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The Unmerited Grace of Writing My New Book

A long time ago, in the beginning of the adventure that has become On Being, my college alumnae magazine interviewed me and included the pull quote:

“I hear all these voices in my head.”

I’ll admit this sounded a little flaky — “woo woo” to use a technical term — in the context of a show about spiritual life. What I meant was, the interviews I’ve had across the years come into conversation with each other in my head. Along the way, of course, they come into conversation with my life and they change the way I see and move through the world. Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life, which I have forever loved and now have truly inhabited:

“At its best, the sensation of writing is that of any unmerited grace. It is handed to you, but only if you look for it. You search, you break your heart, your back, your brain and then — and only then — it is handed to you.”

I am more exposed in this book — more present in my fullness and flaws — than anything I’ve done before in public. I had to be to stay true to my subject, which is the strange and wondrous capacity that is given to us to become wise precisely through the ordinary raw materials of our lives.

So, to ease into this experience, I took up an experiment these last weeks before publication, to start tweeting out lines from Becoming Wise.

Not for the first time, I have been overwhelmed by the kindness and joy and poetry and generosity of Twitter. I know that’s not the stereotype or a common characterization, but it’s been my experience. And, it is in itself a little microcosm of what I love to shine a light on however I can: that the headlines as we usually tell them are not the whole story of us, and it’s precisely the redemptive parts that we often leave out in our public tellings.

I propose, in fact, that we can do more to call ourselves, and accompany each other, in rising to the best of ourselves, even invoking Teilhard de Chardin’s notion of “spiritual evolution.” I especially love the reaction to my last tweet before publication:

The replies ranged:

I write in the book that the interwovenness of qualities of searching and light-heartedness is one way to recognize wisdom when you feel its stirrings in your yourself or see it in others. I hope I might see some of you on my travels in coming days! I am grateful to be on this continuing adventure with you.

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