In some ways, I find it rather humorous how, while the Synod on Synodality was taking place from October 4 through 29–well covered by many media outlets, including Today’s American Catholic—I wrote 23 fictional short stories in 22 days.
That’s why I describe myself this way: “I am a writer, but I do many things.”
It has been so for over five decades. Once an inspiration hits, off I go until the myriad of plots are drained from my system like a gas tank registering empty, or a wild horse running at full gallop until it exhausts itself and drops. Another way I define it: an illness that must run its course before I’m “cured”—albeit temporarily.
On a very personal level, I’ve always considered it odd how I learned to tell stories by writing fiction and converted that into my journalism endeavors. But when I’m reporting factual information, my approach is far more disciplined, limited to an 8 to 5 schedule (except for breaking news, of course), and I can take it or leave it.
This is a very unbalanced approach to what I see as my vocation, for sure. While discussing this at a committee meeting recently, I found myself almost embarrassed, especially since I work for Benedictines, have been taking classes toward a graduate certificate in Benedictine spirituality, and promote the balance that can be found in the Rule of St. Benedict.
In my travels over the past decade, I have also encountered others who deal with their unbridled creativity by trying to drown the inspirations in alcohol or with illegal drugs (or legal ones, in some instances). Just watching The Agony and the Ecstasy on Turner Classic Movies strikes home for me, when Michelangelo’s artistic drive is clearly displayed as a mixture of joy and torture.
What about faith in all this turmoil? Many years ago, I tried my hand at composing a full Mass in four-part harmony, long before the translation changed and my efforts were rendered null. Melodies for responsorial psalm antiphons took 10 minutes or less to jot down on sheets of blank staves. As typing at the computer took more and more of my free time—and, occasionally, time at my various jobs—the music was left behind. The faith was not, but it was relinquished to a lower priority.
That, I hope, will change. Following on the committee meeting mentioned above, I’ve proposed a series of monthly Zoom gatherings for writers of all manner of fiction and poetry who struggle with personal balance and wish to regain it, using the Rule of St. Benedict as a source. I’ve titled it “Quill in Hand”—you can find more about it here. After all, in chapter 48 of his Rule, Benedict includes the advice, “All things in moderation.”
While I will lead the group as participants engage in discussion, asking questions and sharing insights, I hope to learn ways to achieve the balance I definitely value but that gets shunted aside during the long days and nights an inspiration consumes me. If we can discover a new appreciation of the divine gift of creativity, channel it in healthier and faith-filled ways, and engage in practices that promote balance with the other aspects of faith and the daily routine, I will consider it a positive use of our time.
On a similar note: the first session of the Synod on Synodality may seem to some like time wasted, but nothing that opens doors to constructive dialogue is a waste. There are still many questions that need to be discussed on the role of women and the LGBTQ+ community. As we are all human beings, Pope Francis is engaging in the proper pastoral approach, calling everyone to an attitude of care and respect for all. Together, we all have a chance to grow spirituality, move toward balance in body, mind, and soul, and bring peace to our own communities and the world. ♦
Julie A. Ferraro has been a journalist for over 30 years, covering diverse beats for secular newspapers as well as writing for many Catholic publications. A mother and grandmother, she currently lives in Idaho. Her column, “God ‘n Life,” appears regularly in Today’s American Catholic.