I have a shelf full of books at home on how to write. I have books about the “courage” to write, how to find my writer’s voice, how to write on history, how to write for social scientists, how to revise a dissertation for publication, and how to avoid procrastination. There are books on the shelf detailing all kinds of strategies and tools to help me get going with writing and doing it well. None of them, however, is any help at all when it comes down to actually writing.
In How to Write: Advice and Reflections, the Pulitzer-winning author Richard Rhodes relays advice he once received from a writer when he asked how one became an author. The answer in so many words was that one simply had to apply the rear end to a chair. It sounds so easy and yet it is often the most difficult thing a person can do.
Some of the books I have describe the great lengths to which writers go to avoid writing, or at least to put it off until a more opportune time. Some people have to clean their desk or even their entire apartment or house before they can write. Some have to retreat to a coffee shop or a diner or take a long walk before they can write. Their hope is that if they leave where they are now and go somewhere else, anywhere else, then what needs to be written somehow will magically appear without any struggle. Some think they will do better if they purchase the right equipment: a new pen, notebook, or even a software program. To be honest, I did not have to read about those “strategies” in a book someone else has written, I have tried them all myself.
If you want to write, you simply have to sit down and start doing it.
When you think about it, beginning to pray is an awful lot like beginning to write. If you really want to pray you have to take the time to do it. I also have a good many books on prayer. I can tell you from my personal experience that it is easier to read about someone else’s spiritual life or to read about someone else’s praying, than it is to pray yourself. Praying, like writing, is hard work.
If you want to pray, you have to sit (or kneel) long enough in one place to do it.
Whenever you begin to pray you will find that distractions will abound. You will begin to think of all the things that need to be done. Everything else will seem more important and more urgent than what you actually are trying to do at that moment. Getting up to do something else or leaving where you are might seem the best thing to do right at that moment, but if you sit still and persevere you will find that the distractions slowly begin to ebb away.
When I finally sat down to write this meditation, I wrote it all at once. The reason I finished it was not because I had any fancy techniques or equipment to employ. It was not because I felt particularly inspired. When I started I knew only that I was going to begin writing about how difficult it is to start writing. I did not know in advance how this was going to turn out. I finished it simply because I sat down in one place and stayed there long enough to finish my task.
Do you find yourself wishing that you prayed more often than you actually do? You may not know in advance how your prayer will turn out, but if you want to pray, then you will have to ignore the distractions and temptations, and apply yourself to a chair (or a kneeler).