ABOUT THE MINISTRY OF WRITING
WRITING FOR GOD
The interview was not going well.
Sitting in my office, fingers posed over the keyboard ready to take notes, I could tell that the man whose voice was coming through my telephone headset was being careful about how he answered my questions. I could also tell from the hollowed metallic tones coming across the line that he was on speakerphone—and that someone else was possibly listening in to our conversation.
No, the interview was definitely not going well.
I was disappointed because Health Magazine had given me a dream assignment: Write 1,500 words for nearly 8 million women on how to create a more meaningful life. A life of richness, fullness, and purpose. It was an opportunity to serve women in a huge way and I’d spoken to researchers at UCLA, psychologists at Ohio State, and program facilitators at Cornell. And now I was on the phone with Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Community Church in California, and author of The Purpose Driven Life, the classic book that has sold more than 40 million copies. After studying what constitutes a purposeful life for so many years, I figured Pastor Warren would have some answers. And, as a gifted communicator, he’d offer up those answers in a way that could challenge my readers and change their lives. If he trusted me.
I sighed. I wasn’t just a magazine writer trying to get a good story and make a buck. Writing narrative nonfiction was my ministry. I’d given God carte blanche with my life when I was 16—and he’d led me up one street and down another as I’d worked my way through college and served community and religious organizations in Philadelphia.
But in 1981 He put my father-in-law’s ancient Remington on a desk in front of me, a special concern for women’s needs in my heart, and an opportunity on my doorstep. After I’d finished my last course as a student at Temple University, the instructor, who’d vehemently discouraged every single student from trying to become a writer—“nobody can make a living at this”—called me at home and told me I had to risk it. Then he invited me to join a writers’ group he’d formed with a half-dozen nationally-known writers and editors in Philadelphia and hear their critiques of my work.
The group gave me the confidence to make the leap into light space. Parents Magazine bought my first article, Philadelphia Magazine bought the second, and I was off. The New York Times. The Washington Post. Better Homes and Gardens. Ladies Home Journal. Readers Digest. Health Magazine. Even the recently re-envisioned Saturday Evening Post.
In 1985 I began to write and edit women’s health books for Rodale Books. In 1997 I went to work for Prevention Magazine as a contributing editor, then as their editor-at-large. I developed new stories focused on psychology and emotional health, edited columns, rescued features, won a drawer-full of awards, and wrote some of the best stories of my life. And I made sure that in every story, within the slew of options offered our readers to live a healthier, stronger and happier life, hanging out with God was among them.
It wasn’t a matter of preaching. Or proselytizing. Or trolling for converts to one particular denomination or another. It was simply a matter of reaching out to wandering souls. Of knocking on a door and offering my readers a complete menu of options that would renew, refresh, and—often—rebuild their lives.
I had never discussed the faith that fueled my commitment to readers with those I interviewed. It was never necessary, and given the derisive comments that were made by editors at some publications whenever anything about faith came up during an editorial meeting, I kept my faith in the background with editors, as well. But Rick Warren’s reticence forced me to make a decision. I took a deep breath, offered a quick prayer, and came out of the faith closet. Confirmation that I was following God’s latest trail of breadcrumbs was quick. Rick Warren started to laugh. He picked up the phone and switched off the speaker. “You’re a stealth Christian!” he chortled.
“Well, yeah,” I admitted.
The next 20 minutes with the unscripted Rick Warren—an extraordinary man extraordinarily devoted to God—were a blast.
The thing is, writing for God is a trust and an act of faith. For whether a writer is called to transcribe the light of God as it moves into the darkest corners of the world or simply relate his or her own faith journey, today’s writer of faith must touch the center of each person who hears or reads his work, listen intently for the Spirit’s movement, and allow himself to be used in ways that will nurture his reader’s individual relationship to the Light.
It is not an easy task. But that’s what I’ve spent my life doing.
From my first magazine article to my last book, I have listened intently for the Spirit’s movement within the people I interview and within my readers, then encouraged the two to meet on the printed or digital page.
When I approached the assignment for Health Magazine, for example, the first thing I did as I flipped open my laptop was center myself, mentally review who reads the magazine and ask God directly, “Ok. You’ve gotten me this assignment. Now where are you in the story?”
The answer quickly emerged. In the Health Magazine story I wrote on how to find meaning and purpose in life, God was at the center. My role? Simply to show readers who were feeling restless and dissatisfied how they would feel when they simplified their lives and worked toward the purpose for which God intended them. With a few key interviews and anecdotes, the work was done. Readers would ask themselves questions raised in the story and see how others had answered similar queries. For some readers, it would be an opening into the Light. For others, it would be the next step on a newlyilluminated path.
Or take the story I wrote for Better Homes and Gardens. With 40 million readers looking over my shoulder, my job was to give parents tools that would help them build strong families centered in God.
Along the way, I was led to include a Muslim woman’s voice as she talked about praying under the stars with other Muslims. It was not easy. She was afraid to draw attention to herself or her faith. She was afraid to be quoted. Yet her presence in that story—as one included in the company of faithful women and not as something “other”—was one infinitesimally tiny step toward the acceptance of Muslims in our society and, for all Americans, our growth as a people of faith.
For some assignments, it takes more work to find God’s direction. I have to keep peeling away the layers of those I interview, read books and journals that may have initially seemed tangential, and spend more time in active contemplation—a kind of journalistic lectio divinia. Essentially, discovering what God wants me to do in a story becomes a process in which the skills of discernment combine with the basic tools of journalism to reveal God’s will, push me to grow more than I ever thought possible, and, generally, fry my brain.
While I was writing “The Healing Garden” for Prevention Magazine and setting up web-only features for its website, for example, I interviewed scientists who explained how our neurochemical reactions to green growing things triggered physical responses that caused us to heal in many different ways. I knew that a good portion of Prevention’s 11 million women readers were gardeners. So, as I wrote, I talked about the gardener’s sense of quiet joy as she worked the soil. How to create a garden that would move her into the slow lane and return her to her roots. How to use still water to encourage contemplation. Stepping stones to step into an earlier, more connected dimension.
It was a terrific read, but an inner restlessness suggested there was more. Where, in fact, was God?
I kept searching. Finally, I’d written the entire article and was sitting at my desk feeling like I hadn’t done the job God had asked.
Restlessly, I called Lizzie, a Quaker gardener I’d interviewed at least a half-dozen times for the piece, just to see if there wasn’t some gift that God had tucked among her words that I simply hadn’t seen. And, of course, there was. Here’s what Lizzie said, and how I finished the article:
…The moment you enter your garden, take a deep breath, slow down, listen to a cricket choir, notice how light goes through leaves, and see how it sparkles on the dew. “The garden is an opportunity for intimacy with the divine,” Lizzie says. “It’s a portal to God. I believe each plant has a vibration of God within it—not just a reflection, but the actual energy. So when we look at a plant or touch its leaves, it speaks to that of God within us.”
People come to God by grace. But God’s perfect love is such that He sends writers—in all media, in all languages, in all countries throughout the world—to illuminate the subtlest movements of Spirit and provide accompaniment through the dark.
This website is intended to open writers to the voice within that may be calling them to that work—and then show how masters of the craft have heard the same voice and created articles, books, and screenplays that amplify its volume in a world gone nearly deaf.
As writers, we are so incredibly blessed.