Try Writing with Friends for Lent

If you ask my family what they enjoyed most about our trip to Memphis years ago, you might hear about basketball at the Pyramid, barbecue with a side of jazz, and Peabody ducks. If you ask me, I’ll tell you about a breakfast table in a Denny’s restaurant where we passed around new composition books and pens. Even though it was a school break, they humored me. We finished plates of French toast and Grand Slams, then set a ten-minute timer. “Write whatever you’d like about this trip we’re taking. Just keep your hand moving until the time’s up.”

I don’t recall how long we sat at the table or how many times the waitress came by. I do remember the wonder I felt after we each read aloud and I realized how much more I wanted to learn about the people I knew best. Like how our grade-schooler could now fill an entire page with intentionally funny insight. When did that happen? Or what made our adolescent secure enough to create an affectionate theme song for a road trip that his friends would consider uncool. Or how my husband embraced this moment so fully that not only did we laugh hard, it felt like a joyful thanksgiving. Or whether I would ever find the words I needed to convey what I felt for them and for a morning like that.

Writing in groups creates that kind of wonder. I’ve seen it show up around classrooms tables when people who had spent their lifetimes in the same congregation share their longing for a deeper faith for the first time. It happens in a group that sips coffee around the library table where someone is reading about the unexpected hope they found that week when they had almost given up, and two members across the table start to cry. I’ve seen the wonder of two group members who had to be out of town both calling via FaceTime so they wouldn’t miss the meeting. Wonder hovered around us when one writer’s reflection on Habbakuk led her to proclaim hope daily that week. “Be brave, Caroline,” she began before reading the ways an ancient prophet made her bold on a subway, in a law office, when sending an email, when thanking people who are rarely recognized. Every time I experience the sacred gift of a writing community, I’m amazed at how much those who show up with their notebooks matter to my spiritual growth.

It’s never too late to start a writing group—not even for Lent 2018. Whether you meet one time over breakfast or gather weekly between Ash Wednesday (February 14) and Easter Sunday (April 1), writing with friends is a wonderful way to prepare for Easter. Reflecting on our spiritual life with pen and paper is a helpful way to pray. And sharing the words we’re writing with others who are doing the same creates a unique kind of prayer meeting.

Find a quiet place and time to meet for at least an hour. If your church is using a theme for the Lenten season, such as “Hard Choices,” you might create writing prompts that reflect that topic, or even the sermon title for the week. Or, read the Scripture text that will be read in worship and journal for 10 minutes in response to the question, “God, what do you want me to hear in this passage?” Take time for group members to share their responses.

You may also want to draw on the season of Lent itself when crafting your writing prompts and exercises. The following ideas may be useful for your group, or might spark other ideas for you to try:

• Make a list of words we associate with this season of the church year, such as cross, temptation, wilderness, and fast. Write each word on a slip of paper and put all of the words in a basket. (We once used an offering plate.) Have group members draw a word to write about, but take care not to use any other “church words” in the process.

• Give group members four minutes to write a letter to God that begins, “Dear God, what I most need to experience during Lent is…. The problem is….” After four minutes, have the writers turn their pages over and take another four minutes to write God’s response to their letter. Afterwards, compare the two parts of this exercise and hear what they discovered in this process. Which letter was easier to write and why?

• Use the “freewriting” approach with a writing prompt: keep your hand moving and don’t stop writing. The idea is that this will keep the words flowing fast, helping you spill your thoughts onto the page. Try prompts like: “What do you find most difficult about being a Christian?” “Where do you find the most joy?” “What would you like to let go of?” “What would you like to begin?”

As you move towards Easter this year, consider forming a writing group. It might become the most memorable part of your trip.

Carol Younger is the editor of Reflections.

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