Sacrament of Fiction: On Becoming a Writer and Not a Priest

Nick Ripatrazone, author of Good People (a book of stories) and the novella We Will Listen For You, wrote a piece for The Millions back in April entitled “Sacrament of Fiction: On Becoming a Writer and Not a Priest.”

I bring it up because it fits right into our goal here of encouraging artists and there are a ton of you who draw from a deep, abiding faith in order to create works of art. Many of you will find this inspiring, especially you Theists out there who have left a more monastic or vocational ministry for that of the artist. 


Recently in an interview, Philip Yancey talked about Christianity’s negative stereotypes (thanks to Ben Grace for the share). He mentioned the three most attractive Christians (and I would broaden this to all people of strong faith) are artists, activists and pilgrims ::

I identify three types of people who are especially effective in dispensing grace to an increasingly post-Christian world: activists, artists and pilgrims.

Activists, those are the people who reach out with acts of mercy. It touches people’s hearts. And then they’re open to the message. I can travel to places and I can see the long-term effect of Christians who never talk about their faith, yet they’re reaching out with acts of mercy. They’re affecting people’s hearts, and eventually those people want to know, “Why are you doing this?”

Artists are also effective. Art sneaks in at a subconscious level. The Church historically was the great patron of the arts, and now, some churches are, some churches aren’t. Artists are hard to control, and yet, they are effective in communicating the Gospel to a society that is resistant to it.

And the last phrase I use is pilgrims. We can say, “Look, we’re just traveling along the same road you do, but we know something about the destination, and this is how it has helped our lives,” instead of, “We’re on the inside, you’re on the outside. You’re no good. You’re going to hell.”

If you look at Jesus’ stories, He talks about lost people, lost coins, lost sheep, the lost son. I’ve started looking at people as lost. There are many people who are just wandering around, not knowing why they’re here, how to live, what decisions they should make. And as pilgrims on the same road, we can say, “Here are some clues we’ve learned that may help.”

Part of the value in Nick’s piece resides (dwells? is incarnated?) in the long list of strong Catholic creators from whom he draws inspiration ::

  1. Thomas Aquinas
  2. Jacques Maritain
  3. Dietrich von Hildebrand
  4. Simone Weil
  5. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ
  6. Walter Ong, SJ
  7. G.E.M. Anscombe
  8. Ron Hansen
  9. Fr. James Martin, SJ
  10. Fr. Uwem Akpan, SJ
  11. Fr. Jim McDermott, SJ
  12. Gerard Manley Hopkins
  13. J.F. Powers
  14. Flannery O’Connor
  15. Erin McGrawNot to mention novels featuring priests ::
  16. The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene
  17. Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
  18. Silence by Shusaku Endo

He ends his piece with this vision of a sacramental – a fully realized mythological – vision of the divine. You could call it God-made-character-in-a-story ::

I write for many of the same reasons that I wanted to become a priest. I want to bear witness to a sacramental vision. I want to admit my life as a sinner. Rather than judge others, I want to use empathy to sketch their imperfect lives on the page, and find the God that I know resides within them. Similar to the life of a priest, there is a space for silence in my writing life, but also a time of engagement with both reader and place.

I write from a Catholic worldview, but don’t often write about clergy or Catholic schools. Father Joe taught me that lesson, and thankfully, I listened. For me, writing is a form of prayer. I recognize that time spent at my desk can devolve into hours of selfishness, so I need to earn those words. Good fiction can be a form of good works. As a Catholic, I recognize that life is a story of continuous revision, of failure and unexpected grace, and of dogged hope. I am comfortable with the white space of ambiguity and mystery. I have faith, not certainty. To approach God in any other manner deflates the divine. I write and I believe in order to better see the world. Now, more than a decade after I left that rectory convinced I was meant to become a father and not a Father, a writer and not a pastor, I finally realize that I have not traded one vocation for another. I have discovered their common source.

Go read the rest, it’s worth your time.

Image via firstworldchild/Flickr

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:: free stories for readers and encouragement for artists ::

Marley’s Ghost :: A Christmas Carol — Stave One

Keeping with my tradition of reading Christmas stories, this year I’m doing A Christmas Carol.

Of course, even Dickens’ oral manuscript that he modified original is still pretty dang long, so I’m going to have to break this sucker up into its component staves. (It’s a carol, remember?) Here’s stave one, Marley’s Ghost.

Marley’s ghost always freaked me out as a kid, so I read this one creepily ::


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No More Ads on My Site

It took five years for me to man up and switch over to, but I’m now happy to tell you that I’ve completely cut the cord with and there will no longer be any ads anywhere on my site. If you see them, please let me know because they’re there against my will.

Big improvements, step-by-step.

More to come…

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a brooklyn, new york author

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