Reading gave me great comfort as a child. And not only books that had great plot, characters, conflict, you know, all the elements of fiction but books that also dealt with themes I hungered for. Discovering existentialism in literature was a high point in my life. Here are all these people, thinking, wondering, suffering about the same subjects that I was. I was not alone.
I feel the same about spirituality. There is a need for it and I am always happy to find authors that are brave enough to have this as well, in their writing and books. It is fun to write just fiction but I also find that I take a lot of comfort in reading books that offer something for the soul as well.
Enuma Okoro is just that kind of writer. A Nigerian-American writer based in Durham, Ms. Okoro writes on “spiritual formation, growth and holistic wellness,” among other subjects.
She is the author of several books: The Reluctant Pilgrim: A Moody Somewhat Self-Indulgent Introvert’s Search for spiritual Community (2010), Common Prayer: Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals (2010), co-authored with Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove), Silence (2012) and Talking Taboo (2013)
I wanted to know more about the place of spirituality in her work so I sent her this question in an email:
When did you realize that spirituality will become an integral part of your writing and also as a human being. Is this something that has always been there or has it developed because of something or perhaps you have been inspired?
Here is what she says:
I’ve always considered myself a writer who happens to have a very rich and active spiritual life. Which by the way, doesn’t mean it is not challenging.
But I am someone who has always been drawn to the mystery and complex beauty of the spiritual realm, ever since I was a child.
I was raised Catholic and so from the get go there were stories and icons and scents and symbols that cast me easily under the spell of the spiritual.But in addition to the influence of my Catholic upbringing, as a child I used to sit in our family’s formal living room and pour over the Encyclopedia reading about all the Greek gods and goddesses. Their world fascinated me.
I especially loved how there was such a fine line between the sacred and the profane, the divine and the secular worlds were always slipping into each other by accident or intent.
I actually believe that is still the case. It’s sort of like those beautiful paintings depicting the scene from the book of Genesis, where Jacob has his famous dream of a ladder connecting heaven and earth. The rungs are busy with angels descending and ascending, running holy errands. I think the two worlds are supposed to co-exist, weaving in and out of each other. There are so many aspects of life that can only be accounted for because these worlds collide.
That’s also why I love magical realism. A writer like Garcia-Marquez was genius in the fictional worlds he created and depicted. Reading his stories added another layer to my appreciation of the spiritual world. It can be fantastical and surreal and truly unbelievable. To the skeptical eye it can sound and look like pure foolishness and make believe. But there’s wisdom to be gleaned if one tables their doubts for a minute.
But I’m carrying on. You asked a simple question. I’ve been writing creatively since I was child and I’ve always written about things that have unsettled me in some way of another, things I’m usually still working out in the writing process
The spiritual and the temporal worlds often collide in my writing. They each help me better understand the other.
When I was 16 I read what remains one of my favorite books of all time, “All Quiet On the Western Front,” a book on the futility of war. When I finished the novel I couldn’t process it. I was so overwhelmed with philosophical, existential and spiritual concerns. I ended up writing a poem to God as my personal version of a book review!
Since 2010, I’ve written and co-authored a total of four books and endless articles on some aspect of the spiritual life. But my writing interests and focus have been shifting over the last couple of years.
I still write about the spiritual life when it seems right and fitting, but I also think it’s wise to honor whatever creative path I find myself being led down.
I’ve been writing some published essays and criticisms and some secret fiction around issues that play into the narratives of non-white and often non-western women. I’m praying and writing my way into greater creative clarity in this new season of my life. It’s both scary and exciting.