Cotham Parish Church

Serving the parish of St Saviour with St Mary, Cotham in Bristol

Benefice Creative Writing & Spirituality Group: ‘Findings’

A monthly meeting, generally on the third Thursday of the month, at 7.45p.m. for 8.00 p.m. For dates and venue please email highburypartnership@googlemail.com
Following on from the series of writing workshops at Cotham Parish Church is a venture exploring our spirituality through creative writing. There is an article which appeared in Connections magazine below; please contact Nigel Gibbons on 077 40 200 991 for more information. On the evening tea and coffee from 7.45 pm.

Findings – where words and spirit meet

Christianity has a long history with words, the opening passage in the gospel of John, that majestic poetic introduction to the logos, the word; the preachers across the centuries; the compiling and writing of the canon; the subtle nuances of words in prayer; the flow of words in hymns. Words have a power which Christianity has tapped in all sorts of ways. Yet they also allow us to explore and explain what goes on inside us, our inner lives can be expressed on the page, and then shared if we wish to.
This autumn I’ll be beginning a series of monthly writing workshops, provisionally called Findings, around spirituality, faith and creative writing. These will be an extension of the workshops I’ve run at Cotham over the last few years, and which some from the church have attended. For me this will be an exploration in writing which I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and which will be open to anyone, whether members of Cotham or St Paul’s, from another church, people of faith or non-faith. It will provide those who come with a chance to write, not for publication or craft, but as a spiritual exploring, an attempt to articulate the shaky, strange, definite, hidden, thoughts, beliefs and feelings we have within us. I’m not trying to create writers, although that might happen, I’m not looking for spiritual giants, those would easily overshadow me, but this is for anyone who wants to have a go, see what comes, and to be willing to be surprised by their writing. The intention is to make this accessible to as many people as possible.
I’ve been running writing groups for a number of years, and teach on an MSc in Creative Writing for Therapeutic Purposes, so my aim is to help people write personally, deeply and immediately. Whilst there may be times to work on a piece of writing, I am usually more interested in what comes out in the moment, often through short writing exercises.
As an example of the sort of writing we might do, I’ll illustrate it with the following piece of writing. R.S. Thomas was a clergyman in the Church of Wales, and wrote a number of poems. One of them is The Bright Field:

I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
the treasure in it. I realise now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying

on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

You can try this now if you want to. I’m assuming you’ve read the poem once, so now read it aloud, and see if you can find a line, or phrase, even a word which appeals to you, which draws you in some way. Now, write that at the top of a page, and then write, in whatever way works for you, in response to that line. You might write in a ‘poem’ style, with big margins and small lines, or you might write as a story, a list, or a piece of prose. It doesn’t matter. Simply let the writing flow out. If you can, ignore that critical voice which is probably saying that it isn’t very good, or that you’re not doing it properly, or something like that. Let that voice know you can pay attention to it later (if you want to), and that for now you simply want to write whatever words you find inside yourself.
Then, read it out loud to yourself. Don’t criticise it, rather let the words come out in an accepting, compassionate way. Be gentle with them. Appreciate them.
If you’ve done this, you may have written the first piece of creative writing you’ve done since school, so it’s not surprising if it was hard work keeping that critical voice away. Remember, this is not about quality, but about genuineness, about finding your words, as opposed to all the words from others which you’ve been fed over your lifetime. It may be hard to find your words, but that’s OK, you’ve had a go – if you have tried it.
That’s the sort of thing I’ll be doing on the workshops, reading some existing writing or doing some other simple exercise, doing our own writing, and then sharing it with the group (although there’s always the option not to share if you don’t want to).
This will be a chance to explore that space between writing and spirituality, it may include meditative moments, silence, or words-aloud, and the emphasis on this will be about exploring, going into new areas.
If you feel you’d like to join this exploration I’d love to have you there.

Nigel Gibbons