The Writer’s Vocation

Dear reader! Happy…new year? Spring? Summer break?

Needless to say, it’s been a while. I don’t usually feel butterflies when hitting the “Write” button on this blog. But it’s been a long time since I even had the desire to hit that button.

I just got back to Indianapolis after spending a semester in Rome at the University of Dallas “Due Santi” Rome campus. I explored seven countries, climbed at least six mountains (several accidentally), got lost more than five times (especially on said mountains), thrived on approximately four cups of coffee a day, saw the pope three times, became sisters with my two lovely roommates, and fell more deeply in love with the One who makes all things new.

Going into Rome, I doubted that I would have time for the blog and other writing outlets. But as it turned out, I had more time to write than I have any other semester. So why am I only writing over here in May? After all, writing is one of my favorite activities. It allows me to share joy and process pain. It is an art which allows me to co-create beauty with the Word.

There are so many times when I have cried out to the Lord about an injustice or poverty within the world and His response is, “Write.” So you can imagine my surprise when, for the first time, I knew that He was asking me to put a pause on writing.

Very early on in the semester I found myself overcome by all that the Lord was doing in my soul through the sites we visited and the beauty we beheld. UD’s Rome program concentrates a lifetime of adventure into one semester, not to mention some of the best classes our Core curriculum has to offer. It’s exhausting and overstimulating at times, but that inundation of Saints, history, and art quickly irrigates the soul and allows the Father to plant and harvest goodness that one never knew was possible.

Rather than process these experiences through writing, I knew that I was supposed to be Mary, pondering the Word in my heart rather than praising Him through words. I wanted to let all the beauty, joy, and struggle percolate within me, and not allow any precious working of grace drip out before the time intended by the Father.1

And then we went to Greece, which was for myriad reasons the turning point in my semester and entire education thus far. On our ferry into the heartland of Western civilization, a large group of us had an incredible experience seeing Ithaka, the homeland of Odysseus. As I sat on the ferry later that morning with the wind tossing my hair and the murmuring boat engine carving white waves into the sapphire sea, I knew that the experience was not supposed to be kept to myself. It was time to begin writing again.

And so I wrote about Ithaka for my school newspaper and wrote a few other pieces as the semester progressed. I began to write poetry again. In that slow, intentional return to the writing desk I was beyond grateful for my hiatus from non-academic writing because the Holy Spirit had allowed me to reflect on the nature of writing and the vocation of a writer.

As I’ve matured, I’ve grown increasingly sensitive to guarding what takes place in the interior of my soul. I’m continually convinced that authentic evangelization and vulnerability comes best at the coffee table in the home, on the couch of a dorm, or over donuts at a parish center.

But I was deeply struck when I wrote a paper this past semester on Augustine’s Confessions and the role that the Great Books had in his conversion. Although the famous garden scene is the most well-known episode in Augustine’s journey into the Church, his conversion culminates in his rediscovery of the Psalms. Through the Psalms, Augustine discovers the outlet through which he authentically pours out his heart in a confession of love, sorrow, joy, and yearning. Augustine is so overcome by this discovery that he wishes all the world could see his tears in prayer and join him in speaking the language of praise. But of course, the whole world cannot see his prayer, much less the inner workings of Augustine’s heart.

Augustine’s solution? He writes.

With episodes from infancy to present meditations, he writes of his experiences, struggles, and joys, recounting the relentlessness of grace in his life and unveiling the soul’s capacity to choose liberty or slavery. He writes about the books which transformed his mind and drew him closer to Goodness Himself.

Confessions is not only the autobiography of a sinner-turned-Saint, but also the story of one of the greatest writers that the world has ever known. Augustine shows that a writer’s vocation begins with that call of the child, “Take up and read.” If everything is grace, and graces are not to be kept for ourselves, the texts which we read, whether on pages, sunsets, or human hearts, are texts which must be given away. This is the call of every Christian. But the writer has the grace to give through writing, through mingling the beauty of life with its pain, and through sketching the infinity of grace on a written page.

What is the best way to live out this vocation as a writer? That’s another question with which I’ve been wrestling lately. I have no desire, natural or God-given, to write through social media (you can read my thoughts here on why you should delete Instagram). Beyond school, I don’t know how I intend to write next semester. And as for this blog…do people actually read blog posts these days?

But in the midst of these questions, the headlines about AI continue to circulate. Chat GPT is at the forefront of the worries of teachers and professors. Images and video produced by AI make us reevaluate how we discern the truth.

But while Chat GPT can write “poetry,” spew facts, and even interpret your dreams, it remains artificial intelligence. A robot can never possess the rich inner life which is the great gulf between the world of things and the world of persons.2 It can never ask why something exists rather than nothing, never be flooded with the joyful discovery and rediscovery that all reality is a testament to the unfathomable love of a Father.

“Love is exclusively the portion of human persons,” declares Wojtyla. “How extraordinary that anything should exist!” exclaims Wittgenstein. As long as cynics, materialists, and now robots, threaten our belief that love is the answer to the mystery of existence, the world has need of writers who know the cracking and expansion of the heart and choose to put that love into words.

I have more questions than answers about the form and function of writing in both the new evangelization and the brave new world. But to everything there is a season. And after all, I haven’t been sent back to this promised land of drip coffee for no reason.3 It’s time to write.

1 – You’ve heard of Teresa of Avila’s The Interior Castle, but have you heard of The Interior Cafe?

2 – cf Karol Wojtyla, Love and Responsibility

3 – Obviously it was amazing to spend a semester in the motherland of espresso. But there’s something about filtered drip coffee that wakes me up and activates my mind like nothing else… Unless we’re talking about Pocket Coffee, which, after Dante, is the greatest thing the Italians have to offer the world. And yes, I know that these footnotes showcase my caffeine addiction.

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