Romancing the Word: The Spirituality of Nonfiction


There is something missing in the copious tomes of nonfiction that are coming out these days: the courting of the mind through conversation and dialogue.

Most nonfiction writers today either tell a creative nonfiction story giving the reader the experience of the events of history through story or they simply talk to their readers instead of inviting them into conversation.

Classical and even Medieval philosophy are written in a the form of dialogues and rarely in diatribes. When I read these texts, I am drawn into conversation with the author and their ideas. I join the conversation, adding my opinions to theirs. I have no doubt that they expected me to more often than not except what they wrote, but in the common dialectics and arguments they wrote, they challenge their own ideas and answer the objections in a way that eased their own doubts.

I am a voracious reader of nonfiction. I love to flirt with new ideas and challenge my own cherished beliefs. Many times I have changed my mind on some issues that I never thought were open for debate.

Lately, though, many of the books I picked up felt they had more to tell me than to share. I do not know if it is the narcissism of our age or of the writers, but they no longer present their ideas to me as a something I might want to take in and get to know, maybe even fall in love with. Their ideas are to be accepted and followed.

I have written about this many times and in many ways, but everything is a story. No idea, concept, or belief will ever reside comfortably in the hearts and minds of people unless they connect to the story of it, and long to add themselves to the line of those who have picked up the idea before them.

Nonfiction is the romancing of the mind through words, stories, metaphors, and connection.

Have you ever noticed the relationship people have with the theory of gravity? It is amazing how people connect to the apocryphal story of Newton and the apple. We feel like we understand the concept through these stories.

Or take the works of Carl Sagan, Michio Kaku, Stephen Hawking, and Brian Greene. They connect some of the most abstract theories of physics to stories and metaphors that anyone can understand. They invite their readers into the conversation, and help them through the hard parts with grace and love filling their words.

Joseph Campbell writes as if he is sitting next to you telling a story. The ideas come alive. We are able to commune with them, flirt with them, even take some home with us.

That is the task of nonfiction. Screeds, polemics, and proclamations of any idea will only be accepted by those who have already accepted the idea. If you want someone to love an idea as much as you do, you have to show them the beauty of it.