The Soul Tells a Story
The Soul Tells a Story: Engaging Creativity with Spirituality in the Writing Life
by Vinita Hampton Wright
Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005
Reviewed by Teresa Blythe
Novelist Vinita Hampton Wright (Velma Still Cooks in Leeway and Grace at Bender Springs) shares timeless spiritual wisdom in a book that is primarily about the creative life and secondarily about the writing life. Wright draws in the spiritual director from the very beginning, when she links creativity with spirituality. “Some people become a little more mystical when they engage in creativity. Creative work will demonstrate to you again and again that the world is bigger and deeper than you perceive” (p. 33). Spiritual guides who have worked with artists will resonate with much of what Wright has to share from her own spiritual journey, as she recounts her struggles to accept her introversion, live with depression and move from a religious background that taught her to deny her desires into one in which God lives and moves within her deepest desires.
Each of the nine chapters begins with quotes from famous writers, dancers and artists who have written about the creative process. She then moves into an essay on the theme and ends with questions the reader may use for journaling or exploring his or her own creative style. A bonus for spiritual directors who cherish the well thought out “query” are these questions Wright presents throughout the book echoing the types of questions spiritual directors pose—at the right time—to those wrestling with God’s creative energy in their lives.
The first half of the book sets the tone by discussing creative callings of many types—not just the call of the writer. Dancers, visual artists and musicians will appreciate such topics as “what to expect when you embrace creative callings” (p. 15) and “the various ways we tap the well” (p. 91). The second half of the book, beginning with chapter five on “how to craft but not control while using both sides of the brain” (p. 121), will be of greatest interest to the writer, as Wright comments on the many challenges specific to writers. However, she still tackles subject matter of interest to a variety of creative artists—such as how sexuality informs our creativity and the importance of awareness. “Your job as an artist first of all is to pay attention. Only when you do that will you perceive what is waiting to be revealed and then interpreted to the rest of the world” (p. 243).
Of greatest interest to the spiritual director will be the section on “desires and fears: our personal trapdoors” (p. 100–104). “I have learned to trust my desires much more than my upbringing allowed,” she writes (p. 101). And notes that, “as a creative person, you will burst into bloom when you create out of your desires” (p. 102). While Wright is speaking from personal experience as a writer, most spiritual directors will recognize this same truth from working any directee, even those who do not envision themselves as artists.
This is a valuable book for any spiritual director but is a priceless addition for one who works with any kind of creative artist.
Teresa Blythe is a writer and spiritual director who conducts workshops and gives lectures at conferences all over the country. She is the author of 50 Ways to Pray: Practices from Many Traditions and Times (Abingdon Press, April 2006) and has published numerous articles, essays and book reviews in Beliefnet, Spirituality & Health, Leadership and Presbyterians Today magazines. She is Coordinator of the Hesychia School of Spiritual Direction at the Redemptorist Renewal Center in Tucson, Arizona, USA.