When the Well Goes Dry

In my life, there is always writing to do. Along with teaching, it’s my primary craft. It can be executed as well as the imagination and work and skill that bears it out, like anything else. But sometimes I run into a serious problem. The problem is deeper and more profound than a mere handicap of sorts: sometimes the well goes dry.

This is not the same as suffering from an empty head. This is not something petty, like “writer’s block.” Ideas abound, always. The well is in the heart, not the head.


Passion can be overstated and misunderstood. Overvalued and esteemed for no good reasons. At a bare and fundamental level, the word ‘passion’ refers to the well of love that we carry in the deepest, most hidden place of our inner lives. This sentimental reserve runs the show.

Intuition. Sentiment. Desire. Memory. Eros. This is the house that God built.

When the well goes dry, our ideas and thoughts remain; but they seem to have no foundation. Groundless. Everything becomes airy and inconsequential and  stupid and void. It’s terrifying. I usually just want to take a nap, an easy escape.

Again: this is is far worse than writer’s block. You cannot write your way out of this. You must find ground, like lowering yourself from a steep ledge, not knowing how far your feet are from something solid, scared to let go or slip and fall.

One of my greatest fears is not that I will run out of ideas or clever things to type here and there. No. I fear the well going dry. It seems worse than physical or intellectual death. This is hell to me: a place of total dispassion.


I tried to write about politics today. That’s what this post was supposed to be. I had some clever, timely things to say. Something about how we ought to desire a holy president. But politics feels empty right now, like that passionless hell I fear so much. Politically, I am beginning to move from cynicism to, well, that’s just the point: there is nothing worthwhile to say about it. The bone’s run out of flavor. It’s brittle and stinky and cold. Injecting flavor into this lifeless thing is not my business.

But there is something to be said still. Something remains to write about. To those who, like me, feel this emptiness from time to time. This desert. Perhaps now, together.

Take hope! There is nothing to be afraid of. There is a well beneath the well that is filled to excess. Overflows. How to get there? I don’t know. I believe.

The Year of Faith need not be a year of cheerleading and chest bumping. It might simply be a time to ask tough, internal questions, facing our worst fears and doubts, trusting in the special grace of this time to provide more than quick answers or the comforts of reassuring consolation.

Faith is uncomfortable and unsure because it defies the head and the intellect sometimes. Most of our comforts are petty, intellectual pretensions. Palliative treatments that delay the cure. Faith runs deeper. It begins and ends, moves and has it’s being, in the heart, the well that never runs dry.

What is the secret to this immortal well? Here’s what I believe: when you have the ability to feel like the well has gone dry, you should rejoice. Thirst is a sign of passion, of desire. Cracked, burnt soil cries out for rain. So too with us: even our driest heart is still filled and overflowing with desire for God. We drown in grace and mercy, even as we long for water.


  • Fred

    God bless you, Sam. If you expect water, you are right: your basement will soon be flooded, gushing tides of fetid groundwater that stink to high heaven. Your pipes may be in such a wretched state that upstairs in the great house, you thirst; but down below there are currents of flowing mud. Water, all water, is a sanctifying cleanser. Not for nothing is your furnace damaged by the matter of a sacrament. When water itself is dirty, small minds despair only because they do not know that water is water at the end of the day. The sludge and sediment themselves would be nothing if the water did not give them life. The invisible beings on Coriakin’s island knew the truth: water is powerful wet stuff. Powerful, powerful, powerful wet stuff.

    After the storm we invite friends over to salvage the basement from the wreckage. You know as well as I what dumb shits those hopeless people are, in whose hands a mop may be of little more use than a sword. With tools they avail little, and they may indeed not increase your efficiency in any concrete task. But their bodies, like yours, are three fourths dirty water, and they mean well. Oh God, they mean well. Run for your life.

  • Ted Seeber

    I desire a Holy President. But I’m not allowed one under the tyranny of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

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