Writing as a moral act

In the time I can steal away from income-producing work, I find myself immersed in school work. I just finished reading The Best American Spiritual Writing 2004, edited by Philip Zaleski. I’m not sure the volume’s contributors would be pleased to know this but I found the Foreward by Zaleski to be the best essay in the volume.

He talks of the moral consequences of words, something that anyone who writes words of any kind, including contributors to the blogosphere, would do well to remember. “Writing is a moral act,” he writes. The responsibility is particularly great for writers who deal with spiritual issues,

Writers who trade in subjects like these bear a grave responsibility, for every word they write leaves its mark upon their soul and upon the souls of all who read their work. Their words may become sacraments, visible signs of an invisible grace, or they may turn to poison and ashes, signifying the abyss—or nothing at all.

Becoming a good spiritual writer calls for “revolution on two fronts,” Zaleski suggests:

One must strive constantly against mediocrity in one’s work, aiming always higher for lucidity of thought and beauty of expression...In addition, however, one must contend against mediocrity in one’s self, working always to become more, better, truer, clearer, more open than one was, to ‘increase and abound in love to one another,’ in Paul’s memorable formulation.

What hits me the strongest is this:

Novelists, poets, essayists outside the guild need not take their spiritual temperature every time they raise their pens; but with the spiritual writer it is different....The relationship of art to character is enormously complex...In some mysterious way, as the classics of spiritual writing repeatedly testify, art can be part of inner work, and this work will imprint itself upon one’s art. This process can be seen, for example, in the Confessions, where Augustine’s prose become a form of prayer, a way of worship, a path towards sanctity. What spiritual writer does not long for a similar consummation, the creation of literature worthy not only of his high artistic calling but of his stature as a creature created in the image and likeness of God? [emphasis mine]