Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra
The journey home requires travel in foreign lands. The prodigal son could not love his father until he had left him; his older brother never came to love his father (Luke 15). Much like contrast reveals the outlines of what we see, sometimes it is helpful to explore foreign lands in finding our way home.
In her book, Writing as a Sacred Path, Jill Jepson teaches writing through exercises in alternative, especially eastern, spiritual traditions. She writes:
One of the writer’s highest goals is to express the inner workings of the human spirit in ways that evoke understanding and empathy. By making it possible for people of different regions, beliefs, and cultures to communicate, by allowing people to share each other’s experiences and views of the world, the writer acts as a warrior for peace (198-199).
Because many screen plays employ eastern spiritual practices and sometimes even eastern themes and settings, it is not surprising that this book would be published in California and writers there would find these exercises helpful.
Jepson writes in 10 chapters organized in 4 parts:
1. The Mystic Journey (Transcendent Awareness; Crazy Wisdom),
2. The Monastic Path (The Writer in Silence and Solitude; The Writer in Community)
3. The Way of the Shaman (Darkness and Healing in the Writer’s Path; Sacred Ground), and
4. The Warrior Road (Honor and Courage in the Writing Lift; Strategy and Skill for the Warrior Writer).
She describes these 4 parts as gateways to the sacred (9). The first two chapters (The Call and The Sacred Gift) function as an introduction. A conclusion (Walking the Sacred Path) follows chapter 10. The conclusion is followed by endnotes, a bibliography, an index, and a brief description of the author. Jepson describes herself as: a writer, traveler, linguistic anthropologist, and college professor (246). She knows her stuff.
Chapter 2, The Sacred Gift, bears special attention because it focuses on the critical role of stories in affecting personal and social change (21). The writer, as storyteller, plays a pivotal role in culture. Citing Buddhist and Hindu origins, she defines the idea of a mandala—a geometric depiction of the cosmos making our universe understandable—the opposite of a monkey mind—a chaotic, rapidly changing state of mind (21). A mathematical model or graph might, for example, function as a mandala. Jesus’ use of parables might form such mandalas and illustrate the transformational potential of stories.
Jepson applies her lessons through spiritual exercises which she annotates as: sacred tools. The book provides dozens of these tools. These exercises can have a couple steps or be rather lengthy. One tool, for example, is a visualization exercise:
1. Write your experience,
2. Imagine your opponent’s experience, and
3. Create a character (195-196).
Walking in someone’s shoes is certainly an old idea, but it is also a helpful writing exercise in any tradition.
Jepson has written an insightful writing manual. Writing as a Sacred Path is a fascinating book. The blend of Christian and pagan references, however, could easily lead to spiritual confusion. Christian spirituality begins with God, not with us. When we engage in spiritual practices designed to enhance our talents or power over ideas, we stray from Christian into pagan practice. This is a journey that writers need not and should not take lightly. Nevertheless, the journey home requires travel in foreign lands and we are better for it.
Jepson: Spiritual Practices in Writing
Other ways to engage online:
Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net
Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com