Writing During a Retreat

In a book of random reflections by Henri Nouwen, “Seeds of Hope”, we learn from him about the power of writing as a tool for spiritual development.

“Writing is a process in which we discover what lives in us. The writing itself reveals to us what lives in us. The deepest satisfaction of writing is precisely that it opens up new spaces within us of which we were not aware before we began to write.”*

Suppose you are in a retreat house in Louisiana. From the dining room, through a plate-glass window, you look out over a grassy meadow. You see an avenue of stately oaks. When you go out for your morning prayer walk, you see honey-suckle in bloom, poking its way up through the underbrush. High above, clinging to the trees, a wisteria vine trails its pale lavender flowers. Capture all this in words. Curl your pen or pencil around the experience. Make little sketches if you can.

When we write, we embark on a kind of heart-journey. Yet we are not sure of the destination. An act of trust is needed. We are often confronting the hidden part of ourselves. We have to be willing to meet the self that surfaces when we write. Writing, then, can be a kind of spiritual exercise. The blank page confronts us and stares us down. Possibly we are afraid that some distortion or untruth will spoil the page. Maybe we are really afraid of the truth that may mar our self-esteem. But when we override these fears and give the pen or pencil its way, a flow of grace may be felt. Strong feelings or simple insights may spill out. We are in touch with ourselves at a deeper level, moved by the Spirit of God.

Nouwen writes, “What I am gradually discovering is that in the writing I come in touch with the Spirit of God within me and experience how I am led to new places.” *

*Robert Durbach,ed.,Seeds of Hope: A Henri Nouwen Reader (New York:Bantam,1989), p.28

(Wilderness Time: A Guide for Spiritual Retreat by Emilee Griffin, p.37)