A few months ago, I wrote about America’s racial conflict in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. The linchpin of that blog post was my desire to shut up and listen—as openheartedly as possible, for as long as possible—to people of color and their experience. At the same time, I knew that somewhere along the line, even while continuing to learn, I would be called upon to act.
The form of that action has just barely begun to emerge now, in a way I never expected. I’m telling you this because it has to do not just with race, but also with God or Spirit, and the way Spirit engages with my life and maybe yours too.
There are some oft-heard narratives of how white people should respond to racism: We should call out expressions of racism whenever we hear them. We should raise our voices in direct public protest against police brutality. We should organize to dismantle structural injustice.
These approaches are essential. We do need white people to act on them. But they are a complete mismatch for who I am: my gifts, my skills, my faults and foibles. If I tried them, I’d be laughably ineffective.
So what can I do? And who decides?
A little context. As a contemplative, I aim to live my life in response to Spirit. That means a ton of listening in silence, reading sacred texts, and meditating to discern what Spirit might require of me. It means examining my Spirit-given talents and heart’s desires and aspects of my deepest self to discern what Spirit has shaped me for.
When I do all those things, I see that—first, last, and always—I am a writer. So writing about race would be a natural response to the imperative to do something.
But write how?
This is where Spirit has surprised me. Two years ago, without warning, my writing took a sharp turn away from discursive blog posts like this one toward intense, creative, personal essays (like this 500-word flash essay and this longer one). The usefulness of this I could not fathom, but a lifetime of Spirit has taught me to just run with a development like this when it presents itself.
Now, in the past month, something remarkable has happened. I have worked on two essays about personal matters, and before I knew it they’d become essays about race. Voilà: Spirit’s first response to what shall I do? It’s left me a bit breathless.
Does it make sense to respond to race with creative writing? The wise words of a beloved writer colleague suggest that it does. While we were discussing the breakdown in listening and reaching across divides, she observed that when every other form of communication breaks down, the only thing we have left is the arts. This makes sense to me: I often think of the arts, including my essays, as an invitation, and people respond well to invitations. Here’s something that happened to me, my essays say. See what you can make of it.
There are concrete lessons to be drawn from this, as you might imagine. I’ll leave it to you to ponder them for yourself. In other words, here’s something that happened to me. See what you can make of it.