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Archive for the ‘San Francisco Writers’ Conference’ Category

Spirit Strikes Again

Saturday, February 13th, 2010

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, and we celebrate the reality of love – or, better, of joys of connection.  Most of us yearn not just for love – which is rare and fairly private – but equally for connection. We need to know that we are living lives of synchronicity and right relationship with the world. We want to connect – to live in harmony – with both spirit and substance.

Surely it is suggestive that we share the same air – the same molecules of nitrogen, hydrogen, and oxygen that swirl through time and history from the earliest life forms through the great people of history to those we love and us.  It is the same air that connects us with the people of Asia and Africa, with saints and sinners, with apes and zebras.  We are all unified and blessed by the gift of air.

It is no wonder, then, that God breathed over the cosmos on the first day of creation and brought it to life.  It is no wonder that breath/air/wind is the same in Hebrew (ruach), Greek (pneuma), and Latin (spiritus).  It is no wonder that when we breathe this air, we are inspired.  All life and all creation begins with breath.

…including grand dreams and silly songs.

Yesterday, I was privileged to give the invocation of the San Francisco Writers’ Conference. Until last year, it was The Very Reverend Alan Jones, the retired dean of Grace Cathedral, who had the honor.  But, beginning last year, he was traveling or otherwise unavailable. So Michael Larsen and Elizabeth Pomada, organizers of the conference, asked me. With the help of the Holy Spirit, I “discovered” a long-lost version of Psalm 23 and the Lord’s Prayer composed especially for writers.  (See It was well received – which only added to the pressure when I was expected to ferret out another long-lost gem.

But, with prayer and supplication, Spirit came once again to my aid. So here is the invocation, for your amusement:

Good afternoon. We have come together in this, the seventh convening of the San Francisco Writers’ Conference, to learn, create, and connect.  And whatever our religious beliefs, we are woven together in a sacred web of art and creativity as we pray for “Spirit,” holy or otherwise.  So let’s pause and breathe deeply of the same air that inspired writers from Aeschylus to Zola. As we exhale, we share Spirit’s blessings with one another.

And then we sing:

O beautiful for spacious sighs

That soar o’er the mundane,

For purple patches’ majesties

Above the phrases plain.

O poetry and prose sublime! Muse shed her charms on thee

And crown our arts with happy hearts

From A through M to Z.

O beautiful for writers’ dreams

That see beyond the shame

Of impoverished oblivion

To works of great acclaim

O poetry and prose sublime! God shed His charms on thee

And crown Thy good with authorhood

From A through You to Z.

As we give thanks for the sun, rain, and earth that grew this food, the hands that planted and prepared this feast, and the friends who brought us together, we also honor the Holy Inspiration that lies at the core of the cosmos.  And we say:

I pledge allegiance to the Word

Of the creative force of the cosmos

And to the connection for which we strive

One yearning with the Spirit


With inspiration and success for all.


A Prayer for Writers (based on process theology)

Monday, February 16th, 2009

When they asked, I was both thrilled and cowed. Dean Alan Jones of Grace Cathedral had always given the invocation in the past – but he would be sailing the South Seas on Friday, February 13, 2009.  And so Elizabeth Pomada and Michael Larsen (the organizers of the San Francisco Writers’ Conference) asked another minister-cum-writer to deliver the opening invocation … and that was … me.

Following the Very Reverend Alan Jones would be a challenge for anyone, for he epitomizes wisdom, courage, and grace in his every written and spoken word. But Elizabeth is my literary agent and Michael is my friend, and I am forever indebted to them. After honoring me with the request, they told me to focus on the needs of writers, be inspirational but not religious, and keep it under five minutes.

So with the blessing of Rev. Jones, the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and the Bible as my guide, I was thrilled to give the following invocation:

Good afternoon. We have come together in this, the sixth convening of the San Francisco Writers’ Conference, to make new friends, explore new possibilities, and encourage each other.  As such, we are “making community” – and surely that is the work of God, or Spirit, or Muse, or Desperation, or whatever we call that force that pushes us to keep writing.  For we know that the challenges are real – in fact, I wonder if sometimes our prayers sound like this:

The Muse is my shepherd,
I shall not want for words.
She makes me lie down with greenbacks that flow from big contracts;
She restores my self-esteem.
She leads me in paths of rhyme and right phrasing
For her arts’ sake.

Yea, even though I stumble over stones of shame and self-contempt,
I fear no writers’ blocks.
For Thou are with me;
Thy words and phrases, they comfort me.

Surely verbs and verses shall follow me all the days of my life
And my books will be bestsellers forever.

In all seriousness, I suggest that, whatever your religious beliefs, you might resonate with “process theology,” in which God is the creative process – more like electricity or magnetism than a person or entity. As you read the Bible or other sacred texts, replace “God” with “Creativity” – I think you will like the results.  And remember what St. John wrote:  “In the beginning was the Word” – the seed planted in us so that we could be co-creators with God.

And so, as we give thanks for the sun, rain, and earth that grew this food, the hands who planted and prepared this feast, and the friends who brought us together, we also honor the Great Creativity that lies at the core of our cosmos and at the center of our yearnings. And thus we pray:

Our Creator, who art in the Eternal Imagination,
Hallowed be Thy powers.
Thy arts be honored, Thy works be written
In the mundane
and eternal realms.
Give us this day our daily Word,
And forgive us our mixed metaphors, split infinitives, and the overuse of adjectives.
Lead us not into feelings of inadequacy, but deliver us from the travails of unresponsive agents and unappreciative publishers.
For thine is the glory, the possibility, and the connection with the Eternal Word.
For ever and ever.  Amen.