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The Pebbles Are Tricky Right Along Here

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For some time now, I have thought of myself as a spiritual writer and am confident enough, when someone wants to know, "Emilie, what do you do?" I say, "I'm a writer." And the person says, "Oh, what do you write about?" And I generally say, "spirituality," or "Christian living."

I remember some years back framing "spiritual writer" as my personal goal. Sitting in my editor's office at Doubleday, I said, "Oh, I want to be like . . . " and trailed off. And heard him say . . . "like Henri Nouwen?"

But I was afraid. There I was, writing a book on conversion and working in a big ad agency. I was sure my book on conversion would be greeted with critical scorn and whoops of condescending laughter.

After awhile, however, I saw the issue clearly. To write a book about trusting God, I had to trust God.

Why was I writing a book on conversion, anyhow? Well, because I had found the Lord in a ragged, fits-and-starts process assaulted by doubt and confusion . . . a strange quest that required the support of other believers—some personal friends, other friends in books. Like many others, I had read my way into Christian belief. I had followed every thread, winding from books by very charming atheists to those by very beguiling Christians.

I had been buffeted by yearnings, promptings, not knowing what to call them, lacking a full vocabulary of grace. But when I found out others had followed this same bumpy path, wanting to believe, losing heart, fearing, I felt floods of recognition. In the vivid stories of other conversions, I saw myself running from God but wanting the consolation of God's love.

So, imagine my embarrassment when my book was greeted with respectful praise. Why hadn't I trusted God more?

If you actually become a spiritual writer, things may get harder.

Father Henri Nouwen, from the platform, used to voice fear of thinking he was some kind of spiritual genius just because he had written seventeen or eighteen books. (By the end of his life it was more.) He worried that his bit of fame might go to his head. He thought he might forget that he was there to serve, not hog the spotlight.

Recently, while editing the writings of British spiritual writer Evelyn Underhill, I discovered something about her worst doubts and temptations.

She was afraid that her great experiences in prayer were self-induced, delusory. Which connected well with my earliest worry that Christianity was too beautiful to be true.

Spiritual writer is a rare subcategory for writers. Few would claim this offbeat designation. But, judging by the amount of help I've received from reading spiritual writers, they're needed. As much as in biblical times.

Sure, the creative imagination plays tricks on us: peculiar shadows, rough stones, even serpents in the path. In Latin, the word scrupulus, little stone, is what gives us the word for "scrupulous" or "scrupulosity." A spiritual ailment for which the major remedy is trust.

Rufus Jones, a Quaker writer of some years back, spoke about spirituality as something like sailing in fog. Spiritual writers steer in the darkness, too.
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