I’m in the final week of participating in my third NaNoWriMo challenge to write a 50,000-word novel in a month. NaNoWriMo barely needs any explanation these days, but for anyone who’s fortunate enough NOT to know someone who’s participating this year, here it is in a nutshell: the idea is to focus on quantity, not quality. We all know that the biggest hang-up creative types have is actually sitting down to create because, oh no!, what if it’s not as good as it was in our brilliant minds? NaNoWriMo says to throw that kind of thinking out the window. It says getting 50,000 words is what matters, not how good those words are, not whether your story makes sense to anyone who wasn’t inside your head, not whether you’ve used every cliche in the book. Just whether you hit 50,000 words. The idea is that, in the midst of all this quantity of words, you’re bound to discover a few nuggets of quality that you never would have discovered if you’d been hung up on quality all along (and less likely to have produced anything). It says that words on the page are better than a blank page, no matter how cruddy those words might be.
I whole-heartedly concur with the principle behind NaNoWriMo, and I found myself wondering if it could work as well with faith. At times, I think Catholicism does feel a little like a “quantity over quality” religion. I remember the focus in my CCD was on how many of the Catholic prayers we’d memorized, not on whether we understood what the words of those prayers meant. The adults in my life were hung up on whether we made it to Mass every weekend and holy day, not whether we were going to get anything out of the service. I argue with my parents sometimes that if they’re going to go to Church with an angry (or ‘victim’) mentality, they shouldn’t go at all; they should just keep that negative energy at home. But the quantity of services attended each year still hangs over their heads, so they continue to go even if they complain before and after (and even if one family member, and I’m not naming names, often falls asleep during service).
For most of my childhood and adolescence, and into my early adulthood, I would rattle off prayers before bed–the prayers I’d memorized in CCD, and also a litany of my own “requests,” and “thanks,” which were so similar every night that they took on the feel of those memorized prayers, too. Then I went through a period where I decided I wasn’t going to bother praying if I wasn’t “feeling” it, and I scrapped the memorized personal and official litanies and only prayed when “the Spirit moved me.”
Until one night when I lay in bed, and realized that I missed God. My litany came back with a few adjustments (my life had changed, after all, as life does, since I’d last said it), and I began to wonder whether there really is something to this Quantity thing.
I believe that a relationship with the Divine is key to my health as a human being. And just like that novel you’ll “get around to” once you feel really inspired, you can lose months or years or a lifetime not “getting around to” a relationship with God because the “spirit hasn’t moved you.” Yet, those weekly Masses, those nightly rote prayers, whether they moved me spiritually or not, did serve as a constant reminder that God was a part of my life, a part of my routine. And the more God I got in my life, the more likely I was to discover the gems of God’s voice moving in my heart.
As an adult, I still attend Mass weekly and on holy days even though there’s no one looking over my shoulder to make sure I do. I don’t believe I’ll “go to hell” if I miss Mass (my Dad’s favorite phrase), but I find myself missing God if I don’t. And I can thank the vast quantities of God in my childhood for that. Sometimes I forget that the quantity vs. quality dichotomy is really false, especially when it comes to creativity and God. Quantity just might be a necessary step toward reaching quality, not the stumbling block in quality’s path.