Writing Down Your Soul: When you write, who is writing?
The year of the body--week 27
in which we explore the mystical question: When you write, who is writing?
Friends, soul writers, mystics, and lovers of prayer,
Shortly after prayer artist arrived, I had a startling revelation that prayers are really lyrics—lyrics to the love songs of your intimate and rather ecstatic sacred marriage.
You and the Beloved getting’ it on. Bet the ministers and priests and rabbis and imams never told you that!
It sure came as a surprise to me. I heard “prayer artist” on February 25, 2018, and by March had written—or more accurately, received—a dozen of these mysterious prayers.
I loved them, but I didn’t have a name for what they were. I called them “prayers,” but they didn’t look or feel like anything I’d ever encountered called prayer.
One day, as I was typing up “This Moment,” a prayer that had just arrived in deep soul writing, I noticed that the lines had an interesting pattern dropping from 5 lines to 4 to 3 to just 1.
As I typed one phrase, I wondered if it needed some kind of edit. Instinctively I read it aloud. I’m a writer. Writers read their work aloud. It’s the best way to discover if what we’re writing is working.
When I read aloud, I can hear the chapter or sentence or prayer or poem announce what it wants. Then, I just have to type it up. And read it aloud again. And listen again.
In the end, all I’m doing is writing the chapter or sentence or prayer or poem that wants to be written.
As I read “This Moment” aloud, I started laughing. Oh, I see. Or rather, I hear. These are lyrics. Lyrics, for heaven’s sake!
Just like a good pop song, the lines repeat and curl back on one another and build to a climax before shifting into a slower rhythm until the final, often startling line, brings the prayer home.
My Goddess, it’s a love song! I shouted to the wall in wonder and surprise. I’ve written a love song!
Me, who knows nothing about music. Me, who can’t sing for squat. Me, who was thrown out of choir in 6th grade when the nun played two notes and asked which was higher or lower. I had no bloody idea which note was higher or lower. End of choir. End of singing. Except alone in the car. I also had to quit piano. Can’t imagine why.
And yet. I fell in love with music. I adore opera—oh, how I adore live opera that engulfs my body with wave after wave of massive sound. And live jazz.
But at 16—long before opera or jazz—I heard “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” on WLS (the big pop radio station in Chicago at the time), and fell head over heels in love with sound. Rhythm. Feeling.
I still listen to pop music—if the sound grabs me. There has to be a rhythm that grabs my body and shifts a few times in the song.
And lyrics. I need lyrics that say something. Every song doesn’t have to be Dylan-Nobel-worthy, but the lyrics have to carry me somewhere. They have to tell a story that opens me and catches me by surprise.
As I read “This Moment” aloud that afternoon, I recognized it as a love song because I could hear and feel the rhythms embedded in the words and lines. They moved me. I literally started swaying in my chair. And the lyrics—well, they said something, all right. Something way beyond my intellectual understanding.
This was a love song—a mystical love song—I could repeat every day and still be hungry for more.
A week after my “oh, my Goddess, they’re love songs” discovery, I received an invitation to give a talk about prayer at Unity of Minneapolis. I love that church. My sister and sister-in-law were married and feted there two decades before the state got around to acknowledging the beauty and truth of their union.
So I said yes and began to plan my talk. I knew I wanted to read “This Moment” but I didn’t know how to begin. So I stood up in my office, faced the wall, and imagined the audience. Out of my mouth came:
“When you pray, who is praying?”
I could sense my future audience staring back at me. No one had ever asked that question. So I said, “OK, if that question has you flummoxed, try this one: "When you breathe, who is breathing?”
More blank stares.
So I said, “Now, as soon as I said the word breathe, your attention went to your chest, didn’t it. But you were breathing before I asked the question, right? You were breathing when you woke up this morning. You were breathing all last night. And not once did you think about it or direct it.”
“So, when you breathe, who is breathing?"
Ah, now I could see a few eyes flickering with surprise. So, I said, “Let me ask you again: When you pray, who is praying?”
And from there, they were ready to hear about prayer as love songs. They were ready to experience the natural rhythms embedded in “This Moment.”
