firering.jpgSeveral months ago I burned a manuscript of a fantasy novel. This was not a spontaneous act.  Altogether, I’d spent thousands of hours scribbling, doodling, plotting, and outright writing.

But the work was dead. I’d bullied it into submission and knew it. I’d kept writing through sheer will long after losing the authentic energy of the story. I needed a fresh start.  

I heard a subtle inner whisper, “Burn it.”  I wondered if I was crazy, if my inner saboteur had finally taken control. But the guidance persisted. What would it be like to be free of the manuscript? If I didn’t have all those pages to paw through, to edit, to try to get a jumpstart from? I remembered Faulkner’s advice. “Murder your darlings.”

It took me several months to actually haul the manuscript out to the fire ring. I’d debated about ritualizing the burning and inviting friends to witness the deed, but in the end, I did it alone. It was surprisingly easy.

One of the characters has reappeared in dreams, which is a good sign. The psyche is resurgent and forgiving.

Last night I went to an ecumenical Ash Wednesday service at St. Theresa’s Catholic Church. Nine clergy presided: two Catholics, one Presbyterian, one Methodist, one Episcopalian, one Adventist, one Congregationalist and two Lutherans. Three of the clergy were women.

I was moved by the service, which felt humble and authentic. We were invited to lay our burdens down. To reflect on what separated us from Love. And hundreds of people, filing contemplatively up to the altar to receive a mark of ashes, did just that.

I’ve put away my childhood Lenten disciplines. I no longer give up candy or try to cheerfully obey my parents. Instead, I’ll pay attention to dreams and whispers: listening for guidance, sensing what is emerging and what needs to be put to rest.