To help those seeking a way to preserve these experiences, I am conducting special Spiritual Memoir workshops. I chose the word spiritual because of its ambiguity. Spirituality is personal and defined by you. Anyone can write spiritual memoir, and spiritual memoir is not necessarily about religion.
Did your life change when you finally took that dream vacation? Has your belief grown because of a unique personal challenge? Are you searching for the right way to share these experiences with your loved ones? Do you have an experience you want to share because you know it will help others? Those are all good reasons to write spiritual memoir.
I have collected writing samples from a few participants of my most recent spiritual memoir workshop. You’ll see that a wide range of topics can be classified as spiritual memoir. I hope they inspire you to try your hand at the genre yourself.
The Mourning Dove
Kay Conner Pliszka
A few weeks ago I woke early, glanced out the window and saw a most unusual vision of color. There were no splashes of brilliance in the sky; just a plain, solid yellow from the ground up as far as I could see. It was as though someone had painted the outside air. Even the sides of houses reflected the color. And it was calm—no breeze, no movement anywhere—just a world that had been swallowed up in yellow.
I made my way to the window of the front door and, looking out, felt an extraordinary peace in this wonderment of pale softness. It made me wish that my niece Sue, who was in the last throes of cancer, could see this and feel that same peace.
We’ve always been close. But when her mom passed away two years ago Sue began emailing and calling more often than usual. When told she had Pancreatic Cancer our talks became a daily dose of medicine for both of us. So with my head bowed, resting on the window pain, I began to pray:
Please, dear God, be with Sue this day and bless her with your perfect peace. Please let her feel your presence so closely that she will be filled with joy…
As I finished my prayer the strangest thing happened. A dove flew onto our front entrance stoop and walked up onto the welcome mat next to the door. It stopped, looked up and stared at me through the window pain. It remained motionless, looking into my eyes for what seemed at least two minutes.
During that time I marveled that this could actually happen: A dove walking right up to the door…A bird standing silent and staring at me for such a very long time…And a dove—the symbol of peace—coming right after my prayer for peace!
This was a “mourning” dove. I had been in mourning at the thought of losing Sue for nearly a year. Was the coming of this bird a sign from God that He had heard my prayer?
As I mulled this question the dove left the matt, hopped off the stoop and started walking down the sidewalk. I quickly bowed my head again. “Oh dear God,” I pleaded, “If the dove is a sign from you, please send it back to me.”
When I opened my eyes, the bird turned and walked back up the sidewalk to our entrance way. It hopped up onto the stoop and took its place on the matt in the same spot as before. Again it stared into my eyes.
I could hardly breathe my heart was so full of amazement and gratitude. This was the sign from God I had asked for.
After a short time the bird turned and flew away. I stood at the door in humble awe with tears running down my cheeks. This, to me, was a testament to the reality of God—His way of telling me that He is present, that He loves us and that He hears our prayers.
That afternoon Sue passed into the perfect peace and joy of God’s Heaven.
I sat on the white, warm Carolina sand looking out into the dark blue wavy waters of the Atlantic ocean. With pen in hand and the sun shining down, I wrote a letter to Papaw. It was one of those “from the heart” notes where I found myself tearing up as I wrote. The comforting memories of my childhood flooded my mind like the salty water inching up towards my toes.
I had lost him that year-suddenly. It was October and in Ohio the leaves were at their peak color. The call came to my college dorm room late that morning. I heard my Dad’s shaky voice on the other end of the phone say, “Papaw died.”
Eight months later, I listened to the lulliby of the waves washing ashore. I wrote slowly, methodically, using phrases like “so many good memories”, “I miss you”, “I wish I could have said ‘goodbye'”. I look up and gaze out into the sea and I remember how much Papaw loved the ocean. I see him pulling my cousins and me over the choppy waves in that inflatable boat. I see him lying on his back in the water floating over the crests of the waves. I see him taking a nap under the yellow umbrella at the tides edge. He looks as calm as the ocean breeze that gently blows through his white hair.
A seagull’s cry brings me back to the present and I continue to write. At that moment, as I write by the seaside, I feel connected to Papaw again and I am finally able to say “goodbye.”
Lying on a rumpled couch in the ICU Care Center, I was trying to fall asleep, but afraid. Afraid that if I did go to sleep my little girl would die. She had just undergone surgery for a brain tumor and was not expected to come out of the recovery room. She had died in surgery and suffered a massive stroke.
