It is awfully difficult to be a person of faith in isolation. There are ascetics who have done it, but it is such a challenge that they are definitely the exception, not the norm. For the vast majority of us, a faith community is a core part of the life of faith. We most often come to faith and are sustained in faith by the community. I am discovering that the same seems to be true about being a writer about the life of faith. It would be isolating indeed to be the lone voice to interpret this moment through the lens of faith. There is, of course, a great cloud of witnesses who have gone before, established writers or even deceased, beloved writers from another generation. But the live interaction with others currently writing emboldens my work and its relevance to this time.
I have heard the catch phrase many times in children, youth and family ministry circles, “faith is caught, not taught.” This means that what we do is more formative than what we teach young ones didactically about the faith. Here is what I have caught so far about what it means to be a faith writer, a key part of which is lifting up other writers. I learned to write for publication by being uplifted myself: by Collegeville colleagues, in supportive online spaces specifically for and by women faith writers, and in person over coffee with established writers. I learned to “pitch” in the workshop I took at the Collegeville Institute 3 summers ago, and have never forgotten the confidence of those leading the course that each of us knows about something that no one else in the room has a clue about, and can tell it in an insightful way. Each piece of well-intentioned advice, e-introductions to their contacts, and commiseration from other writers has kept me faithfully pursuing this vocation: writing, revising, sending in submissions, and doing my own part to lift up other writers. I reciprocated with my own contacts, perspective and sharing colleagues’ writing whenever possible. I grew into the life of faith writing.
As the means of evangelism plant certain values in converts, I learned that faith writing must include a hunger for quality writing from many diverse voices, and a passion for using whatever influence I can muster to amplify them. Embedded in my identity as a faith writer is a sense of my own smallness in a much larger cloud of witnesses. I desire not only to contribute to the body of quality writing out there, but to create a legacy by other voices that might not be heard as loudly without my amplification.
A college theology professor of mine once described teaching his own son the Lord’s Prayer. When the child whined “Why do I have to do this?” his father replied, “Someday I’m going to be on my death bed, and you will need to know the words.” Similarly, but without quite as much weight perhaps, I am learning to be the one who keeps other writers going, connecting them, spurring them on, asking them to write for a platform I edit, then prodding them to turn it in, because we each need to know how to do it when someone else is teetering on the edge of leaving the writing life altogether.
Individual relationships with other writers who are willing to associate your name with theirs in a public way have been key to this journey, but social media acquaintances I have never met in real life are also a strange part of this life. The Twitter and Instagram “comment pods” I’ve been invited into and Facebook groups like Collegeville’s “Faith Life, Writing Life” have been a way for relative strangers and I to tip each other off about calls for submissions and boost the visibility of each others’ writing. These more loose ties alone would probably not sustain me in the writing life, but they help me build and maintain momentum to write.
God speaks through us, to each other. The most influential words a faith writer says may not be the most eloquent or well-planned ones, but instead the repetitive encouragements to our fellow writers to keep going. Our words become theology – faith seeking understanding – about what God can do through our writing in this world. You may think I am reading too much meaning into tiny things, as a newer convert is prone to doing. But I know what I have experienced and how it has changed my writing life. I know there are many, many more potential faith writers like me out there with insights to share and words that have not yet met the page, because the reasons are numerous why they cannot write them. If I can encourage even one into writing, what ripple effect might their “conversion” have for others? Probably writing an article is not the way to go about this anyway. I should sign off, log into my e-mail and send a note, a connection, or a call for submissions to some friends.