THE BLOG
08/15/2011 12:07 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Making Writing a Sacred Act

I sit cross legged on the floor, my hands resting lightly on my knees.

I breathe in.

I breathe out. The candles are lit. I watch the glowing little bud that is the flame. As I breathe in, my eyes rise slowly along one side of the flame, tracing the bright edge. As I breathe out, my eyes drop down the flame's other side.

The cars go by on the wet road outside.

I breathe in. I breathe out.

I say the Thich Nhat Hanh lines I so often say, over and over again: "Breathing in I calm body and mind, breathing out I smile. This is a wonderful moment, this is the only moment."

Thoughts arise.

The story. The fact that I am so afraid to write IT. Afraid to finish it.

I breathe in. I breathe out. I say the Thich Nhat Hanh lines, over and over again.

I set my eyes on the candle. I remember waking up that summer in 2002 when I was so so sick. I remember having to face long and torturous trips down to NYC to Sloan Kettering. I remember having to face tests -- CT scans, Pet Scans -- to see if the cancer was still there. I remember sitting here being scared of the procedures. Of the outcomes of those procedures. I remember, week after week, having to endure the absolute horror that was chemo. My body was a swill of chemicals. My hair was gone. My stomach was impossible. I remember not being sure if I could endure another day. Another hour.

In those dark dark days, sitting here at the meditation table gave me absolute strength. Total resolve and solace. I remember being full of terror when I sat down. But then, by the time my meditation was over, I remember smiling. Feeling full of hope. I remember feeling completely calm and peaceful. I remember knowing that I was in the hands of a Bigger Power. That I was carried by some magnificent Divine Strength and that Strength would help me through no matter what.

It may sound silly or difficult to understand to someone who hasn't gone through a life-threatening illness, but I made my way through my healing, and through my cancer treatment, by treating it as if it were a sacred act. I asked for divine help. I prayed to the Virgin Mary. I read the Torah. I wrote dozens of poems. I found my power in words. In meditation.

I breathe in. I breathe out. I let my eyes follow the candle flame.

And suddenly now. Sitting with my legs crossed again on the floor. I see it. I understand it. I know what it is I have to do.

I never understood, when I first started writing this book, but Sister Mysteries has always been a sacred thing to me. Even as I wrote hundreds and hundreds of pages in the voices of silly characters who scoffed at religious belief, who made fun of religion and nuns and the Virgin Mary, I was writing about being faithful. About believing in sacred things. I was writing about my struggle to bridge a conflict. About my attempt to resolve my skepticism with a belief in the sacred.

Maybe that's why it's taken me so many years to write this book. Maybe that's why I have been fighting with the book all this time.

Maybe that's why I'm having such a difficult time finishing it. As Peg wrote in an email to me this morning, "Could it be because you won't have it any more? You won't have anything to replace it??"

As always, Peg has helped me to figure it out. If I finish Sister Mysteries, I am not sure what I will have to fill that space. That place inside me that has been wrestling with the divine.

I have more to think about. But I know that I have to go forward. Slowly. And I have to take very seriously the fact that writing this book has been a deep engagement with the sacredness, and the power, of writing.

It's not like I didn't know that before. It's just that...I keep forgetting. Now, though, I have been reminded, one more time.

I sit here now at the computer. I am not sure exactly how to go forward. But I will go forward. And I will make it, the finishing, a sacred act.