Words and Flesh

When a writer loses her words, dramatic things happen.

She grows restless and frustrated. She speaks in ominous tones. She starts deleting things, because a writer without her words is a perfect storm. Facebook. Strange contacts in her phone. Mailing lists she subscribed to but never reads. Old blogs. Scratchy socks she never liked anyway. Expired yogurt in the fridge.

She might take up obsessive book-buying, hoping to catch words like one catches fever: suddenly, with intense heat. 

She might distract herself with work. Good work hides a multitude of tears. Good work is meaningful. She might regretfully decline glamorous writing invitations and once-in-a-lifetime writing opportunities for the simple truth that the river dried up and she has nothing left.

Until the words no longer show up, a writer might have no idea how deeply her identity depends on her ability to form sentences and make paragraphs. And when the blank page she stares at does not transform itself into sentences and paragraphs, she begins a process that goes like this:

No no no no no. 

That season might last a day or a year, even two. But then something will happen, inevitably, because life is like that. The heart will shatter. Injustice will rock the system. Anger will heat the blood. A tragedy, an existential crisis, a beauty so ravishing one can only weep—something will move, shift, break, mend. And this energy will begin to flow like water along the riverbed, just barely, but enough. Enough to soak the feet. Enough to wet the tongue. Enough to cover the stones. Enough to bring along necessary tools for what is just ahead.

And then one takes a blade, carefully deconstructs everything she thought she knew, reaches her hand into the dark belly of mystery and scoops up a handful of revelation: “Words are your fallback. You are hiding behind your words. It's time to come out from behind your words and live your life.”

At some point, I don't know how or when, but sometime over the past few years writing became a way for me to stay safe. It's ironic, finding safety in the very thing that has brought both ecstasy and deep, unquenchable grief. But if I can wrap words all around me, around and around, then I-as-I am layered, buffered, protected from the pressed-up-close vulnerability of skin. You can condemn, misunderstand, reject, or be disappointed in my words. But you can't condemn, misunderstand, reject, or be disappointed in me, if you can't get to me through a sea of mystical, lavish, poetic words, even if they are meaningful & true.

It's a lot of pressure on my paragraphs and sentences, to save me. It's not what they are meant for. And it has led to a necessary, yet loving death—a stripping away of protective comfort in order to be and become more fully what I am made for. It requires letting go of what I leaned on during a long season when I needed this kind of safe container for myself. Yet as they do, the season has shifted now. I am asked to do things differently. To expand. To show up in new & vulnerable ways. To live an embodied life that is also sometimes uncomfortable because it is real and imperfect. But real and imperfect things have a way of becoming the most transcendent. When one shows up trembling-brave & following a heart-led, spirit-led, soulful path, there is a mysterious grace that shows up, too. 

I've always said that, for me, writing is just one small “h” away from writhing. So I'm not giving my energy away to perfect the conversation or create a perfect story. If words come, great. If not, I will embody myself and incarnate in other ways—word made flesh. I relish the contemplative, nourishing work of silence and have slowly come to understand what author Liz Gilbert said when she wrote:

“Creativity is sacred, and it is not sacred.
What we make matters enormously, and it doesn’t matter at all.
We toil alone, and we are accompanied by spirits.
We are terrified, and we are brave.
Art is a crushing chore and a wonderful privilege.
Only when we are at our most playful can divinity finally get serious with us.”

—Liz Gilbert, Big Magic

Words come and go with alarming consistency. I want my life to be a rich display of show, don't tell. This both terrifies and enlivens me! I am making my life a luscious work of art. Not a perfect life, but one that is well-lived and deeply loved; rooted, present, creative and embodied. My words have given way to soft, warm flesh. To a holy-hush, incarnational desire to dwell in this body of flesh and be as ravished by life as I can possibly be. To create meaning and to see beauty wherever my eyes find a place to land. It is a birthstory I love—a releasing of old and birthing something wiggly, squalling & needing heaps of attention, but that I am head-over-heels for. 

When a writer loses her words, dramatic things happen. She grows restless and frustrated. She might resist for a very long time. She might fill the spaces left empty with denial and striving and busyness and even some very good things. But the space is there for a reason. And when she stops long enough to surrender, to allow the discomfort of expansion and trust, when she reaches out to a friend loving & wise enough to observe the ways she hides herself behind a world of words, the space gives way to something transcendent: a messy, holy, and meaningful life.

I can tell you that it takes great strength to surrender. You have to know that you are not going to collapse. Instead, you are going to open to a power that you don’t even know, and it is going to come to meet you. In the process of healing, this is one of the huge things that I have discovered. People recognized the energy coming to meet them. When they opened to another energy, a love, a divine love, came through to meet them. That is what is known as grace. We all sing about amazing grace. It is a gift.
— Marion Woodman

Hillary McFarland