My Deep Soul Place


I was recently challenged to consider a theology for my discipline—a worthy pursuit. Here are some preliminary thoughts:

At Theology Forum, Kent Eilers discusses Rowan Williams’ Dostoevsky: Language, Faith, and Fiction. Within it, Williams articulates Dostoevsky’s theology of writing, a sort of connection between faith and fiction within Dostoevsky’s works that points to a “what if” question (a question that ultimately leads to acts of creation) that seems to drive him as a writer.

 Eilers writes:

Rather than putting forward a vision for ‘ideal’ faith or a paradigm for obedience, Williams sees Dostoevsky instead imagining through his fiction what faith might look like (rather than should look like) in varying situations, personalities, and human hardships.  Put differently, Dostoevsky invites us to ask, ‘What would be possible if [emphasis mine] we – characters and readers – saw the world and all its sufferings, tragedies, and desolations in the light of faith?’

Eilers quotes Williams: “A fiction like Dostoevsky’s which tries to show what faith might mean in practice is bound to be both inconclusive in all sorts of ways, and also something that aspires to a realism that is more than descriptive (46).”

As I was thinking about this, I wondered what my own theology of creative nonfiction might look like (if you’re wondering how you might define creative nonfiction, check out creative nonfiction Godfather Lee Gutkind’s description at Creative Nonfiction Magazine’s site.

Mostly I was struck by the idea that Dostoevsky’s fiction “tries to show what faith might mean in practice” and that it “aspires to a realism that is more than descriptive.”

What moves me about creative nonfiction (reading and writing it) is that it doesn’t have to aspire to realism to reveal a deep soul place. Creative nonfiction often points to the creative nonfiction writer’s and reader’s deep soul place, which we mostly keep hidden from each other. The creative nonfiction piece creates a sort of universal language and truth among us as it reveals the reality of the human condition.

So what does this have to do with a theology of creative nonfiction? Speaking personally, my writing shows the evolution of my faith and what it often looks like in practice—in all of its folly, sorrows, and joys. Here’s how:

John 1:1-3 and John 17:20-26 (I might even go so far to say all of the Gospels, which I perceive as memoiristic in nature) have helped me try to pin this down.

Perhaps creative nonfiction is a wrestling within our deep soul places to not only come to terms with what it means to be human but what it means to be one with each other and God in our everyday, commonplace lives as well as the big joy and sorrow moments. If we have entrusted ourselves to the teachings of Jesus (and many of us, of course, have not but are nonetheless on a journey toward or away from God), creative nonfiction can help us explore what it means to be one with each other so that we “ …may be brought to complete unity” (John 17:23). Jesus says that the greatest commandment is to love God and love others. Creative nonfiction can lead us closer to this because it creates empathy for the other. And from empathy, we can bare our deep soul places with each other more fully. And when we can bare our deep soul places with each other, we can more fully love each other. And, ultimately, when we love each other, we love God more fully by being obedient to his command. Creative nonfiction can set us on a journey toward God rather than away from God. It becomes a way of seeing each other more fully, more empathetically, more lovingly so that the reality of God’s love for us becomes more fully manifested in our unity.

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