And they were ready to drop deep into the lyrics all the way to the mysterious final line:
"I am beginning to remember what I never forgot."
To make it even more fun and clear that it’s a love song, we added body percussion, snapping, clapping, and making horse gallop sounds in rounds. It was great fun. And profound. I cherish the afternoon the congregation of Unity of Minneapolis shared the first live experience of prayer as love songs.
This memory from 3 years ago surfaced in my deep soul writing as I asked on the page what to put in today’s Notes from the Field. I needed some guidance because there are two big things going on.
First, it’s July 4—Independence Day for Americans. Second, I’m at a publishing milestone. I wondered if these two things have any connection.
Historically, July 4 celebrates hard-fought independence from the imperial power of the time—England.
But in ironic timing, Canada and the United States are being forced right now to acknowledge the freedom, dignity, and land they stole from the indigenous peoples who were already here.
I am particularly sensitive to the pain in this date because of The Return of the Witches Jeanne d’Arc Listening Pilgrimage. The pilgrimage is turning out to be deeper and holier than anything I could have imagined.
We are literally hearing the voices of women persecuted by patriarchy. And those voices are changing us as they ask us, over and over, to remember. Remember.
Remember their individual stories, yes, but far more than that, remember the thousands-year-old story of the systematic assault by religion on the sacred feminine in all her faces: worship of the Goddess, honor of the land as mother, holiness of the female body, preciousness of the children, and the dignity that comes when we live in harmony in communities that honor women and children and all life.
All of this surfaced in soul writing because my first book, Writing Down Your Soul, is being reissued in two weeks with a new cover, new introduction, new foreword and a wild array of new endorsements from authors you love like Perdita Finn, Clark Strand, Rabbi Tirzah Firestone and more.
But what could I tell you about Writing Down Your Soul that you have not already discovered? She’s in her 9th printing. Over 75,000 copies have been sold in print, e-book, and audio formats. And still, new readers find her and send me emails overflowing with gratitude and surprise at what the Voice has to say.
My divine Voice saved the day by showing me how the dots connect between prayers as love songs, the mystery of soul writing, pop music, and remembering.
She took me back to the question: When you pray who is praying. But she transferred it to soul writing:
When you soul write, who is writing?
If you’ve done any deep soul writing, you know—and you know that you know—that the voice on the page isn’t you.
The first few times it happens, you can’t help stare at the page and whisper, “I didn’t say that.” And you didn’t. So who did?
This is the great mystery of soul writing. And the reason people return to this practice day after day, year after year. And keep giving the book to friends.
I’ve now been soul writing for 24 years and I’m still surprised by what emerges on the page. I know I am in communion with a divine voice with many names. She started out as “Dear God,” and morphed over time until she emerged as “Beloved Vibration of Sophia!” in 2014.
Now, when I sit down to write, I don’t know what name—or names—will appear at the top of the page. Even her name is a surprise.
What I do know is that when I close my journal, I will have discovered or remembered something I needed, but didn’t know I needed.
And I can thank Ed Sheeran for helping me see that. In 2019, I watched him take an interviewer backstage on tour in Australia. The interviewer asked about the racks of guitars. Ed said he has one tuned for each song but he also travels with lots of guitars to give away.
He said when he meets a young musician, he signs a guitar with “play this every day.”
The next morning, I wrote “Play this every day” on the cover of my journal. I thought it meant that I, Janet, need to “practice” the “instrument” of soul writing every day.
But that isn’t what it means at all.
Oh no, “Play This Every Day” is a call to Sophia, the Voice by any and all her names, to play “this instrument” called Janet every day.
Big big big difference! I am not writing; I am being written!
In the pilgrimage, we are not choosing what to remember, the women are using their voices to guide us to see and hear what wants to be remembered. And in the process, we are being re-membered back to an experience of joy and wholeness that has been so long forgotten.
The voices of the Native children in countless unmarked graves are rising too, asking us to remember. And, in the process, remember a different way of living in harmony with the land and with one another.
As we listen to all these voices--the voices of the dead and the voice on the page, we can perhaps drop into the closing line of "This Moment:"
"I am beginning to remember what I never forgot."
to the wonder of being written by the sacred voice of love,
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