As a companion program to gay men’s spirituality group Queer Spirit’s fall retreat, Canadian poet and teacher Ray McGinnis will offer Writing the Sacred, a poetry workshop aimed at teaching gay men how to use creative writing and poetry “as a companion to honor and celebrate [their] own queer spirit[s].”
“This is an important piece in empowering anyone on a journey in life – self-awareness, and discovering that there are resources within us that can help us create a life that is beneficial, satisfying, joyful, loving,” said McGinnis, who has studied poetry at the University of Toronto and who received his certificate in journal therapy from the Center for Journal Therapy in Denver in 1999. Since that year he has taught this and other writing workshops to a number of diverse groups.
Although McGinnis will structure the exercises in his workshops around the needs and input of the group he teaches, he said his main goal is to get people to think about their lives. He often does this by asking participants to journal about a personal experience, such as a “typical day” in their lives.
“[In one of my exercises] I lead a short guided meditation to move people gently through the pace of a typical day, and then participants are invited to write for ten to fifteen minutes,” he explained. “At first some people can't imagine how they will write for that long. But once they move through the meditation and start to write, sometimes after 15 minutes people are not quite through writing about how they began their morning and having breakfast.”
“So when using a journal in a writing workshop, I invite people to try writing prompts that help them explore different sides of themselves.”
Next, McGinnis said he often asks participants to re-read their entries and to complete “sentence stems” such as, “When I re-read my journal entry I discover …”, “I am surprised by …,” “I am aware of ….” The goal of this exercise, he said, is to get writers to reflect on their experiences and access their intuition and emotions to shed light on “how they wish to create their lives.”
Although McGinnis has worked with several populations including bereavement groups, churches, Buddhist centers and organizations for businesswomen, he said that he is drawn to working with gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender groups for several reasons, including the difficulty a queer writer might have in journaling and speaking out about his or her experiences in a non-queer group.
“Being intentional about creating a specific opportunity for a writing group to be led through a GBLT related group … a different group of folks then feel safe to sign up and take the workshop,” he said. “For some folks it is important when they are doing what can be very creative and transformative inner work – the integration and naming of their sexual orientation is essential.”
McGinnis said he was drawn to offer the workshop to Queer Spirit because of the similarities between his work and Queer Spirit founders Jerry Buie and John Cottrell’s ideology.
“Queer Spirit is interested in spirituality and sexuality and healthy integration of these things,” he said. “The work I do in writing sacred poetry invites people to integrate and celebrate who they are – even as they write about the things they want to let go of (laments) and write with thanks and anticipation about the vision they hold for themselves as they continue to grow as a human being.”
Although his workshop is titled Writing the Sacred and much of its philosophy comes from his work with the United Church of Canada, a protestant denomination that allows gays and lesbians to hold leadership positions, McGinnis stressed that the workshop is for people of all religious backgrounds, including people who are not comfortable with the idea of spirituality.
“In many religious traditions there are references to qualities that we can see that resemble what a spiritual life is like. These qualities may include, truth, love, forgiveness, courage, etc. What comes out in many poems when a person is writing from a heart-centered place, is the poem is infused with these qualities,” he said. “I would leave it up to [the individual poet] to name whether they think of their poetry as having anything to do with the sacred.”
Writing the Sacred will be held Sept 9 at 7:00 p.m. at the home of Jerry Buie and John Cottrell (2084 E 6425 S, Holladay). To register call 557-9203. The cost of the workshop is by donation.