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A Writer’s Attention Deficit Disorder At Play

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A WRITER’S ATTENTION DEFICIT DISORDER AT PLAY

Multi-day writing conferences are bad for my Attention Deficit Disorder. Or maybe I should say they’re good for it. They feed it, encourage it, even celebrate it.

“Rejoice!” such venues declare. So many ideas! So many stories! So many topics and characters to be enthusiastic about! And most of all: so many directions I could go!

Since I was diagnosed with ADD a few years ago, I’m more patient with myself in such situations. I don’t mind letting my mind out to play, to imagine, to dream. No harm done.

I know this hyper-excitement and bouncy brain syndrome will lessen within a few days of the closing session tomorrow. I’ll lose the business cards I’ve collected and forget all my new writerly best-friends.

The passions that are real and meant for me will stick, and the rest are harmless mental entertainment.

The time I’ve spent sitting in this quiet seminary library researching the possibility of a Princeton Continuing Education Certificate in Ministry and Theology will blend into one of countless similar memories.

Seminary Musings

Whenever I spend time with a bunch of pastors as I have at this Frederick Buechner Writer’s Workshop, I suffer from a mild case of WannaBe, even though I am technically already a pastor at my church. I feel like a pretend pastor, because although I’ve taken a few seminary classes and am a “certified” Spiritual Director, I’ve not done the real stuff, the painful stuff — the heavy duty Christian History and Comparative Theologies and Advanced Homiletics and Old and New Testament I & II.

Why would I? Life is short, and I’m fairly certain my studies wouldn’t help anybody. Nobody cares what I know or think about theology, it doesn’t help suffering people, and I’m sure I’d find some other reason to judge myself “not good enough.”

I never know where the Holy Spirit might lead me, but I’m pretty sure it won’t be to these hallowed grounds. Never say never, though.

Forget the Christians!

I did get some important clarity and focus today, which is, as any ADD-addled person knows, a nugget of pure gold.

Drum roll, please:

I think that I may have decided on the “audience” for my writing. Actually, if this sticks, it will be a huge step forward in my meandering wander towards an intentional, serious writing project.

Surprisingly, the clarity came during a ridiculously brief fifteen-minute meeting with a former editor of Christianity Today magazine. This teensy time slot came with my registration for the conference — time with an editor or publisher or author of your choice — so why not?

I went into the meeting with my usual random scattered thoughts and a page of notes that involved a number of question marks and read: outlets, publishers, trends, niche, spiritual, de-mystify, different kind of Christianity, CIA, environment, drug addict, pastor, memoir, audience.

Somehow in all that, my new best publisher-friend found a way to help me through my confusion.

“You are writing for the ‘spiritual but not religious’ crowd, and there are a lot of them. Not Christians. You’re not writing for Christians.” 

The relief and certainty I felt about this “not Christians” directive bordered on euphoria. I hadn’t realized it, but the thought of writing for Christians makes me tense, like I have to quote the Bible a lot and throw around names and phrases like Martin Luther and Dietrich Bonhoeffer and orthodoxy and reformation.

Christians have historically believed that they have the answers to all of life’s big questions right in their big book. They tend to like certainty. I got nothin’ for folks like that. No answers, no resounding Message.

Gratefully, I think an increasing number of Jesus’s followers are moving away from that fixed mindset. As Anne Lamott said on the opening night of this conference, “I don’t want to read ‘message stuff.’ I want to know who are you and what have you figured out here?”

That, I can write about.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Not to Write a Sermon

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How Not to Write a Sermon:

I have no holy credentials. Well, I have a certificate from Cathedral College declaring that I’m an official Spiritual Companion, but aren’t we all spiritual companions in our own ways? And a few years ago I took seminary classes on spiritual formation, but never finished the certificate because I got chicken pox. A sign that I was not meant to pastor?

Anyway, only an unaffiliated rag-tag group of Jesus followers like the ones at my church would allow me to preach a sermon. It didn’t start out as a sermon, it was supposed to be a “story,” one in a series about hope. Initially our pastor (who also did not graduate from seminary, by the way) asked me to talk for ten or fifteen minutes about finding hope in grief and loss. No problem, I thought, I’ve blogged about that. Then I was told that it was to be an entire thirty-five to forty minute sermon.

So that’s where my head’s been the past few weeks, and why I haven’t been blogging. Sorry about that. I hope you’ve been managing OK without my brilliant insights. I’m afraid I have none for you today, either, but I’m trying to avoid writing this sermon, so here I am.

Attention Deficit, Depression, and a Drum

In typical ADD fashion, I began in hyper-focus mode, completely re-living my mother’s death, my brother’s death, and even my dear friend’s head-on with a tractor trailer that resulted in a nine-month coma and then death. I sat at the computer from 9 a.m. till the sun went down two days in a row, writing about hospitals and death.

