Faith and the Metaphor Muscle

Writing to Wake the Soul: Opening the Sacred Conversation Within
by Karen Hering
Atria Books/Beyond Words, 2013

Despite dedicating thousands of hours to teaching and generating creative writing, I still wonder whether writing is worthwhile. These days it’s the environmental crisis that makes me doubt. As cities around the world face permanent flooding and species go extinct, I sit in my big red chair writing a story? Does this really help humans accept responsibility for the world’s brokenness, or find faith enough to create a new, sustainable relationship with the planet?

For writers who share these doubts, Karen Hering’s new book is heartening. Writing to Wake the Soul: Opening the Sacred Conversation Within offers a refreshingly socially conscious approach to writing as a spiritual practice. To grapple well with the big challenges of our times, Hering says, we need to reclaim the language of myth, metaphor, and imagination. This language speaks in poetry and parable, memory and imagination. It is the fabric of our faith traditions; it connects humans around the globe and through time. “With metaphorical thinking we engage reason and imagination together, not to construct a plot or prove a hypothesis but to explore what is out of sight—the unknown or unnamed within us and beyond us,” she writes. To answer unanswerable questions or solve unsolvable problems, we must reconnect with language big enough to hold mystery.

In the aftermath of September 11, when some commentators divided the world between those fiercely religious and those not, the poet Adrienne Rich countered, “If there’s a line to be drawn, it’s not so much between secularism and belief as between those for whom language has metaphoric density and those for whom it is merely formulaic.”

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