Mary Allen has won a spiritual writing award, and all of her writing can be considered ‘spiritual’ in that it ‘deals with the bedrock of human existence—why we’re here, where we’re going, and how we can comport ourselves with dignity along the way,’ as the writer Philip Zaleski defined spiritual writing in an interview published in the New York Times.
I like Zaleski’s definition, Mary Allen writes, because it acknowledges what I’ve always believed—that spiritual writing is simply writing that looks at whatever comes into the writer’s scope of awareness, closely and deeply, from all angles, bringing to bear every gift the writer has at her disposal to find the truth, beauty, and meaning in it. It’s writing that exposes the essential mystery that lies at the heart of everything—whether it’s a ladybug or the cancer diagnosis of a friend—through faithful attention to specific, humble, concrete details. It’s writing that makes the unbearable bearable and the mundane luminous. Life itself is a spiritual endeavor whether we know it or not, and to me any writing that honestly grapples with life is ipso facto spiritual writing.
In The Rooms of Heaven, Mary Allen writes about love, death, grief, and the afterlife. She has also written about the innate spirituality of children, about exploring and healing the “house of the mind” through the vehicles of hypnosis and EMDR, and about the meaning and symbols found in the tarot cards. She and her friend Tania Pryputniewicz co-host a website called Tarot for Two.
I’ve been playing with the tarot cards with my friend Tania Pryputniewicz for more than twenty years. These days we live in different parts of the country—me in Iowa and her in California—so we do tarot long distance over the phone once a month. At the end of our sessions we each pick a card to keep close by during the coming month, and the next time we meet we write (at the same time, and then read what we wrote to each other) about what our card of the month had to do with the actual month we just went through. We post the results on our website. Doing that writing forces me to think about the cards and what they have to say about everyday life, to try to bridge the gap between the symbolic and the concrete—which in turn has deepened my understanding of the cards and increased their usefulness to me as guides. Symbolism talks to us in an intimate language as complex, concrete, and multi-faceted as the tapestry of life itself, which also talks to us through metaphors and symbols if we can only figure out how to listen. My part of these monthly posts represent my attempts to listen to the cards and to life and to hear what they have to say about each other.
Click here to read an award-winning essay, At the Monastery, by Mary Allen. The essay won first prize in Tiferet Magazine’s spiritual writing contest in 2013.