On Writing Daemons, St Francis de Sales and Damascene Road Experiences

It's certainly been a full -on week, what with Sunday's gospel on unclean spirits combined with this week's feast of St Francis de Sales, the patron saint of writers, and it got me thinking of the daemons/spirits that writers often figuratively invoke as a necessary stimulus to their creative drive.  

Click here for my earlier post on The Feast of Francis de Sales.

We writers often say the muse has left us when we find ourselves grappling with how to exorcise that daemon of all daemons- writer's block.

Czeslaw Milosz

Czeslaw Milosz (1911–2004), was a Polish Catholic, who wrote some of the greatest religious poetry of our time and this poem below describes the experience of writer's block acutely.

Without My Daemonion

Daemonion, for two weeks now you’ve failed to visit me
And I’m becoming the one I’d have always been, without your help.
I look in the mirror and my face finds no favour,

Memory opens up, and it’s a horror.

Mixed up and unhappy man that I am,
I will remain completely different in my poems.

I would like to warn readers, beg forgiveness.
But how, when I can’t even write this lamentation.

Madison Smartt Bell explains the daemons of his writing.....

"I make up stories for a living, make them up and write them down, and for a long time I have claimed, on suitable occasions, that my work is dictated to me by daemons, being careful to include that extra ‘a,’ so that the daemons I’m invoking may seem at least morally neutral, not out and out evil as single ‘e’ demons are mostly considered to be.

Image by Mark Robinson

There’s been a vogue for angels lately, but somehow I like daemons better.

Artists and writers don’t necessarily have to believe that spirits like that are really out there—

inspiration can as easily be understood as a process of reflection within the individual psyche.

But somehow I like my daemons better.............

Image from here

Most religions have in them somewhere an element of spirit possession, close to a mystical core. I have been going to Quaker meetings lately, where there is no rite or ritual whatsoever; where the congregation sits quietly for an hour, waiting in silence for the Holy Spirit to move any individual to speech. In our time the only other religion I know of that offers such extraordinary empowerment to the individual practitioner is . . . Haitian Voodou...............................

and he adds

"Most religions are out to free the practitioner from the prison of the self. That requires displacement of the ego. The ego may be lulled into inattention, which is what I believe occurs in the Society of Friends, or it can simply be snatched out of the saddle. In the latter case, the terror one feels is caused by simian claws of the ego clinging to its place with all its might, tearing shreds from your being as it’s dragged away howling – an experience I sometimes like to call la déchirure. 

Some say, it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God."

What serendipity that this neatly merges with this weeks feast of  the conversion of St Paul who fell from his horse at the experience of meeting head on the living God who erupted unexpectedly into his life and so utterly transformed his past with its errant history to a new life. 

The theophany, or personal encounter with God is a terrifying tumbling experience.


Michelangelo's St Paul Damascene experience

It took St Paul tens of thousands of miles of pilgrimage , years of more learning, constant struggling with "thorns in the flesh ", and maturing to carry the message of what the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus actually meant for humankind and we are all still on that road to freedom, even though we may not know it.

The Newsboys sing  I am Free

Milosz's beautiful poem shows poignantly how Damascene road epiphanies come slow and often arrive late in life, if at all..

Late Ripeness

Not soon, as late as the approach of my ninetieth year,
I felt a door opening in me and I entered
the clarity of early morning.

One after another my former lives were departing,
like ships, together with their sorrow.

And the countries, cities, gardens, the bays of seas
assigned to my brush came closer,
ready now to be described better than they were before.

I was not separated from people,
grief and pity joined us.
We forget—I kept saying—that we are all children of the King.

For where we come from there is no division
into Yes and No, into is, was, and will be.

We were miserable, we used no more than a hundredth part
of the gift we received for our long journey.

Moments from yesterday and from centuries ago—
a sword blow, the painting of eyelashes before a mirror
of polished metal, a lethal musket shot, a caravel
staving its hull against a reef—they dwell in us,
waiting for a fulfillment.

I knew, always, that I would be a worker in the vineyard,
as are all men and women living at the same time,
whether they are aware of it or not.

St Francis de Sales muses were the saints and in these encouraging words he gives all of us who struggle as writers some valuable advice..
"To ensure that the saints pray and intercede for us, we must invoke them and ask their help. The best way to celebrate their feasts is to realize the power they have with God for obtaining the graces of which we stand in need.
Our Lord is so pleased when we profit from the intercession of the saints that, wishing to bestow on us some favour, He often inspires us to seek their mediation and invites us to ask them to pray for us.
With full confidence we should seek their help and turn to them, especially on their feast days, without doubting for a moment that they will listen to us and will obtain for us what we are asking." (Sermons 51, O. X, pp. 136-137)

St Francis de Sales, pray for us !!

Updated related post - The life of St Francis de Sales from here

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