A Few Deep Breaths

I spoke with a friend of mine the other night, who does marketing consulting for publishers. We talked about my writing. Now that The Lion, the Mouse and the Dawn Treader has gone to press, my next project is to work on the new edition of The Aspiring Mystic which will hopefully be released in time for the Wild Goose Festival.

But then what?

Spiritual writing for me is a calling, not a career or even a livelihood. Yes, I want my books to be successful, but at the risk of sounding clichéd, “it’s not about the money.” But one of the challenges of a writing career is that publishers and agents — and yes, I myself — are always wondering, “What’s next?”

I wonder if after I finish the revision of Aspiring if I should just take a year off from writing. Or just concentrate on this blog, adding more content not only to the daily feed but to the mysticism and Celtic spirituality pages. Or finally get serious about creating content for Youtube, or maybe even a podcast.

I suppose I’ll know when the time comes. This time last year I had no idea that I would be writing a book about The Voyage of the Dawn Treader — and now here it is, due to be released in just a few weeks (yes, I wrote it quickly, but it is a short little book). But still, there’s always the question — what do I want to write about?

I’m interested in the topic of holiness. Holiness is so central to mysticism, and yet it’s a concept that has fallen out of favor in our day, even among many Christians. I mentioned this to my friend. He seemed unimpressed.

“Well, it might sell into the charismatic community,” he said, clearly looking for something positive to say about it.

“I know, I know, it has no market value whatsoever,” I said. “Which is a large part of why I’m interested in it. I want to explore why it has become such a radioactive topic, why no one thinks a book on holiness will sell to anyone except for hardcore Christians, who often are not so much looking for holiness as for justification for their own perspective.”

We talked about how such a book could be marketed. Perhaps another word, instead of holiness? Perhaps something whimsical, like “Holiness on the Edge” or “Extreme Christianity” or some such notion? We bounced ideas around for a few minutes, but neither of us found anything that really had a “wow” factor. Eventually somebody changed the subject of the conversation, and holiness was left behind.

What do I write about next? It’s tempting to ask such a question in a rather angsty way, as if my entire value as a writer hinges on the next book. Then I take a few deep breaths and try to be faithful right here and right now. I don’t have to have the next book figured out. I don’t have to come up with a marketing plan, or a proposal, or a target demographic. At least, not yet. Six months from now, when I’m done with the revision of The Aspiring Mystic, hopefully the next step will be clear. After all, we who seek to live in the cloud of unknowing need to get used to the idea that we will only be able to see one step at a time.

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  • Mary

    How about the word, “Sanctity”? Seems to add a little beauty to the word, “Holiness.”

  • tana

    Carl, can you speak to the way in which you are revising your Aspiring Mystic?

    No matter what you do next, you’ll have a group of us participating with you in conversation about it. I admit to having a negative reaction to the word “holiness” because of the way it was presented to me in my past faith experiences. It would be helpful to readdress it from this new perspective. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to write under the restrictions of what sells or what is marketable. Hopefully in some way it will be resolved and you can move forward with your idea.

  • Al Jordan

    Maybe something along the lines “Holiness or Wholeness?” Would make for some interesting associations. I see them as virtually the same, but most people don’t associate the two notions. Anyway, people are always interested in wholeness. They just don’t always know that is what they are searching for.

  • lightbearer

    man, i have complete book christian mysticism
    if ever a collborator needed give me a shout
    we speak

  • http://www.GrizzleLPC.com Darrell Grizzle

    A connection between “holiness” and “wholeness” might appeal to Emergents as well as to others. Might get you another blurb from Carolyn Myss.

  • InfiniteWarrior

    Holiness is so central to mysticism, and yet it’s a concept that has fallen out of favor in our day

    Like Al, I tend to cast it as (w)holiness. The word is, near-ubiquitously, considered synonymous with moral puritanism and/or (false) “piety” when (w)holiness is the Way of Life and not a concept in my mind.

    As all other hyper-divisions among us today, I believe the “lack of favor” (which I call “respect”) you describe has its roots in the founding of the Enlightenment and what a friend calls Newtonianism as “the new faith”.

    The very same as I (until very, very recently), Emerson himself may not have understood why it is that we insist upon living “in succession, in division, in parts, in particles”, but nonetheless described “holiness” as I understand it best.

    We live in succession, in division, in parts, in particles. Meantime within…is the soul of the whole; the wise silence; the universal beauty…. And this deep power in which we exist and whose beatitude is all accessible to us, is not only self-sufficing and perfect in every hour, but the act of seeing and the thing seen, the seer and the spectacle, the subject and the object, are one. We see the world piece by piece, as the sun, the moon, the animal, the tree; but the whole, of which these are shining parts, is the soul.

    I consider also Bohm’s “wholeness in flowing movement” as close a poetic description of “holiness” as I am likely to find in the world.

    Hopefully, this will help get the creative juices flowing…even if to refute to my understanding of “holiness”. :)

  • suzanne kurtz

    Think you answered your own question, Carl. Good title might be “Holiness Left Behind”.

