The Monastic Way
I carry within me quotations from Scripture, great literature, stunning poetry, and sacred reading, for almost every occasion in life. They form a pathway of pillars that steady me through all the shaky moments of human growth. They make every day a new reflection on life and alert me to my own immersion in it.
Awareness is the gift of great writers to those who would come after them. Writers we never meet nevertheless become our companions on the journey of life. The insights of good writers become beacons to their readers. I collect them in great numbers.
But don’t be fooled: writing is not really about words at all, beautiful as they may be, elegant as they may seem, demanding as the writer’s talent is in capturing our attention. No amount of words without meaning, no number of details without the power to stretch our worldview, our sensitivities, can really be called “writing.”
No, writing is about ideas. It’s about what’s rumbling around in the writer’s sharing of their own personal insights that seed in a reader a whole new consciousness of what it really means to be alive.
The simple record of an experience is not what makes for great writing. The log of a person’s trip up a mountain, for instance, may be interesting but not necessarily soul-shaping. It is the distillation of the climber’s experiences that brings us to confront our own understandings, to examine their depth, to challenge their quality and caliber. It’s the writer who opens our minds to hear the heartbeat of the world that makes writing the sacrament of insight.
Then, when we ourselves come to that moment on the mountain of life that demands all our attention, requires all our strength, confronts all our own expectations, we find in ourselves an icon to guide us.
What good writers bring to the exposure of the mundane grows us all, enables us all to see our own world differently. They lead us down new paths of thought, open new possibilities, challenge what we have too easily taken for granted.
It is, in other words, finding the writer who opens us to the great insights of life, who opens us to ourselves, and stretches us beyond data to meaning.
Good writing demands good readers. Great personal growth requires the inquiring mind.
All religious traditions, therefore, call for serious personal attention to the great wisdom of the past, the writings that have lasted through time, that is borne from the heart of one generation to another through the discipline of sacred reading.
—from The Monastic Way by Joan Chittister