Writing When It Hurts

Writer and activist James Baldwin concluded, “The price for pursuing any profession, or calling, is an intimate knowledge of its ugly side.” When I answered the call to preach the gospel, the invitation was delivered by one of Gabriel’s mail-angels. Like Ezekiel, I ate the book. I swallowed the message whole, no questions asked. With angel feathers stuck in between my teeth, I was satisfied and unashamed to speak in God’s name. Writing epistles for Sunday morning, I saw myself as the bearer of good news.

Nearly twenty years later, I was not feeling so well. Mildly nauseous and heart broken, I wondered, “What was in those words? What did God give me?” I had only tasted the honey but perhaps, the sticky substance had been used to make it go down easier or to hide the flavor of something else. Whatever the reason, there was no hiding it now.

Life had gone bad and my soul was sour. My world had been turned upside down and its contents shaken out onto the sanctuary floor. Worse still, I would have to collect myself in public. I would have to pick up the pieces as I preached and in between pastoral care visits. And no matter what happened, keep those fingers moving.

But, my faith had been taken down more than a peg or two. I wasn’t sure that I could ever get to cloud nine again, that I ever wanted to see an angel again. How shall I preach now? I had only seen the church as the house of God. How could bad things happen here? Stained-glass windows were my rose-colored glasses. Now cracked, I didn’t know what to say or what I was seeing anymore. Because this can’t be real. This can’t be happening to me.

I was suffering, experiencing a pain so deep and intimate that I couldn’t make it go away. Because it was closely related to me. Worse still, I could not write about it. I didn’t know where to begin because I wasn’t sure if this was the end. Was it over or did I need to brace myself? I regularly journal but I could not pen this down. I could not pin this down.

The words escaped me, abandoned me. I was so angry. Not one of them visited me. How could they leave me at a time like this? Where is the scripture for this?
I needed God to speak to me and I could hear nothing. Was there no word from the Lord? I called Gabriel and left messages but my calls were not returned. It seemed that no one wanted to talk to me about his infidelity. Consequently, it took me two years to say two words: he cheated.

It was then that my soul cried out, “Say more.” Write for those too ashamed, those who have been blamed for being sinned against. Write and the pain will subside. Write and the words will make you feel better. Write or your soul will starve to death—because you will not survive on those two words. Because there is more for you to say, more to your life than those few words.

So, I wrote words that were not pretty or platitudinous but raw and unattractive. I wrote and I cried when I looked at them. I wrote and I screamed. I wrote and I crawled into my bed, pulling the sheets over my head. I wrote and I paced the floor. I wrote and I prayed. I wrote and I sang. I wrote until I rejoiced because I had survived the pain, finding myself on the other side of those two words.

From hurt to healing, writing had saved me. The words had not pushed me over the edge but managed to move me closer to God. I now had an intimate knowledge of the ugly side of my calling and lived to write about it.

smcneillReverend Starlette Thomas* is an associate pastor at Village Baptist Church in Bowie, Maryland and the Minister to Empower Congregations at the D.C. Baptist Convention. She writes on the social construct of race and the practice of faith at www.racelessgospel.com. Her hobbies include reading, writing, and Starbucks.

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