Me: Daily “quiet time” is widely viewed as a pillar of spiritual growth and maturity in modern Christianity. What inspired you to shake up such hallowed ground in Disquiet Time?
Cathleen: You know, it honestly started as a joke between Jen and me stemming from the fact that, despite growing up in and around a religious milieu where “quiet time” was de rigeur, neither one of us had ever been particularly good at it. If memory serves, we discussed how nervous-making that requisite “quiet time” was and how much of the time, in our experience, it was anything but spiritually/emotionally/mentally “quiet.”
Hence “disquiet,” which is, I believe, if we’re truly honest about it, the experience many of us have when we study or reflect on the Bible. It’s not to knock “quiet time,” it’s simply to cast it in a different, and for many of us more genuine, light. If you read the Bible - really read it - there’s a lot in there that’s confounding, unsettling, and, yes, disquieting. And that’s OK. That’s not necessarily a bad thing at all.
Me: Disquiet Time has an impressive and diverse set of contributors. What did you learn about God as you compiled these essays into a single tome?
Cathleen: The macro-level lesson for me, at least, was just what we say at the end of our introduction: God is BIG and God can take it. You can’t “do it wrong” if you’re honestly and open-heartedly engaging with holy writ. If you have questions, ask them. If you have complaints, voice them. I remember Elie Wiesel telling me once about how he still reads and studies the Bible every day and that he has lots of questions and complaints and that he expresses them, to God. Professor Wiesel told me that there’s a great tradition in Judaism (and the Bible was their’s first, obviously, so it’s not a bad tradition to perpetuate) of prophets shaking their fist at God. Rather than storm off offended in a huff, God engages with the questions and the complaints. God wants a relationship with us, warts and all. So bring your doubts, fears, joys, hopes, misunderstandings - all of it - bring it with you when you are with the Bible. It’s OK. You have permission. Really. We promise.
Me: Is there a place for cynicism or skepticism in the lives of Christians?
Cathleen: Whether there’s “a place” for it or not, it’s there. I guess the question is should it be? And I think skepticism - questioning the veracity of “truth” that’s taken for granted in some quarters - finds purchase in the Christian mind and that’s probably healthy. Just because the status quo or prevailing culture or zeitgeist says something is so doesn’t mean it is. To question that is not a bad thing. Cynicism, on the other hand, is, at least to my mind, corrosive. Cynicism is a posture that says people are motivated by self interest, period. To view the world that way is a pretty dark place to live. Constantly starting from a place of general mistrust doesn’t reflect the hope, grace, and mercy that Christians by definition embrace.
And while we’re at it, a word about doubt: Doubt isn’t the opposite of faith. The opposite of faith is certainty. Or as St. Freddie of Rupert (aka Frederick Buechner) says, “Whether your faith is that there is a God or that there is not a God, if you don’t have any doubts you are either kidding yourself or asleep.”
Me: You're one of the most talented authors I know. Any words of wisdom for aspiring writers who want to get better at the craft?
Cathleen: Write. Keep writing. Write all the time. Write SOMETHING every day. Even if it’s a carefully-worded email. Just do it. And read. Read all the time. Read the work of people you like. Read something that inspires you. Read writers who have cultivated their voice in the way you hope to cultivate yours. Also read something completely different - something outside your comfort zone/realm of expertise/general interests. You never know what will spark the creative fire until you go there. Trust your gut. Find your voice. Get out of your own way.