For Rami Shapiro and son Aaron Shapiro, working together on Writing---the Sacred Art: Beyond the Page to Spiritual Practice (SkyLight Paths, May) was an opportunity to share their passion for the written word in a new way. Like any good Jewish family, “We argue about texts and the nature of reality all the time,” Rami says. And although the two have taught together and edited each other’s work, collaboration on a book was challenging.
Rami, the author of more than two dozen books, says he writes to think things through. “Most of my books are new readings of biblical texts or new takes on spiritual issues such as loving-kindness and recovery,” he says. Although this is his first book, Aaron, an English professor at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, is a poet who has put together several chapbooks. He quit writing for a time after a grad school professor “crushed my writerly aspirations” but soon realized he couldn’t not write: “I was going to have to write whether I was any good at it or not,” he says.
Father and son have very different lifestyles. Rami’s day begins at dawn with a four-mile walk, meditation and chanting, followed by silent meditation. “Then I sit at my desk and stare at my computer screen,” he says. “Sometimes words appear as I sit there. Sometimes not.” Aaron’s days involve “sitting at my desk for hours, chain smoking and drinking coffee, then getting up to teach a class or two or three, meeting with students, then coming back and starting up at the desk again.”
Aaron notes he and his father also are very different kinds of writers. “Dad blurts everything out onto the page all at once, then revises and revises,” he says. “I revise line by line. I often can’t leave a paragraph, or even a sentence, alone until I’ve knocked it into passable shape.”
When Aaron read his father’s first draft, “I was sort of horrified. Here was this huge, careening mass of writing, and I had no idea what it was or what to do with it. I just had to close my eyes and start typing, and then see what shape developed.” Still, it turned out to be a valuable experience, Aaron says.
The book was born out of the two-day retreat program, Path & Pen, that father and son launched seven years ago, which explores writing as a spiritual practice. Rami says that Writing--the Sacred Art offers exercises designed to provide writers and just spiritual seekers with deeper insights about themselves, such as “how to meditate with a pen, pencil, and keyboard.” Aaron points to practical elements, like writing prompts and games for readers to try, so they can “free themselves from themselves, and maybe step outside the box of self entirely.”
Both authors plan to keep busy. Aaron is writing poetry and critical studies of popular media. Rami’s next book, Amazing Chesed: The Place of Grace in Judaism, will be published by Jewish Lights in September. Meanwhile, the two continue to argue, edit each other's work, and find common ground in their shared love for playing music and reading comic books.