She was now in the ICU, in a coma, and on a breathing machine. I didn’t want to leave her side, but the nurses insisted that I get some rest. I had been awake for almost 2 days. They cleared out the waiting room, put a soft light in the corner to keep the room dim, gave me a Valium, and told me they would wake me if anything happened.
The couch was not that comfortable, but my aching body welcomed the relief it attempted to give me. All was quiet, except my brain going from fear to prayer and back to fear, when I heard a voice. Not a human voice and not a voice I could recognize, but very ethereal and close. The voice said, “ Cindy, you can go to sleep. I am here, and I will watch over Kimberly, she will not die.” I guess I suddenly felt peace because I fell asleep and did not wake up for 18 hours. When I awoke it was just as the voice had said, she was okay and still with us.
My father had a supplement job called Sunburst Cue Company. He made bamboo cues. We would travel the state and go to the different shuffleboard clubs, selling cues, erasers, chalk, wax to go on the courts. It was a great experience to travel and go to different cities. We would meet the different members of the clubs. Shuffleboard started out aboard ships and then different clubs started having tournaments around the state of Florida. We would try to attend the different tournaments to be able to see a lot of the players. Eustis did have a lot of courts at one time. Tavares and Leesburg has courts that are still being used today. They play on certain days. The winter months are the busiest times.
My father really did not make much money with this business but he did get the enjoyment of meeting people.
By Jeanne Sullivan
Ah Dody, what can I tell you about Dody that you, her friends, don’t already know. She was loyal, loved her brother, loved her friends, loved dogs, emotional, friendly, thoughtful, loved dogs, organized, honest, helpful, did I say she loved dogs? Sometimes she was stubborn, opinionated, I wonder where she got that?
From the day she was delivered, Dody had occasions when we almost lost her. A difficult delivery which resulted in two operations, an accident where she hit a tree sliding down a hill on her sled. Several years ago she had a “brain bleed” more surgery.
This time, however, no one expected this. She was happy with her new knee. She was retired. She was coming to Florida in February. We were going to decide on an apartment where she would be close to us, dog friendly, affordable. We had so many plans now that we would have more time together.
I keep waiting for her to take her turn on Words With Friends. We talked on the phone almost every day. I don’t know how we managed to talk for an hour or so without running out of things to say. We laughed a lot, sometimes to the point of being silly. Although we were good friends, she never forgot I was her mother. She wanted to be near to take care of me and my husband as we are both getting older.
I have resisted the desire to call her number just to hear her voice one more time.
I have been blessed with two great children. There is an empty place in my heart and I can’t stop crying. I try to picture her in heaven, smiling and surrounded by every dog she ever knew.
I guess God needed her more than He thought I needed her. I pray that it’s true; we will be with each other again.
I have what a friend called ambushes of grief. That’s when all of a sudden, for no apparent reason, I feel the tears start to flow. Some little things remind me of her.
When I am doing dishes, I often have a flash of all the ties we did them together. It was a good time to talk abbot lots of personal things without being embarrassed.
When I am driving, I’ll see something that I think she would have liked to see. We often just took a ride and didn’t care if we got lost. We always managed to find our way back, usually the long way but we would laugh about it.
We liked to go thrift shopping. Sometimes we would find a bargain, like the time she got a brand new pair of Nikes. I haven’t been thrift shopping since.
She left her hair dryer in her bathroom. We still call one of the bedrooms Dody’s room and the bathroom Dody’s bathroom.
One time she brought me four Jumbo pistachio muffins in a nice plastic container. I told her I was going to keep it. She said she wanted it back. We agreed I would keep it until she moved here that way it would be one less thing to move. We joked that she would bring a few things with her each time she came to make the move easier. She never came again.
Facebook sends us little reminders of what we posted a year, five years ago on that date. I see my old posts and read some of the comments. She was my biggest fan. She “liked” everything I wrote. However, since she was a good writer I would often email her what I was writing and she would give me her “Honest” opinion.
I will always miss her.
I believe our physical death isn’t the end, but rather is a step forward in Heavenly Father’s plan and a time of indescribable joy for the person making the transition.
When you’re the one left behind—the one losing a friend or loved one—the pain of that loss is very real. But there’s a lot of comfort in knowing you’ll see him or her again. And because of Christ’s death, at some point our spirit and body will be reunited (resurrected) and made perfect never to be separated again.