Then, of course, I plunged into depression and stopped writing completely.

I became terrified by the whole project. How am I stuck writing a sermon about a trifling matter like finding hope in death? I’m not even a pastor. But maybe that’s a good thing, because a pastor might be tempted to rely on Bible verses about angels and resurrection and the afterlife, and I don’t even know how to find those verses. (I love the Bible, I just never remember chapter and verse.)

Heaven and eternal life are good, but I want to help the people sitting in chairs on Sunday morning to cope with the very real, very present, very today challenge of grieving life’s losses. “Everything will be OK once you’re dead, and not before,” is not comforting to me, and I don’t believe it. Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is here, now, among us, at hand. But how does that help us grieve? Where does one find hope?

I’ve now pulled out of “the sads,” and my ADD has flipped from fierce focus to bouncing puppy mode. I sit surrounded by dozens of pages of unconnected scrawls and phrases like: Mom-Beth-orange slices; Willie, Uncle Rolphe, winged creatures; MVA letter, gym, miracle; and, I bought a drum. They meant something when I scribbled them.

So that’s where I’ve been and that’s where I am. My deadline looms. Today is the day I must pull  it together or be in serious trouble. Which is why I decided to write a blog post instead. Please pray for me!

winter 2012-13 continued 009

The Spirituality of Attention Deficit Disorder

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Having a touch of Attention Deficit Disorder can be a boon for the spiritual life. It’s never easy to live fully in the present moment, to gratefully embrace all that life brings, or to balance our “being” and “doing.” But I think that ADD can be an ally in these spiritual pursuits.

Being Here, Now

Spiritual sages throughout history have urged us to live in the present moment, fully aware of the sacredness in all that surrounds us. They say this is a universal pillar of spiritual growth. Making it an intentional practice can lead to wonder, which leads to gratitude: one of my favorite fruits of spirituality.

Brother Lawrence, a simple monk who lived in the 1600’s, is recognized as having learned to fully “practice the presence of God.”

Brother Lawrence

Brother Lawrence (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“In the noise and clatter of my kitchen,” he said, “while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were on my knees.”

This tranquility is usually far from us, since our minds are often occupied with worrying about what’s just happened, or preparing for something that might happen. We can be everywhere but where we are.

For me, though, with my lively ADD mind, I can be fully present from moment to changing moment. As the moments pass by, my brain and emotions happily follow, like a bouncing ping-pong ball. I’m wired that way. I can go from despair to joy fairly easily, like a child, in some ways.

Are You In or Out?

I was talking with a friend today about the inward-outward journey and how the spiritual life consists of both serving others and also finding time for solitude and silence. We need a balance, because if you’re all service and don’t take time to re-charge, you’re going to burn out, and if you’re overly monkish, you’re not helping the world.

I suppose you could argue that – I believe that monks and nuns praying for peace are indeed adding goodness to the universe. But most of us don’t live in convents, and we need balance.

Here again, my ADD allows me to move from contemplation and prayer to calling up a depressed friend in a matter of moments. Yes, I distract myself and sometimes have trouble with staying on task (unless I get into obsessive mode — another story), but my day is usually a balance of “doing” and “being,” just by virtue of the fact that I bop back and forth.

The Yin and the Yang

Here in the compartmentalizing western world, we talk about the yin and the yang, shadow and light, while in Chinese philosophy, it’s yin-yang: a dynamic, interactive relationship.

But even in this melded Chinese word, it’s still black and white. There’s no grey in the circle.

I’ve come to believe that, while life flows, it doesn’t flow from yin to yang, from good to bad, or from easy to hard. It’s both at the same time — two rivers together.

When my mother was dying, I was desperately sad, but at the very same time, I could see that those last days were treasures. I loved her more than I ever had, and I valued her life, every day of her 91 years. It was a privilege and a joy to be with her on her journey, till we got to the door I couldn’t go through. I am so, so grateful to have experienced that profound but terribly difficult time.

Again, I think that perhaps it’s easier for someone with mild ADD to appreciate this confluence. We have to hold a number of things in dynamic, non-linear tension all the time.

The Dog Ate My Homework

ADD is not a serious condition for me, and I don’t mean to make light of it. I am aware that people’s lives can be dreadfully disrupted by it.

I am frequently frustrated at my inability to get anything done because I get distracted, or lose things, or go running off in a different direction. For instance, right now I’m supposed to be designing a writing course, but I keep changing my mind about the content of the course. So I’m blogging instead of doing my homework.

dog eating homework

(As it turns out, bouncy brain is also a help to blogging. I am interested in *everything* and enjoy bounding from subject to subject.)

At any rate, my point is that ADD is yin-yang – it might frustrate me, but I can see some spiritual advantages, and I’m grateful for that revelation.

“Clip art licensed from the Clip Art Gallery on DiscoverySchool.com”

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