and guide us in writing our Spiritual Autobiographies.  The five part series will culminate with writing a statement of faith, similar to those prepared by our youth upon their own confirmations.  This post contains the resources & materials from the first of five sessions.




Theology is something we all do.  “What a theologian is doing essentially is examining as honestly as he can the rough and tumble of his own experience, with all its ups and down, its mysteries and loose ends, and expressing in logical, abstract terms the truths about human life and about God that he believes he has found implicit there, ” says Frederick Buechner (The Sacred Journey 1).  Our assumption is that exploring our ives through narrative first, before trying to express our beliefs about God and religion explicitly, is an essential part of the work of theology.


Resources Used in Class




You can follow the course at home by reading these posts if you do not join us in person.



Start to examine your life through time periods.  What are the stepping stones that have appeared along the way in your journey?   In class, we used the “Stepping Stones” method of Ira Progoff to get started with our writing.  It states in part,

“The Steppingstones are the significant points of movement along the road of an individual’s life. They stand forth as indicators of the inner connectedness of each person’s existence, a continuity of development that maintains itself despite the vicissitudes and the apparent shifting of directions that occur in the course of a life. The Steppingstones are indicators that enable us to recognize the deeper-than-conscious goals toward which the movement of our lives is trying to take us.”



Additional Resources for Writing




Additional Reading Resources




Assignment for the Week of March 3




Reading and writing can be forms of spiritual practice.  Consistency and discipline in writing practice is more important than the quantity of time spent, as with all spiritual disciplines, such as meditation & yoga asana practice.  The act of doing it frequently, even if just for 10 minutes” daily makes a difference.  Beryl Bender Birch, author of Beyond Power Yoga, says about the practice of yoga asana, and this applies to writing practice as well:  “The big challenge for all of us is to keep it going on our own, without a teacher….  The whole point of practice is to feel more connected.”  So 10 minutes daily is better than an hour or a half day once every two weeks.  This week, please write 10 minutes per day.