I'm happy to share Sarah Sanderson's words here today. I met Sarah through my MFA program, and I'm so glad to know her and have opportunities to have fantastic conversations with her during our residencies. I hope you enjoy this installment of The Story Cures Interview.
1. What's something you've read recently that has stayed with you?
I’m going to give one of those cop-out Christianese answers and share a Bible verse. But I’ve twisted the part of speech of one of the words in Isaiah 9:6 recently and made it my own prayer. At the beginning of Advent this year, the phrase “the government will be upon his shoulders” caught my attention. This is something the prophet Isaiah said about the coming Messiah, and we hear it so often we don’t stop to think about how unusual it is to use these words to refer to a baby who would grow into a rabble-rousing man who never held a political position and was executed for insurrection at the age of thirty-three. The government was never on the man Jesus of Nazareth’s shoulders, ever. But as someone who believes in the future return of Christ—though I admit I cannot possibly imagine what that will really look like—in my prayers this Advent, as 2017 drew to a close (a year in which so many things in the American government, as I saw it, went so horribly wrong), I asked Jesus to “shoulder the government.” And, somehow, changing the word “shoulder” from a noun to a verb makes it more active, more hopeful, for me. I’m saying, Jesus, don’t just sit around waiting for someone to put the government on your shoulders. Pick it up! Put your back into it! Shoulder it!
That all being said, my favorite book from the past couple years has been Chris Hoke’s Wanted. I have a new pen pal relationship with a man who’s been sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, and I’m praying hard these days that God will “release the prisoners,” as the prophet Isaiah also foretold. What does justice and grace for the incarcerated really look like in our society? I don’t know. But I loved Chris Hoke’s beautiful insights.
2. What's one of your favorite writing prompts?
I’m not a huge writing prompt person. At this point in my life, with four kids, a part-time job, and a master’s degree program, I have more thoughts than I have time in which to put them down. But one recent task that proved really fruitful for me was professor Lauren Winner’s assignment to write an essay that wasn’t about me, but in which I, as narrator, showed up. I tend to write mostly about my own life, so this assignment pushed me to look outside myself, and then I got to braid what I found in my research with my own perspective. I’m still working on it, but it was a fun piece to write.
3. Why do you think it's important for us to nurture our creativity?
For much of my life, I didn’t believe I could be a writer, and for a really dumb reason: I am an oldest child. I’d read something somewhere that said oldest children are rarely creative types because they tend to want to conform and comply. Well, I do want to conform and comply, and I approached life from that angle for a long time. But, after the birth of my fourth child, I was hospitalized with postpartum psychosis, and later diagnosed with bipolar disorder. All of a sudden, I could no longer conform. Those experiences shook me loose from my long-held patterns of being in the world. Being forced out of my shell was painful, but it gave me the courage to begin to write.
I still find myself driven by an over-reliance on conformity in my day-to-day life, but, as it turns out, the page gives me a space to get outside of others’ expectations. I love the freedom of the page. I wouldn’t say that writing keeps me sane; for me, it’s almost the opposite. A touch of insanity launched me as a writer, and writing continues to help me stay in touch with the wild, unpredictable spark at the core of who I am.
4. Where have you noticed grace recently?
There is so much goodness in my life. Lately, I’ve been aware of the grace of the particular people in the community of faith where my husband is a pastor. The other day, I looked around in church and thought about the lives of the people in that room. Behind me sat a woman who had recently moved across the country with her young son, penniless and planless, to get away from her violently abusive husband. Across the room, I saw a man who’s cleaning himself up from addictions and learning to help out with our sound system. There’s an elderly woman who cares full time for her disabled adult daughter. I could go on: there are so many stories in that room. Our church is nothing special, just a little neighborhood church full of people with tough lives, people who will never be noticed or celebrated by society, and yet the grace is that Jesus sees each one, loves each one, and calls each one to make up the strange and beautiful organism we call the body of Christ.
I love the church. She may not be getting the best press lately; she may be divided and impotent and sickly; but she is still his beloved. The church is still the place where Jesus calls the unlovely to himself and begins to fill them with his love. It’s the most amazing thing to see.
5. What are your thoughts on any connections you notice between reading, writing, creativity, and/or grace?
We read to overhear what God has whispered to others. We write to fumblingly express what God has shown to us. We create because we were made by a Creator. We seek grace because it is there to find.
Sarah Sanderson is enrolled in the MFA program at Seattle Pacific University. Find more of her writing at www.sarahlsanderson.com.