Please welcome the next in the series of guest bloggers to Writing Through the Body: Sarah Hoggatt.
Writing as Public Testimony
by Sarah Hoggatt
I sit before a blank page wondering what I want to say. It never gets any easier no matter how many books and articles I’ve written before. It’s still that same sheet of paper, that same mind searching across my inner landscape for a focus, the same hesitancy to share more of myself than I’m comfortable with. I can already feel my soul wanting to wiggle out of the spotlight, away from having to open my heart in such a public forum. It’s hard to share such intimate thoughts nearly every time I pick up a pen with a purpose to publish. Is writing about my inner world worth it? Will it actually help another person and bear fruit or is it the soundless mutterings of a soul driven by the need to pour out her world in lead and pink eraser bits? This is a question I get to ask but is rarely answered. As a writer, I don’t get to know what comes of my written words. I don’t get to see the fruit they bear or any good they do. I cannot see this yet I write with the blind hope someone will come across these words and their world will be a little better for it. I speak with the prayer I can walk the line of living out my humanity and, at the same time, speak for God. It’s a crazy and risky business―speaking for God, writing about my spiritual journey and that of others daring to believe I have something to contribute to the conversation and that God supports me while doing it.
If it’s so risky, why do I write at all? Why stare at the blank sheet of paper time and time again? Why the blind hope? It’s because I simply have to write. There’s nothing for it. Writing is so deeply integrated into who I am that sharing myself, my heart and my thoughts, with the world—with you, fulfils what I’m called here to do. It’s how the river of God, that endless stream, flows out of me. It’s how I feel alive. We are all made to share our experience of God, to offer “public testimony” to the community around us in a variety of ways. Through sharing my heart on the page, listening to the call inside, I am sharing the voice of God and ideally, encouraging people to hear it for themselves.
For the last two years I’ve been working on a new book of poetry to be released sometime this year. In my opinion, it’s by far the most daring, the most thought-provoking collection I’ve put together. It reflects what I’ve been learning about love on the deepest levels and incorporates the conversations God and I have had back and forth about it. I’ve never asked these questions before and the answers I share so boldly are ones I’m still soaking in even as I write them down. After pushing the boundaries in other writings, are readers finally going to think I’ve gone too far? Is my concern about other people’s opinions even one I should be thinking about or should I leave my quality control at being true to the voice of God in my ear? When it comes to writing as public ministry, how do you know when to share it?
So often, we like to share only when we are sure of what we’re saying, sure of what we know. Though I certainly try to write well, I know from experience the poems people love are rarely the ones written when I was sure of myself, but, rather, are the ones I just had to get off my chest, the ones I spilled out between tears, the words I howled to the wind as I stood on my soapbox crying out to the wilderness. These words, these broken, beautiful words, touch people deep inside. Because I was willing to be vulnerable first, they can join me in that cry of, “me too!” and find healing when they know, after all, they are not alone.
Being so vulnerable in my writing is a constant reminder, too, I do not do this alone. Only someone infinitely wiser than I with Divine understanding could transform such a questioning and thirsty heart’s thoughts into words people find meaningful in their own lives. I have learned first-hand that what is honest and true in expression is more powerful than well-compiled and packaged phrases. Powerful writing such as I hope mine is, comes out of the blend of God and I together, out of our relationship. It is not one of us alone. I am not a puppet writing for God nor am I running off by myself. What I write is a joint effort between us. The ingredients going into what I’m learning and in turn writing about, have been guided by God. The best teacher, God has brought books to my attention at the precise time I needed to read them, given me words through a friend when my heart ached to hear them, and gave me those bits of inspiration I later scribbled across the page. God is in my intuition when I know something is worth sharing and when I know to keep it for myself. God also has a way of giving me that nudge when I struggle to write by having someone tell me how much my words have meant to them. When that happens, I look at God and say, “Okay. I needed that reminder. This is why I lay my life down in such a public manner. It really does matter. Thank you.”
Holding the vulnerable words in my hands God and I have birthed between us, I release them as leaves in a river. The pages, now filled with my thoughts and the love underlying all, find their way to where they’re meant to go. It’s usually not my privilege to know where my words end up or what change they effect, but still, I have my hopes for what they do. I hope the words remind someone there is an underlying love connecting us all, that they are an intimate part of a wider truth in a much deeper way than they have yet guessed. I want to challenge their limits, challenge the theological boxes into which they’ve placed the One who can never be contained. I want to inspire journeys of their own―journeys they’ll dare to take because I’ve shared my own. Ralph Waldo Emerson once advised, “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” This is my goal: to search, to explore, to walk with God where there is no way and to let my writing be the trail.
Sarah Katreen Hoggatt has been writing for over twenty years and is the author of several books and numerous articles. She is a freelance writer, international speaker, editor, and spiritual director with a passion for ministering to fellow souls. She holds a Master of Arts degree in Christian Ministry from George Fox Evangelical Seminary in addition to her Bachelor of Science degree from Oregon State University. Sarah currently makes her home in Salem, Oregon where she loves hiking, dragon boating, art, and photography. She is passionate about living her life as a gift. For more information and to read her blog, go to SarahKatreenHoggatt.com.