I had the opportunity to moderate a panel at AWP 18 on the challenges and opportunities of talking about and exploring matters of faith in the literary community as well as in our own work. The four of us who presented are now working on an essay in four voices. We'll see how (and if!) this turns out! For now, I want to share with you a small sample of observations offered by my wonderful co-presenters.
"I am always preoccupied by questions of faith and doubt, tradition and innovation, and above all, how we engage with the mystery of human existence," Amy Gottlieb, author of The Beautiful Possible.
Amy also shared this rich insight from the late Israeli novelist Aharon Appelfeld:
"In his memoir, Israeli novelist Aharon Appelfeld writes: 'Literature, if it is genuine, is the religious melody that has been lost to us. Literature gathers within it all the elements of faith: the seriousness, the internality, the melody, and the connection with the hidden aspects of the soul.'”
"As a writer whose sensibility is tethered to Muslim heritage— visual art, architecture, garden-design, calligraphy, poetry and music-- I recognize beauty to be the lever, the primary language of devotional love in Islamic arts," Shadab Hashmi, author, most recently, of Ghazal Cosmopolitan: The Culture and Craft of the Ghazal.
Shadab went on to share the following,
"As Rumi says:
I can't stop pointing
to the beauty.
Every moment and place says,
'Put this design in your carpet'
Beauty as a language for contemplating the divine comes directly from the Qura’an."
"I would prefer that faith perspective be considered something more like a location than an identity, said Amy Frykolm, author of Rapture Culture, Julian of Norwich, and See Me Naked and associate editor of The Christian Century. "As an identity, it seems potentially static and perhaps too confining for the open process that, as writers, we are engaged in. As a location, it seems that it is something that we are invited to explore. From a location, within a location, there is the potential for movement."
Finally, from my remarks:
In Man's Quest for God, Abraham Joshua Heschel writes, “The self gains when absorbed in the contemplation of the non-self, in the contemplation of God, for example. Our supreme goal is self-attachment to what is greater than the self rather than self-expression.” Is it possible that some of us also hope that through our process of writing we will move from an attachment to a small sense of self to something greater than self-expression? And that we hope the reader, too, will be moved, by our work, both more deeply into her self and toward something greater than and beyond that self?
We had a rich and wide-ranging conversation. I look forward to continuing the conversation in writing and in person.