I am so delighted to have Keren on the blog today. Keren is one of the most beautiful writers I know, writing from a place of long-term chronic illness and pain. Her new book, Recital of Love, is a profound work of great beauty and depth. I know you’re going to love reading her amazing words today.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m a housebound chronically sick woman hurtling towards fifty who loves God with all her heart. When I have the energy, I write, paint and draw. I’m married to Rowan and we live in Kent, England. I’ve been called into a life of contemplative prayer and creativity and constantly feel unequal to either task.
The truth is that I don’t keep going when it’s tough. I fall to pieces often. I cry a lot.
You write poetry and prose that is alive with beauty and layers of meaning, yet you write from a position of living with long term chronic illness. Can you tell us a little about how you manage to write through the pain – and how you keep going when it’s tough?
The truth is that I don’t keep going when it’s tough. I fall to pieces often. I cry a lot. I have, at times, specialised in whingeing prayer. But after many years I have found the best approach is to give God all the broken bits of myself. To offer up the pain and exhaustion. It’s hard because I have to be satisfied with writing in very short sessions when my tired brain can manage it. But it’s a loaves and fishes situation. I look at all the documents on my hard-drive, the piles of prayer journals, the five portfolios stuffed with art, and wonder where on earth it all came from! It doesn’t make any sense at all in the natural. I’m so grateful, because despite everything, I can see God at work through the very weakness that floors me.
Despite everything, I can see God at work through the very weakness that floors me.
Your new book, Recital of Love, is an incredible work of great depths. Tell us about what inspired this work and how it came about.
That’s very kind of you, Liz. Recital is a collection of pieces that came to me as I sat in prayer. It’s an accumulation of a couple of years praying. I sit in silent contemplation a lot and sometimes God will speak with me using words, mostly we just sit together in quiet. It’s like two friends sat on a bench by a river. There is both nothing going on and everything going on. And I started to write down some of the pieces that were given to me, because I felt God wanted me to share them. With his help I collated these particular ones, which Paraclete Press have made into a truly beautiful book.
As a writer with M.E, do you find that some of your writing is a lament, and do you find that cathartic at all?
No question. Absolutely. Writing that contains no pain isn’t expressing much about the human experience. I find this is true of emotional pain more than any other kind. Grief is a massive part of living with chronic illness, as you know and so beautifully expressed in your own book, Catching Contentment. I come back to the Psalms a lot for that affirmation and inspiration. I write about joy and misery. Suffering is at the heart of faith, just as the Cross is at the heart of Christianity and it is superficial and unwise to skip over it. Lament is deeply necessary. I find that my deepest pain can only be processed by writing poetry. Not even particularly good poetry, a lot of the time! But it definitely helps alongside prayer.
Suffering is at the heart of faith, just as the Cross is at the heart of Christianity and it is superficial and unwise to skip over it.
Finally, what would you say to someone reading this who is sick and exhausted yet has a dream to express their creativity in any way?
I would say that it is imperative for their own wholeness of being that they try to find a way to do that. I think if you are human you are likely creative in some sense. It’s one of the ways we are made in the image of God. We all need to play. Colour, song, dance, words, thread, paint, clay, these are all things to play with. If we are sick, we have to find imaginative ways to do these things. I sometimes dance using just my hands for a minute or two. It’s the only way I can do it. It’s still dancing. Or I do it in my imagination. I guess my best advice on this is to think about what you miss the most, what gives you most joy, and find a way to let that flow. You might find it just leaks out in some small ways. Be aware, watch for that. You may start with haiku, as a poet. Or an idea, as a writer. Fimo or Plasticine as a sculptor. You might paint with felt tips because it’s easier than brushes or easels, or sing a little because you can no longer lift an instrument. But don’t hold it in. Gently begin. See how it feels. Offer it up to God. He will lead you.