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Author and speaker Alina Sayre speaks with Josh about the intersection between her Christian faith and her writing. Although at one point, she wondered if creative writing distracted her from pursuing God, she now believes that God has given it to her as a gift to use and develop in various forms. Alina also describes her experience as a theopoetics student and then reads and discusses her new poem 'Sleepwalker', which is forthcoming on Foreshadow.
Below are excerpts from today's Forecast. They have been lightly edited for clarity and concision.
Loving God through writing
I started my writing career by chewing on books. I was really interested in books from a very young age. I loved to read. It wasn't until late elementary school that I started getting interested in writing, as I started to realise how much power stories have to shape the way we think and the way we feel....
I was growing up in an evangelical church at the time, and I had a lot of trouble reconciling the idea that I might be gifted as writer -- I didn't have the language for it at the time -- even being called in a vocational sense as a writer. I had this limited theology that vocation meant being a pastor or being a missionary, and if God hadn't called me to an explicitly religious career, then writing certainly didn't count in some way. I actually wondered, could writing be a distraction from God or some form of idolatry that I was putting in front of God?
It wasn't until high school that I started to come to grips with the idea that vocation could be more than a religious career...God had put this desire in me to write, this gift, and to follow it was the best thing I could do to follow God and honour him....
I think a lot of our theology comes from life experience, at least on some deep level, whether we admit it or not. I had this deep love of writing -- I couldn't deny that -- and also a deep love of God, and to try to reconcile those two things, I had to believe they either don't go together, and God created me with a gift that he doesn't want me to use -- which brings up terrible questions about the goodness and wisdom of such a God, which even in my adolescent years, I was unable to reconcile with what I saw as a good and positive gift -- or God had put that in me to do something with. I did draw inspiration from others who had followed, lives that weren't missionaries or pastors and who had done a lot of good with that...well known Christians who were authors.
I guess I followed a similar pattern with a number of other theological queries over the years. Even in the tradition I was raised with, women were not allowed to have speaking parts in worship. I was raised to believe that as gospel truth, and it wasn't until later in life that I began to similarly ask, why would God give me a gift that involves words -- not that I love to be in stage in front of people -- but I do have things to say, and why would God have given me that without wanting me to use that?
A calling vs a hobby
I separate a vocation-based passion from a hobby in that a hobby is something you enjoy until it takes work. For instance, I really enjoy photography, but I never see myself becoming more than an amateur because if I were really to put in the labour required to become professional, it would no longer be fun anymore...writing for me is something I am still passionate about after I've put in the work.
I would never have written any of the things that I have written without the input of so many mentors throughout the years. As an adolescent, I did speech and debate as my extracurricular. My speech coach at the time encouraged me to lean into the events where I would write my own material. She saw a spark in me and challenged me to go after that, and I think that encouraged me to take it a little more seriously and explore that. As a teen, you're figuring out who you are and what you're good at, and that was a good indicator for me....
As a teen, especially as I was sorting through this notion of being gifted at something that was not traditionally a religious path, I found myself returning to [The Lord of the Rings] as a model. Knowing that [J.R.R.] Tolkien had a Christian faith, who never to my knowledge wrote about it explicitly, I found myself spiritually encouraged and guided by the story of Frodo and the Rings of Power, this motif of the quest, the sacrifice that goes into this overarching mission, the friends who keep them going and the people who, long before him, paved the way for him to accomplish this quest. I asked myself, if I could be so spiritually encouraged and guided by this story that has little to no explicitly religious material in it, who's to say that my calling couldn't be something similar: to write something that comes out of me as a person of faith, whether or not that material is explicitly religious? I was inspired by Tolkien's faith stamping itself upon his writing without being didactic or in your face.
Seeking God in different situations
I find a lot of the time what I'm trying to do is learning to see God in different situations. I spend part of my time teaching and tutoring, and sometimes the students are frustrating and hilarious at other times, and I think learning to interact with them definitely challenges me to see God in all sorts of different people, especially people who try my patience and just force me to look at the world in different ways. They're hilarious little people, and that challenges me and makes me laugh.
And I think sometimes the very mundane things also challenge me to be present in the act of loving God. I really love Barbara Brown Taylor's An Altar in the World, as she focuses on just the very physical, ordinary things as paths to appreciating and spending time with God.
I just made a big move, and I'm spending a lot of time breaking down boxes and washing dishes, and I think that is an interesting way to view those tasks as a way not just to glorify God by doing them excellently, though I try to, but to use that as time to be with God and just be conscious and aware of God's presence in the moment as I'm breaking down another box.
Alina Sayre is the award-winning author of five books and a graduate student of theopoetics at Bethany Theological Seminary. You can learn more about her work here. You can also read her poem 'Keeping Vigil', recently published on Foreshadow, here.
Josh Seligman is the founding editor of Foreshadow and a co-host of Forecast.