Pregnancy: The Creative Process / On Writing

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Dear friends,

I’m delighted to share that my new book Practice Flourishing: The Spirituality of Jesus is nearly finished being revised. I’ve just presented it to my board at the Institute for Faith and Flourishing, and my submission deadline for the final manuscript is May 15. My publisher BitterSweet Foundation hopes the book will be released in paperback, audiobook, and digital by mid-October. If you’d like to sign up for updates on the book’s release, please click here.

To mark this moment, I’ve written an essay about my experience writing this book. I’m excited to share it with you and want to thank you for your prayer, encouragement, and investment in my work.

 

Pregnancy: The Creative Process / On Writing

As a man, I would never claim to know what pregnancy is really like. But my sisters and many of my dearest friends have shared their experiences of pregnancy with me. I have watched their pregnancies unfold and witnessed the new life soon after delivery.

The creative process must be something profoundly similar to pregnancy.

A tiny seed is conceived inside of you, likely before you even know it. But slowly, you start noticing things, which remain mostly overlooked and ignored. Still, it begins to reveal itself, and then you know that something has been conceived inside, that you are carrying a new life within. There is a burst of excitement, of joy, of expectation. A new beginning has begun. My life will never be the same.

But with time, the sickness starts to set in. You feel unwell and increasingly nauseous. Sleep retreats, you find yourself retching inside, and you feel like a fever has come over you. You sometimes doubt if these changes are for the better, if this might have been a mistake and something that will permanently damage you.

But with time, the emotional roller-coaster settles, and you rediscover a new stability. Your friends know something is coming, and it travels with you everywhere you go. It shows, whether you want it to or not. You feel the growth unfolding within you, and the movement inside with its flips and kicks becomes someone to talk to, to listen for and cherish – a life. You’ve seen glimpses of its nascent form on the screen, and it begins to becomes its own self, a fetus, a new life you cannot wait to meet. Even as you change and ache and sometimes vomit, you carry a new stature and beauty, a kind of rugged splendor.

But with time, carrying this weight without hope of respite becomes burdensome. There is simply no break. And the nagging questions return. Will this thing ever come out? Is this forever? Do I have the strength to carry it until it is actually ready? You feel the pressure to finish, to be done, to expel this from your self. But it simply remains tight in its hidden cave, sometimes kicking and spinning, sometimes wonderfully and terrifyingly silent and still. The body aches, the muscles grow sore. It feels like it will never end.

But with with time, that original urgency sets in again and rapidly evolves into a pressing anguish. You know without doubt that what you are carrying is coming to term. It is nearly here. But dread rises with unavoidable questions. When this new life comes out, will it be healthy? Will it be misshapen and deformed, destined for pain and crushing disappointment after this endless anticipation? And then the fever possesses you again, but with a seemingly terminal intensity. What if I miscarry? What if this life inside of me is stillborn, and I have carried this child only to deliver death? What if what began in joy and felt like a gift from heaven will become my unbearable grief and greatest regret? And then there’s also these other strangely scary questions: Even if it survives and is healthy, will anyone notice or care? And will I be able to handle being done with this, the postpartum of no longer carrying this life inside of me?

With time, that urgency weaves together with the ordinariness of pressing on into a tight double-helix. How long will this last? When will it come? Is it actually coming? You are preparing every day. Your life has become this process. In fact, you can hardly remember your life before this process. It has become your life. You’d think it’d be normal by now, something you can do and carry-on like anything else. And yet it remains heavy and volatile and frightening. The questions begin building again, and the intensity rises to explosion.

And then it happens. The contractions start to surge. The water inside breaks. And you know that it’s time. It’s on. Right here. Right now. You feel like you are breaking open, like your soul is splitting and rupturing, like something that must not happen must actually happen – a tearing, a parting, a liberation.

And you must push, and push; and push. There is a furious swirl of barely-conscious joy and anguish, even as you have never been more entirely present, more lucid, more focused, more here-and-now and this. You push with desperation and determination, with fear and anticipation, with uncertainty and utter certainty. This is everything, and it’s now, and I’m not going to let go until this lets go. Whatever it is you feel, you can only push, and push; and push, with a reverie of exhilaration.

And then it really happens. The baby is born. This previous nothing; this unexpected secret; this cave-dwelling, half-believed thing; this monster and miracle of life is now outside your self, before you, in your hands, here in the world. It is its self, a new life, an independence that is yours but its own, a meeting and parting, a welcome and letting go. It is as real and as alive as you are, and you cradle it in your arms, gently and awe-struck. That rush of water out of you wells up in your eyes and baptizes your face as eyes meet eyes, fingers touch fingers, voice is met by cries announcing sacred presence, saying, “This is me; I am here.”

And you are sweaty and bloody and exhausted and empty and aching all over. You find yourself amidst a ridiculous disaster zone with much muck and waste inside you and all around you. You were so entirely present and lucid and committed and PUSHING that you didn’t notice how messy and soiled and seemingly out-of-control things had become. There is still something to cut, aftermath to clean up and throw out. There may even be some urgent care needed, and new sets of questions emerge amidst the glorious wreckage.

But you have never been fuller, happier, more at peace and alive and your self. The new day dawns with joy, the oxygen in the air breathes with wonder, and everything is shining. Being alive feels too good to be true – and yet it is true, as true as anything you have ever known. It is real and here and now and given to you. You hold your baby amidst the exhaustion with life pulsing and screaming with joy. The cry of agony has become an announcement, a song of celebration, a shrill voice, a sleep-deprived ringing-in-the-ear more beautiful than any sound you’ve ever heard.

And then you must lay down again, no longer to push but to rest and sleep. This new life has been born, and it will be there when you wake up. It has only just begun and needs much attention and care. But it is here now, its own presence and mysterious inner energy. It needs you more than ever, and yet it doesn’t need you. And it also needs to rest and sleep, like you do.

And just like that, what seemed like forever – like it would never come – like it was unbearable to carry and impossible to deliver – like your most feverish fear and greatest mistake – an unforgivable failure – is here, now, real, alive, itself, sacred joy to be held and cherished and slowly shared with others, even as it becomes itself and what it alone can be.

Pregnancy has given way to birth and a new beginning of life. With time.

The book is written and almost ready to be published.

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