Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Discernment: A Controlled Burn

         Last summer I spent a month in Door County and along with the pleasures of being in a place I love and having friends and family come visit, I set aside that time to contemplate the next step in my writing. I was having doubts about the book I had been working on for such a long time. Should I continue or not? One question. One simple question. I brought the essays with me and the chunky notebook with ideas and notes and plans and bit by bit I reread everything and wrote in my journal and sat and thought and walked and thought. And prayed. 
Much to my surprise, the answer appeared quickly. "This is worth doing, but you need to write more essays than planned and you need to make this your focus." I wrote and edited while I was there. I started working on a book proposal, and I returned home with high hopes and energy. I cleared the space, and the fall and winter were productive times for me.  
Well, it is discernment time once again, and this time there is more than one key question. And this time it doesn't feel as simple. I submitted my book proposal to a publisher and have been in conversation with the vice president of editorial and production, and her suggestion is to totally restructure the book. Now, first of all, let me say, how thrilled I am to even have someone take an interest in my material and to have a door open even a little bit, but her suggestion plummeted me into a muddle of questions--some were obvious (Should I do as suggested or not?) and some were hidden in some foggy place where I didn't want to go--about myself as a writer and about the material. And about purpose.  I allowed myself some time to wail and wallow and then moved into a time of intentional discernment. 
Fortunately, guides appear when they are needed. Most notably, two books. One is The Seven Whispers, Listening to the Voice of Spirit by Christina Baldwin and the other is Decision Making and Spiritual Discernment, The Sacred Art of Finding Your Way by Nancy L. Bieber.  These books offer gentle words of wisdom ("Move at the Pace of Guidance." "Wait. Let the light come.") and strategic questions ("What do you want me to do?" and "How do I need to change in order to do it?"). An attitude of willingness is encouraged. I am willing. Not I am willing to do x, y, or z, but simply I am willing. 
          "I am willing. What do you want me to do?"  
No answer. Darn it!  So many questions and possibilities were percolating in my head--popcorn kernals getting hot and ready to pop. Reading, meditating, and writing in my journal are my preferred strategies, but I needed something more.  
I spread several pieces of large sketching paper on my desk and got out my colored pencils and started mapping, seeing where one idea led and what other ideas opened up in front of me. Arrows and circles and lines and stars flowed across the papers. Lots of ideas. More questions. But no clear answer.
          "I am willing. What do you want me to do?"
A few weeks ago a controlled burn was conducted across the street from our house. I watched the team set underbrush on fire, dowsing the flames almost before they were allowed to burn, preparing the space for desired new growth. Already it is hard to tell where the burn occurred. I think discernment is like that. The burn needs to occur. The brush needs to be cleared away in order for there to be new growth and when the next step or steps are known, there will be only memory of what was there before. I'm trying to remember that. I am trying to be willing.   

1 comment:

  1. Nancy,

    Bravo for going into this difficult subject. Like your entries on the strife at the Capitol you never turn away from the painful places. And then you share. That's my notion of you. I think you deserve and would enlighten the larger audience that publication would bring, so I don't know what to say about your burn notions. Maybe keep in mind that the brush and the forest don't initiate any burn. They just allow it to happen. Don't do anything rash to your manuscript might be what I'm not-saying.