Several years ago my husband and I attended a local weekend retreat offered by the Northumbria Community from England. Perhaps you have seen the book, Celtic Daily Prayer. They are the group behind that book. The Northumbria community uses a three-word rule of life in relation to God and others: "Availability and Vulnerability."
As a working writer, I was so struck then – and continue to be struck – by how well suited the community's “Rule” of availability and vulnerability is to the life of the writer.
I came to understand that the “Rule” is not a list of do’s and don’ts that one must follow, but rather it is a way of being. It is not a code of conduct but a framework of identity, a scaffold on which you build your days so that you can be who you are. Most religious orders have some variety of a rule by which they characterize themselves.
I came to understand that availability means first and foremost availability to God through time in solitude and then availability to others. It’s a word for the inner and the outer journey. Vulnerability means refusing to change reality so that things are easier to deal with. It’s a willingness to face and confront things as they are, intentionally and deliberately, a preparedness to find truth – or God – wherever it exists.
These two words and the meanings conveyed directly speak to the vocation of the writer. To be available to God is the spiritual discipline of writing. To be available to others is the hospitality offered on the page and the sharing of one’s life with others on the page. To be vulnerable is that need to be open to where the writing leads us and where it pulls us in the first place, that need to struggle as we write.
Learning about the rule of availability and vulnerability started me thinking about it as a framework of my identity as a writer, as a scaffold to help shape my days and my work.
Writers commonly have a credo, whether it’s a formal written document or an inner working reference carried only in one’s head or heart, which guides them when making decisions about what they will write about and how. That credo might contain one’s core beliefs, thoughts about what brings the world benefit or harm, thoughts on what is important to attend to in living a human life, a recognition of personal interests and passions and what one uniquely can contribute, and so on. Having both a credo and a rule gives the writer a plumbline and suggests a means of accountability when pursuing the craft in a vocational and spiritual sense.
[Originally published, with some revision, in Northumbria Community. Caim. Spring 2014.]
[Photo is of a straw and stick cross hanging on the wall of an office at St. John's University in which I had the privilege to write for a week.]