Writing as a way of life – as a way of Christian life.
For the past year and a quarter, I’ve had the so-called “writer’s block.” I’ve blamed everything from my non-profit day job to my relationship with a non-writer for my lack of creative productivity. It was only within the past few weeks that I’ve slowly regained communion with my creative imagination. I have been writing since I was a child, and poetry was one of the first forms of my creative expression. As a philosophy major in college, I was able to focus on the “big questions”—goodness, truth, beauty. However, my education in philosophy was mostly devoid of a creative lens through which to explore these themes. The cold rationality of disciplined philosophical study—arguments, papers, logic—often conflicted with the inner reality of the poet’s world that I know to be home. In the past two years of living and working in D.C., I have gradually lost my attunement with the inner world of poetry.
Since joining a writer’s group comprised of serious Catholics following their creative impulse, I am finally able to engage other Christians writers—in books and in person—that I wasn’t exposed to in the creative writing courses in college. Meeting each month with other writers interested in finding their voice within this great Christian intellectual tradition is ceaselessly inspiring. Although I am not yet a Catholic, I have attended mass on and off since I first attended Catholic mass in the fall semester of 2010. Since then, I’ve had two serious relationships with young Catholic men who challenged my theological, philosophical, and artistic understanding of the faith.
Once again, I find myself single and seeking a closer relationship with God and my community of faith. I am once again/finally beginning to find my independent voice as an artist within the Christian tradition. Continued exposure to Catholic writers from Dietrich von Hildebrand to Saint Teresa of Avila helps to unearth a new dimension in my work and to reach a deeper connection with the spiritual life that informs my essays, poetry, and short stories.
My pathway as a poet and as a philosopher have been separate but parallel journeys. I began my life as a writer with an aesthetic sensitivity in the vein of Oscar Wilde. Influenced by the pagan desire for beauty and the vain over-sentimentality of youth, I wrote with untrained passion motivated more by human longing and heartbreak than a spiritual stirring for something greater. Yet as my intellectual curiosity soared, so did my desire for a deeper poetic understanding of the world around me. The notebooks of Thomas Merton, the confessions of Saint Augustine, and the philosophical musings of Fulton Sheen have lured me away from the temptation of literary narcissism and toward the source of my heart’s deeper longing for God.
Reflection on the vocation of the writer within the Catholic tradition is important because art and faith are inseparable spheres in our lives. Our persons are not compartmentalized, with Christianity inhabiting one segment and our work inhabiting another. I subscribe to a philosophy of the human person that holds that we are individuals with an unrepeatable, ineffable essence and a dignity that is at once unique and common to all persons. Ingrained in this philosophy is the idea that human beings are infinitely complex, and that each aspect of our lives is intimately interrelated. Art, work, and faith are all interrelated parts of our sacred, dignified whole. Our art is in faith; our faith in our art. And although my entrance into the world of writing began without a deep connection with God, my relationship with faith is finally coming to light in my poetic work.
Since I was a child, writing has been my sphere of comfort. Poetry is a close friend, a Marian figure in my sensual experience in this world. It is often easy to disconnect from reality when we are swept up in “the real world,” a world in which we ignore our emotions, our fears, and our hearts. For me, it has often been the gateway to the ascent of my romantic imagination. It is the canvas of my heart and the vehicle of my soul. But she is not always my comfort. Poetry has been the crucifix on the wall that places me face to face with my limitations, my reality, my sin. She has been the arms of Mary that comfort my sorrows and the arms of Christ crucified that illustrate my finitude. Kierkegaard asks us: “What is a poet? An unhappy man who hides deep anguish in his heart, but whose lips are so formed that when the sigh and cry pass through them, it sounds like lovely music.” What I have learned is that the only way to overcome the melancholic temperament of the poet is through the cross.
As I walk along Connecticut Avenue to work each day, passing by one high-end retail shop after another, I notice how easy it is to let your concern drift from making daily mass on K Street to making the seasonal sale on L Street. Inundated with the political power and aesthetic materialism of a fast-paced city, sometimes we don’t even realize how our priorities have changed. It was during my first Christian retreat at the Trinity Forum Academy’s Osprey Point nearly two years ago when I first came to this realization. We can become affected so subtly and not even realize it until it is too late.
In recent weeks, my life has become radically re-ordered. My Augustinian ordo amoris had originally placed my love of a man above my love of God. A break-up and a marriage novena has forced me to once again place my love of God above my love of a man. It reminds me of a word of wisdom gleaned at the end of a silent retreat two years ago: God has to wound your heart in order to open you to his love. My recent piece on marriage in Ethika Politika was my first step toward recovering a proper ordo amoris. For Augustine in his City of God once wrote: “Let the root of love be within; of this root can nothing spring but what is good.” We are all on a journey, carrying different crosses along the way. As long as the properly ordered love of God serves as our compass rose, we will eventually find out where we are called to be, and who we are called to become.
Samantha Schroeder is a freelance journalist working for a foreign policy organization in Washington, D.C. A 2012 graduate of the University of Central Florida, she took her degree in philosophy, completing an honors thesis on the nature of love and presenting her research at conferences across the United States. In the summer of 2012, she was a librarian at the Acton Institute in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She arrived in D.C. in the fall of 2012 to pursue journalism as a fellow with the Student Free Press Association.