  • Al Jordan

    Further thoughts on Wholeness/Holiness and the connection: Putting aside, for the moment, God talk and religious cliches, this is what I have come to believe:

    Man has need of a “saving” reality. By that I mean we need a reality in our lives that has the restorative and transformational power to heal our brokenness and restore us to wholeness, even showing us what wholeness is; a reality which is forgiving of our shortcomings, our failures, our inadequacies, our wrong doing, our mistakes, a reality which is embracing and transformational in its inherent ability to change us into better human beings and more complete persons.

    We need something that defines for us what it means to be fully human, that shows us what it is we ought to be and can become in our humaness.

    Many would say that reality lies dormant within us needing only to be realized and awakened. That is partially true. But it is also true that this reality is beyond us, larger than our individual egos and small self. It is cosmic and universal and belongs to the realm of the spiritual and the “holy.”

    This reality functions in our lives as grace, as mercy, as enlightenment, as forgiveness, as awareness, as peace, as healing, as love and hope and truth.

    We call this reality by different names. God is one. Lord is another. Holy another. The name is not all that important, but the reality is indispensable. Without it present in our lives, we are less than we could be and destined to seek it in a thousand different ways. It is this reality that we most deeply long for and from which we never want to be separated.

    Though I am now retired, my long career as a clinical social worker and my personal struggles led me to affirm this for myself. Hopefully, it can provide a few ideas for that new book.

  • InfiniteWarrior

    Many would say that reality lies dormant within us needing only to be realized and awakened. That is partially true. But it is also true that this reality is beyond us, larger than our individual egos and small self.

    In other words, that “reality” is latent within us due to the conditioning we undergo from birth to consider the ego/false self “real” when it’s as transitory and illusory as images on a movie screen?

    Realize-ation requires only awakening (and remaining awake) to this truth and — voila — our “small selves” are out of the Way, so to speak.

    It occurs to me that the whole concept of “servitude” — to “the Law”, to religion (or science), to supposed “gatekeepers”, to whatever-power-mongers-decide-we-should-be-subservient, including the “Global Economy” (which an otherwise “intelligent” person, to my horror, recently suggested education was intended, in part, to enable us to “serve”) — actually suggests mere subjugation of the ego or, as ben Sa’id succinctly put it, “sacrifice the ego; nothing more”. (“Sacrifice” is apparently as troublesome a term as “holiness”.)

    The “formula” for self-less-ness and whole-ness is so simple and, yet, we make such a busi-ness of it. Of all that I find attractive about Jean Gebser, it’s his flat-out rejection of “mystifying dogma over transparent explanations” that I most appreciate.

    P.S. Isn’t the “cloud of unknowing” the equivalent of Mara’s “veil” in Buddhism? I don’t think we’re supposed to “live” in it.

  • anthony

    years ago, i read a quote from Cardinal Newman’s tips on giving sermons. i have used it to help me whenever i communicate in writing or speaking.
    1. know exactly what you want to say and make sure you have made it your own (not just repeating “stuff” from others).
    2. know your audience
    3. know what you want to say, know your audience and stay on topic, when you have said what you got, it shut up.

    well he did not say it in exactly those words, but that is the drift.

    in regards to the concept of holiness, for many people the word does not express the rich biblical concept. for many people it only has a very moralistic/one dimensional concept of religion.

    there is an incredible prose poem by Merton, HAGIA SOPHIA, it was written after years of studying and pondering many authors from eastern Christianity, the writings of Massingnon, being in contact with russian sophilogist etc.
    I have found it to be an incredible work and one of his most insightful, he approaches this hunger and longing for “holiness” in a new way. there are many beautiful quotes in it especially at the start: “there is in all things a hidden wholeness.”

  • anthony

    in case anyone wants to read HAGIA SOPHIA, here is a link:


  • Suze

    I imagine the frustrations you must feel in writing any book, especially a book on holiness….you wouldn’t want to be writing for the converted for the sake of their self-justification….not a good use of your gift! Would you want to be aiming at revealing and cleaning up the very notions about holiness, out there in the landscape between secular and hardcore holiness land? You’d be very good at that! You would also be very good at threading through the words and pages, the sweet scent of an earthy holiness that calls us all to take those few, deeply impacting and richly purifying breaths, as we are right now…more often!

  • mike

    “I suppose I’ll know when the time comes.”

    I am a painter and doing it is has always been a spiritual calling, not a career or a monetary means of support as you say of spiritual writing for yourself.

    You write of not knowing what comes next. I paint not knowing precisely what comes next. I think this kind of practice in learning how to accept not knowing “what next” is a step towards the spiritual “maturity” necessary to come to grips with what is called “the dark night of the soul.”

    I believe the dark night is, for all of us, the realization no “what next” is coming at all. No ideas, No images which urge/ask me to make a picture to be shared withothers etc; all of the fruitfullness in “my” life of painting will become as nothing.

    It is nice not to be there yet.

    However, if and when I “know” this point is reached, my “plan” is to hang on, sit patiently knowing such bleakness, and as, best I am able, wait … for what comes next.

    How is this so different from what I do now?

  • http://onenesswithbeing.com Dries Cronje

    I also don’t like the word holiness. Not sure why. Sorry for being frank…

    I am from that generation who generally catches an easy dislike in overused, wrongly-used, or polluted words.

    I am fairly sure that when the time comes, from silence and that deep wellspring of wisdom within you, that you will know what to write about next. Maybe it is something that is not even crossing your mind at present… something completely new.

    Keep at it!