An extremely candid writer, Sharon McMahon Moffitt is the author of The Blessed, a book that follows the structure of the beatitudes in order to look through the Christian life in an open, fresh way. In the book, Moffitt brings the wisdom of the beatitudes to life through a variety of stories that highlight her own spiritual journey in a close, intimate way.
A creative writing teacher by profession, Moffitt brings her experiences as a mother, poet and life-long learner to her writing. In addition to her literary pursuits, Moffitt has been the leader of a Bible study for teens and twentysomethings for the last 10 years. She maintains that it’s this ongoing Bible study that has led her to her most “epiphanous moments,” where she has learned to embrace the paradoxical quality of the Christian life.
I had the chance to speak with Moffitt over the phone. Though she would have preferred a longer chat over a fresh latte in Seattle, I made due with a fine sugary carbonated beverage and AT&T. She discussed her book, her Bible studies, mentoring and motherhood.
[ON PIGEONHOLES AND POETRY]
One of the challenges in any life, much less the Christian one, is the need to break out of the mental boxes we put ourselves in so growth can occur. Moffitt knows this struggle. “The essence of my spiritual journey was struggling to break out of pigeonholes that I had stuffed myself into, so that the book was born out of many years of escaping and freeing myself up from those,” she said.
This newfound freedom has opened Moffitt up to more creative living. She feels she has an amazing gift in her three distinct careers, the first being that of wife and mother, which she takes seriously as a vocation. Her second occupation is that of a teacher, both in the classroom and in the Bible study she has taught in her home for the past 10 years. Finally, she has only recently entered a career in writing.
Creativity pervades the way Moffitt looks at life. When she teaches creative writing at the Tacoma School for the Arts, she tries to pass on her zeal for creativity and “the poetic.”
“I actually talk to the kids quite a bit in the opening days of class about the distinction between what I call the poetic and poems,” Moffitt said. “What I try to impress upon the students is that they should seek to include the poetic in all of their writing. The poetic, to me, is all about handling words as if they are precious objects. It’s the sacred handling of the language. The craft of writing is all too often slighted in the writing of what’s come to be called ‘Christian material.’ So I was very committed to the poetic being a part The Blessed.”
[ON LIVING IN TENSION]
Christian writers tend to focus on either God’s grace or God’s justice—seldom both. Moffitt said we need to balance the two. “One of the big things that came out of the writing of the book was the struggle between mercy and justice and the whole question of balancing these things,” she said. “I feel like, for me, the personal discovery in writing The Blessed was the joy, really, of living in tension between two things that tug. And I think that’s the artistry of God and of Jesus.”
She said the image that came to her in regard to the tension between mercy and justice was a wire strung through her. “I felt that if that tension goes slack, I’m done for. So keeping that line taut suddenly became a good thing. There’s something about living in this tension that keeps me alive.”
Moffitt very much defines herself by her role as a mother and believes that women need to reclaim the beauty and blessing of motherhood. “Motherhood as an occupation or a vocation has really been undermined in our culture for the last 20 or 30 years,” she said, “but it does seem as if it’s staging a comeback. The narrow political view of motherhood is unsavory to me; the idea of holding up some Barbie-doll version of the homemaker is really offensive to most thinking people … But the idea of mother as nurturer and teacher and encourager is really beautiful.”
Moffitt said she could never separate herself out of the role of mother and teacher. It is the fundamental, elemental role of her life. “Learning, though, is also central to the interchangeable role of teacher and mother,” she said, “and I learned so much from my children and then from the children around me.”
[ON HANGING OUT]
Moffitt sees the Bible study she has led in her home for the last 10 years as an extension of her role as a mother. “[The kids] come over mostly to be mothered … and not in the sappy sense,” she said. “I think sometimes of my home as a place of anchorage for kids whose lives are extremely busy, almost manic at times. They’re looking for a place where they can tie down for the evening.”
The age span in Moffitt’s Bible study group is 14 to 25. “What’s interesting about that is you’d think that it would pose enormous problems, but the reason it doesn’t is because the one common thing that links them is that all of them have a desire to really go deep, in terms of talking about God and Jesus, and they’re all very sober, but they’re also uproariously funny and very, very smart,” she said. “So here I’ve got this freshman who, mind you, sits very quietly and is more of a listener, and then I have kids who’ve returned from college. The age span has actually been a really sweet thing instead of a problem because it’s been like I feel myself gradually handing off the torch to these older students who are back.”
She said when the church has called to ask if they could just bring her Bible study in as part of the youth ministry, she’s always told them she is part of the youth ministry and asked if it’s necessary for her to be a part of the official program. “The kids are coming,” she said. “We’re reading the Bible, we’re hanging out together, we’re talking and praying, and I just don’t see any reason to mess with it.”
The power of companionship is vastly underrated in our society of loners. “I don’t see how you do this [Christian life] without the companionship of those who are walking alongside or who have gone before,” Moffitt said. “I seek out wisdom in literature and relationships. I think it’s very important. My guess is from the way that these students have come in and out of my home that they want someone [to mentor them]—and not necessarily someone cool and groovy.” She said it’s more important that they have someone who can give them some direction, and they just want somebody who speaks truth and isn’t afraid of confession.
“Of course, in another small group I’m in, there’s a man who’s just retiring from 30 years as a psychologist and he’s saying, ‘I’m longing for a mentor in my life right now, an old man who will help me figure out how to become an old man with grace and dignity’—so it goes both ways.”
[ON PASSING ALONG WISDOM]
Moffitt suggested developing relationships with people of all ages and being willing to be spiritually intimate in those relationships, which requires trusting them and trusting yourself. Of course, it’s also about the power of the story. “[We] want to hear people’s stories,” she said. “[We] want to hear how people have lived through this or that or the other. Sharing our stories is elemental. That’s where relationships are formed. Relationship is everything. I think that’s what Jesus is all about; I think that’s what we’re supposed to be all about.”
BUY IT: THE BLESSED
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