Father Simeon Daly, OSB - Finding Grace in the Moment: Stories and other Musings of an Aged Monk


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Some Reflections on the Writing Process
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This essay was written for a workshop for faculty on writing.

I empathize with those who struggle to revise an original piece of writing. Frequently the revised text says something entirely different than the first draft because I recognize some illogical progression, or a leap that I have made in my thinking. The text is evidence of a lack of clarity of thought in the first draft.

I am also intrigued by the concept of multi-levels in writing. Sometimes consciously, often unconsciously, I develop lines of thought that are open to communicating at different levels. Since most of my writing is on a religious topic, or, for the purpose of motivating, I believe I use words and phrases that can be "heard" at different levels. I hear myself as a teacher at one level and as a practitioner at another. I can almost detect on second or third reading where I have moved from a theorist expressing teachings I have been given, to the person who has experienced and lived a truth he wishes to share. A subtle shift, but it is there—in the words—in the timber of the voice when the words are spoken.

I am an avid reader. I enjoy stories. I am easily awed by the skills of authors who weave patterns of words that awaken feelings and images and sounds in my head and heart. I sometimes cry out at the beauty of a passage that moves me. I am sometimes so moved that I literally leave my reading place to collar someone with whom I can share my find—a practice, even when indulged in rarely, that does not endear one even to friends.

I remember once in the process of cataloging Newman’s sermons I was deeply touched his sermon on the "Parting of Friends." I was so moved by the final paragraph or so that I interrupted the work of Miss Skinner, our head cataloger. I read the passage aloud with tears in my eyes and a cracking voice. I had not taken into consideration that she was a devout Anglican. I realized how insensitive I had been when into the silence came the rhythmic click clack of her typewriter. I was too stunned to apologize. We never ever spoke of it again.

As a librarian, I am able on occasion, though the occasions become rarer as I become more ossified in administrative duties, to awaken in others an enthusiasm for the word. (Word here is multileveled symbol. It could mean literature, a good book, an accurate reference, Scripture, or the Son of God.) I am not a teacher in the classroom, but I am not without resources when dealing with a student, one on one. I am glad I am an avid reader, and enjoy being a librarian.

I also write. Not a lot, but I write enough to know the agony and the ecstasy of the process. I now first hand—with a pen in it—the difficulties the writer faces as he or she sits poised before the blank sheet. No time now to become someone else with other skills. Now is the hour and I must go with what I have. The whole history and mystery of who I am, how I analyze, how I make judgments is on the line here. The fantastic process takes place in me from head and heart to hand and pen. Soon through the medium of a few marks on a page I will be able to reach out to another’s mind and heart so that what is going on in me can go on in him or her. How dependent I am in those moments on skills learned over years of practice. Yes, I am a librarian and not a teacher. When I write, though, I think of myself as a teacher without benefit of podium.
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