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Photo courtesy Yannick Pulver

Alfred North Whitehead asserts God is “the poet of the world, with tender patience leading it
by his vision of truth, beauty, and goodness.” God is a poet and invites us to participate in the artistry of creation. With the whole universe aiming at the production beauty, we are invited to further the arc of beauty – be co-producers - in our world by our own artist endeavors. We can’t help but be creators. It’s build into the nature of reality. But some of us are writers, creatively transforming the twenty-six letters of the English alphabet, or the characters of our primary language, into something new and unique. Every moment is self-creation and every synthesis of letters, words, and ideas brings something new into the universe.

Eric Liddell “the Flying Scot,” profiled in “Chariots of Fire” said “God made me fast, and when I run I feel God’s pleasure.” When my wife asked me recently, “how I could have written over eighty books?” my response, in the spirit of Charles Hartshorne’s work on bird songs was, “Birds sing and I write.” You may not be a writer (yet), but you are an artist of experience. Each moment, each occasion of your “wild and precious life,” is a work of art, bringing the many elements of experience into a novel whole and then sharing that moment with the world.

I want to share a few insights I’ve had in my own approach to writing, realizing that each writer is unique and there are as many paths to writing as there are writers, subjects, and genres of writing. I believe my writing path, if taken flexibly and tailored to your own gifts, personality, and life situation, is helpful to fiction as well as technical writers and theologians, and I have coached successfully writers working on memoirs, fantasies, theses and dissertations, technical texts, and theological and spiritual works.

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Photo courtesy Patrick Tomasso

Cape Cod poet Mary Oliver counsels, “Pay Attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.” In many ways, this is my approach to writing. A North African mystic once said, “the monk is all eye.” I would expand their wisdom by saying the artist, the writer, the poet, is all sense, including sensitivity to the unconscious, intuitions, dreams, synchronicities, gentle nudges, random encounters, and the whispers of divinity.

In my approach, I begin with invitation and inspiration. When I begin to think about a theme, I pray about it, opening to the Divine Poet, not only for inspiration but also to test whether I am the person to write about the subject. In all humility, there have been a number of texts that I wanted to write and was excited about writing but realized I couldn’t write due to experience, passion, social location, time, or expertise. Like the Oracle of Delphi speaking to Socrates, I have found that “no” is an appropriate answer to some projects.

Inspiration comes and it can come from anywhere and through any media. On more than one occasion, I’ve heard the divine speak through birdsongs. The birds might not have intended to give me wisdom but I found wisdom in their voices. Recently, I was reflecting on whether I should write a text my publisher at Franciscan Media had asked me to pen on St. Bonaventure. I was hesitant. I am not a Bonaventure scholar. I prayed and I read Bonaventure’s primary theological and spiritual writings. One morning as I walked at sunrise in my Potomac, Maryland, neighborhood, I heard the birds chanting “We need you. We need you. We need you.” I interpreted that as a green light to go ahead with the text, Head, Heart, and Hands: An Introduction to St. Bonaventure to be published this Spring (2024). Several books have gotten their confirmation as a result of my prayerful attentiveness to God’s inspiration in non-human life, encounters, and hunches.

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Photo courtesy Ioann-Mark Kuznietsov

“(God) is the poet of the world, leading it with tender patience by the divine vision of truth, beauty, and goodness.”

— Alfred North Whitehead

Intuition is essential to my day to day writing process. I study hard. I read the best literature on the subject about which I am writing. I review notes and jot down themes from which an outline might emerge. This is true for sermons and talks as well as books. I line out my chapters and then outline each chapter, joining the big picture with small manageable writing sections. When I begin writing, I follow a practice of taking a few moments before retiring for the night to ponder the next morning’s potential theme, focus on a quotation or an idea, write down a few sentences, and then commit the text to Divine Wisdom to guide me as I sleep. I believe that God is constantly inspiring us even when we are asleep, dreaming or dreamless. I wake up early in the morning, meditate for half an hour, brew some strong coffee, and start writing. After forty-five minutes, still before sunrise, I hit the trail in the woods surrounding our neighborhood or in the streets of our townhouse community. As I perambulate, new ideas come to me that I sometimes jot down as I’m writing, preserving them for my next writing time.

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Photo Courtesy JK Sloan

As I write, I take seriously Whitehead’s comment that the divine aim is “the best for that impasse.” In my first drafts, I embrace imperfection. Since I write on my keyboard, I can edit again and again and again. Like my hit and miss attempts at house painting, my goal is to get the words on the page, to cover the page with ideas, without worrying about spelling or sophistication. I know that even the final draft, I finally have to let go and put it into my editor’s hands to have a text formatted, will be imperfect – there will be room to grow and other ways to convey my ideas – but that it will be at this moment in time, “the best for that impasse.” If you realize every text is incomplete and finite, you can hopefully imagine your next book, article, or sermon as you finish the book or article you’ve been working on.
The poet of the universe needs companions to create and further God’s aim at beauty, truth, and goodness. Divine creativity is working in and through you to energize and inspire your gifts to respond to the world’s needs and do something beautiful for God.

The Art of Book Covers

Walking with Whitehead
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Book cover art serves as the gateway to a literary journey, capturing the essence of a story in a single visual. It's a delicate dance between creativity and marketing strategy. A well-designed cover is the lure that invites readers to delve into the world within its pages, ultimately becoming an integral part of the reading experience.

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About the Author

Author

  • Bruce Epperly

    Bruce Epperly is a pastor, professor, spiritual guide, and author of over sixty books, including his Christmas trilogy, The Work of Christmas: The Twelve Days of Christmas with Howard Thurman; Thin Places Everywhere; The Twelve Days of Christmas with Celtic Christianity; and I Wonder as I Wander: The Twelve Days of Christmas with Madeleine L’Engle, as well as Process Theology: A Guide for the Perplexed; Process Theology and Politics; Prophetic Healing: Howard Thurman’s Vision of Contemplative Activism; and Walking with Francis of Assisi: From Privilege to Activism.