Creative Writing in Faith Formation

Reposted from the buildingfaith.org web site.

two pens paper writing writeWhen we draw on the arts in faith formation, we often turn to the works of professional writers, musicians and artists to stimulate our imaginations, deepen our reflections and inspire our prayerful responses. We can also remember, however, that all of us have creative abilities on which we can draw directly through creative art experiences.

Learning to communicate with others is one of the first tasks of childhood. Even as adolescents and adults spend less time in spontaneous drawing or music making, we find ways to communicate through language every day. From emails to shopping lists, from memos to birthday cards, from office gossip to family jokes, we use language – and play with it – every day.

That doesn’t mean that creative writing comes easily to everyone! As with movement or drawing, some of us have decided we can’t use language easily or well.

One easy way to involve everyone in a language activity is to work together. This takes the pressure off of individuals to perform alone. You can put up an incomplete sentence such as, “Peace is . . .” Ask how many ways the group can finish this sentence. Write down their contributions, if you suspect some group members can’t read or write. Encouraging people to call our their answers out loud invites more responses because that’s how brainstorming works. We respond not merely to the initial sentence starter, but to one another’s ideas. A tip: studies show that by switching the color marker you use from time to time, you’ll generate both more responses and more kinds of responses as well.

Popular “magnetic poetry” kits help people compose lines of verse or entire poems by providing a rich selection of words. Create your own box of words that participants can use with a simple pack of blank 3″ x 5″ index cards. For example, if you invite group members to call out words that finish the sentence, “Peace is . . .” you might get responses such as: Peace is a quiet as the wind. Peace is the color blue. Peace is no more war. Simply write each word of the response on a separate index card. Include “little words”: as, is, the, no. When the box has dozens of word choices, you can create a new writing activity by spilling out the words in the center of a circle. Invite those sitting in the circle to arrange the words into lines that respond to a reading, work of art or piece of music. 

Another way of using writing in a group is to limit the task to writing one line at a time. Across the top of a piece of paper, write a single sentence that relates to the theme of your story or activity. For example, in a session based on the barren fig tree, you might write, “I saw a tree standing alone and bare,” or “I am planted in the vineyard of God.” The first participant writes one sentence only, directly under the first sentence, then folds the paper so that only the second sentence is visible. The participants pass the paper around the group, each one adding a single line and re-folding the paper until everyone has added one line. Invariably, when these papers are unfolded and read aloud the group is astonished at the beauty of the finished piece of writing.

We make creative writing more accessible for participants by cutting down the size of the task. We provide ideas, sentence starters and even words the participants can use to accomplish a small task. The most important factor in success, however, is to turn the focus away from the finished product to the process of creating itself. Our aim is not a set of polished pieces of writing. Our aim is a community of Christians drawing more deeply on their experiences and imagination as they engage with scripture and one another. As the group leader, you make this success possible by your own willingness to engage with scripture, with language and with the community of God’s talking, laughing, arguing, struggling, creative people.

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