Look up!


[Because of a blitz work demand through Saturday I will force myself to pause! Matt. 21:29]

“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.” ― Robert Frost

I have two kinds of writing I do: Required writing and kindled writing. (Those are my terms, by the way). Required writing involves deadlines and duties, like writing a lecture for a class or an article for the upcoming newsletter. Required writing constitutes quantitatively the vast majority of my writing work, because it has to do with ever-present demands of work or volunteer responsibilities I have taken on. Then there’s kindled writing, which emerges in the moment, is driven by circumstance, impulse or a flash of unexpected insight. That’s what I write here, exclusively. If this blog ever became mandatory, deadline-driven or made money it would cease to be what it is. NealObstat is the writing that allows me the luxury of expressing my inner stirring sense of wonder and awe in the most natural, spontaneous, fun way. And, at least in terms of conscious awareness, it gives me the most intense sense of God’s presence.

It’s what the spiritual authors sometimes call scriptio divina, ‘divine writing.’ When one ‘writes in prayer,’ they say, he becomes much more open to intuitive-symbolic forms of knowledge than is available through discursive, analytical writing. When I write in prayer, in the freedom of wondering ‘without a why,’ many more fresh insights are allowed to emerge. At least for me.

Now let’s be clear, I am not making any claim to divine inspiration or to the superiority of one form of writing over the other. Each has its role and God’s immediate action in anyone’s writing is always an ambiguous affair. And, though I distinguish these two writing styles, they often overlap with one another and are not sealed in tidy categories. But I love and cherish the opportunities I have for kindled writing and am exceedingly (heap on here any and all hyperbolic adjectives) grateful that readers of this blog engage my writing and make use of it for their own benefit. You give my thought wings.

Frequently I wake up at 3:00 a.m. and cry out: “You idiot! Why do you think anything you have to say matters?!” But I console myself with the thought that, inasmuch as what I say approximates God’s self-revelation in Jesus in His Spirit-filled Church, or gives testimony to the greatness of the extraordinary people I am blessed to know, it’s worthwhile. Then I pray the Jesus prayer.

Or I just re-read Numbers 22:21-38 and claim the braying jackass again as my patron saint.

Why am I writing all this? Because Monday I experienced in a striking way a sudden shift between required and kindled writing. I’d spent nine hours that day in required writing for various projects, lectures and courses I have coming up. Although writing is always a gift to me, the stress of deadlines has a way of squishing you inside. I was exhausted mentally as I left the building. I walked to my car with my eyes on the ground, staring mindlessly. As I took my keys out, I was suddenly startled by a whopping crackle of thunder that shook my insides. I looked up and everything outside and inside of me at once changed. The roiling black clouds wedged beneath the dark blue sky to the north, the gray veil of rain quickly advanced toward me, the bluish-white bolts of lightning linked heaven and earth, and the strong cool breeze descending from the core of the storm caressed my face with its clean hands. I fell to my knees and laughed. Anyone watching would have worried about me.

I realized at that moment how shallow my breathing had been all day as I hunched over my laptop and typed. I drew deep into my lungs the refreshingly fragrant cool air that was washing over me. All of this experience completely re-wrote my inner world in an instant, diluted the mental sludge and re-awakened a heart of wonder within me. What for a moment seemed like a future filled with insuperable demands suddenly seemed possible, or at least seemed hopeful. My widened horizons made room for hope, which demands space and which can only be satisfied by the sounds of God’s strident protest against the impossible. The word “capacious” sprang to my mind. I felt immensely spacious within, my narrow walls suddenly stretched big by this rogue, dark, threatening and unsought cumulonimbus.

How marvelous! Startled into the light by the darkness.  I thought of Dylan Thomas, “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

And all I wanted to do was sit down in the parking lot, take out my laptop and write. So many new insights came into me. But alas, another work meeting awaited. No time to write them out. But before I fell asleep tonight, I was determined to write out this reflection on the ‘feel’ of it all, at the risk of indulging my own solipsistic fancy. Hopefully in service to hope.

Thank you for walking with me.

No matter how narrow your world seems, look up and allow Him to surprise you. Anyway.

11 comments on “Look up!

  1. Nos the lesser... says:

    Thank you Thomas /////// much needed…

    • Anything good I can offer you, nos, is a reward to me. You are a great man with a quick wit, calloused hands, an immense heart, a fiery temperament, a hard head, a rugged faith and deep eyes that look into the soul. Queen Patti knows that, as do I. God bless you and your family. Thank you for reading my work.

  2. marble says:

    on so many levels! I found several gems here, and (as Nos the lesser said, above) it was much needed. Blessings.

  3. Denise says:

    Have been receiving your blog posts for about a month. Totally blown away by your insights and clarity of writing. So glad our Lord has given you the gift of expressing your thoughts and your willingness to share them with “us”. Your recent post about sexual love in a marital setting was so powerful. I forwarded it to my daughter who is getting married in 3 weeks. You said it much better than I ever could to her. Thank You!

  4. Art says:

    Thanks for sharing Tom. I enjoy reading all of your reflections. Have a Long Island Ice Tea!!!!

  5. Maureen BM says:

    I love your kindled writing. It has deepened my spiritual life. However, your required writing takes care of professional life ,family and pays the bills . Blog when you can and let the Holy Spirit do the rest! I am sure we have all archived your blogs along the way so we can re read them and meditate in them.

    That is what l’ll be doing over the next four weeks as I recuperate from My total left knee replacement . Had surgery yesterday 7/12.
    Return home Friday or Saturday this week.
    The word I am meditating on is Surrender …. I have to surrender all to God and my family to get through this recovery. I now have to depend on them. And that’s a health thing. I can’t always be doing and loving. I have to let Love come back to me.
    I am such a Martha and I think this experience is going to help me open my eyes more to the Mary narrative. Same for you .

    We’ll all be okay while you take care of your professional life. You are a wonderful and loving human being ! I am so blessed that God has allowed us to have our friendship!
    Keep me and my family in your prayers as I recuperate . I’ll keep u all in prayer too!
    Love and Hugs

    • Maureen:
      Wow. What a beautiful, grace-filled note to read this morning. Thank you for this and for the wisdom you share here, as a Martha. Sage advice.
      Blessings on your recovery. I can only imagine how hard that is for you as you are a woman who helps everyone and seeks accolades or sympathy from no one!
      We will pray for each other in our respective circumstances. Thank you.
      Love and hugs to you and say hey to Elizabeth for me!

  6. Evie says:

    Tom, I continue to thank God that Mike and I encountered the Neal clan. Although I’ve never found a spiritual director quite as in tune with my spirituality as we found in you. I feel God consistently uses your posts, in His glorious playful and Providential way; to affirm, guide, or console me. Thank you for being open to the “kindled writing.” Please pray for a new endeavor God is calling me to and strength as I will be a sheep amongst wolves.

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