Writing Prompts

A Daily Doorway

In his beautiful poem, “The Meaning of Simplicity,” the Greek poet Yannis Ritsos wrote:

Every word is a doorway
to a meeting, one often cancelled,
and that’s when a word is true: when it insists on the meeting.

In this time of COVID-19 and necessary precautions around meetings and contact with one another, I appreciate this poem’s clear reminder that we still have so many ways to safely connect with one another — and with the sacred source of life itself — engaging our human gift of language. Whether it’s in writing or speaking, online or physically but across our social distancing, we are invited to turn to words for connection to one another and to the sacred truths carried in our own hearts.

Early on in my experience of “being safe at home,” I woke up in the middle of the night, processing the events of the day and as I did a single word rose from all the others with a curious insistence. Spaciousness, was the word. I turned it over and over, wondering why it was there, keeping me awake in the middle of the night.

The next morning, I let that word prompt my morning spiritual practice of writing. And I discovered, within the new confines of pandemic living, I was gaining a more nuanced understanding of spaciousness — where it could be found and how it could be cultivated even in the smallest of spaces.

Since then, seeking some structure to guide my daily writing through these pandemic times, each morning I have ended my morning meditation by waiting for a word to rise out of the silence. Then I have let that word prompt my daily practice of writing, asking myself what new depth does that word offer me now, or what new understandings of the holy emerge from exploring that word in the context of today’s world and times.

Today, I am beginning to share that practice with you by posting a new word here each day, accompanied by a few brief questions, as a doorway inviting you into your own encounter with the truth of your experience of these times. You don’t have to write much. It could be a single sentence or maybe just a paragraph. If you write just that much each day, you will not only have the gift of a daily pause for reflecting in the midst of so much change; you’ll also leave a record of how you have experienced the extraordinary challenges of this time. It will offer you something to return to in the future, to consider how and where you encountered your own truth and meaning in the face of such a rapidly changing world. I’ll try to post a new prompt each day, but there may be some days when I don’t post or others when I post two. (Life can be like that!)

Daily Word 1: Spaciousness

Where do you find spaciousness in your life now? In time? In space? In solitude? In relationships Inside or outside? How are you clearing and claiming the space within or around you for something that makes your life sing? How might you live into it?

In Your Own Words: a poem and prompt for living through change


where already
you have left behind
by choice or by force
what you knew
what you might have cherished
what you maybe took
for granted.

where not yet
do you know
where you’re headed
what it will take
what it will give
how it will change you.

on the threshold
you balance
on a comma
between the no longer
and the not yet.

may you pause,
breathing in,
breathing out,
on the cusp
in between.

where fullness gives way
to emptying
as the full moon
each month
in its waning
and makes way
for new waxing.

letting go
of attachments
and assumptions,
may you release
what you’ve clutched
in your fear,
making room
for the stranger
who is always you.

may you discover
what you’ve carried within
all along
but not known, named or needed—
ancestors’ whisperings,
newborn powers,
the hope of the young,
the resilience of Earth and her beings.

Now, they are crucial.
Clear a path
to their wellspring.
Walk it often.
Keep it open.

may you listen,
one ear turned inward
to your heart
and the body’s knowing.
One ear turned outward
to the suffering—
and the joy—
that will teach us.

look around you
at the others
waiting with you
on the curl of this comma.
You will need them.
They will need you.

we will round this bend,
cross over
into the not yet,
having let go,
we might finally learn—
is possible

Karen Hering, copyright 2016

Writing prompt: What are the thresholds you’re standing on today? What will you learn when you pause there? What will you hear if you listen?  What will you need to let go of, and what will you be given? How will you be changed? What will you discover within you that will guide your way? And who will be your companions? What might be possible now?  

Begin with the word, “Here….” or “Now….” and follow wherever it leads you.


In Your Own Words: Hidden in the Heart

Hidden in the Heart

“Hidden in the heart of things thou art nourishing seeds into sprouts, buds into blossoms, and ripening flowers into fruitfulness.” ~ Rabindranath Tagore, from Gitanjali

Hidden in the heart
of late autumn’s barren
fields is the ripening
of seasons yet to come.

Roots clinging to frozen ground
wait patiently for their next long drink.
Seeds fallen from last summer’s blooms
sleep now
beneath blankets of quilted leaves
and feathered snow.

All this hidden in the heart of things:
Fruits of the future,
Words unripened into speech,
Truth present but unseen,
Evidence yet to be awakened
by the faithful
of time and love.

~ Karen Hering

What lies dormant in your life now, hidden in the heart of things, waiting to be awakened? What possibilities for peace and justice are invisibly present in our world, waiting to bloom and ripen in the new season? If you wish to use a prompt, begin with the words, “Hidden in the heart of my life now….” and follow wherever it leads.

In Your Own Words: A Gift of Time

The world is full of sacred places – some well known, attracting thousands or millions of pilgrims, and others perhaps known only to you or to me. But when we stop to consider where sacred time and space might exist in the world today, we are exploring how we can meet the holy in any place and any time. This is what the practice of Sabbath is about — learning to pay attention to the holy within and all around us, and making room for the sacred on any day of our lives.

In our world of 24/7 activity, this isn’t easy. We might have to begin not with a full day but perhaps just claiming small gifts of time, as we’re able — “little Sabbaths” or rests of 1 hour or 10 minutes or 1 minute in the middle of an otherwise busy day.

It might also help to note that a gift of time, like other gifts, may arrive in a shape or wrapping that we wouldn’t have chosen for ourselves or might not even recognize as a gift. Like other gifts, we can’t always choose when it arrives or how it is wrapped; but we can choose whether to open it and how we will receive it.

Imagine this: you have been given a gift of sacred time. It might be wrapped in sparkles, or it could be wrapped in plain brown paper. You might immediately see it as the gift that it is, or perhaps it takes a moment to understand how you could receive it as a gift (as may happen with a delayed flight or a cancelled tennis game). Whether you recognize it as a gift right away or not, inside, it contains an invitation into sacred time and sacred space that is especially suited to you and what you need today. It might be as short as 10 minutes or as long as a whole day or longer. Whatever its wrappings and whatever its weight or length or shape, as you pause to ponder its possibilities, it delights you as a gift of time. Write about this gift that has arrived in your imagination today, beginning with the prompt below and following wherever it leads:

Opening this gift, I find . . . .


In Your Own Words: Writing about Love

As common as it is to try to express love in words, it often proves difficult to categorize or define it. In writing about love, many have turned to metaphors to tell the tale. Love is an ocean, a pearl, a key, a battle, a flame, a tree. Love is a river, a journey, a guiding star, or as Shakespeare put it, an “ever-fixed mark.” Writer Diane Ackerman says love is both ever present and ever evasive, infusing our lives as “the great intangible” even as it begs for the legs, arms, lips, and touch by which we know it best. Although the virtue of love calls us into relationship, both with those we know and those we don’t, the truth is that it begins as an embodied experience with the tangible world around us. Our first knowledge of love is born in the particular relationships we have with those close at hand, those within range of our touch, our glance, or our words.

In a poem by Ann Filemyr titled “Grape” she writes,

I felt it once
the love that cannot be broken. The lock
picked, door ajar, even if the window is rusted shut.

What metaphors might you use to write about love on this day?

Look around you. Make a list of random objects you see and some of the things you associate with them. If you see an unlit candle, for instance, you might list candle, wick, wax, flame, fire, spark, match, torch, etc. Challenge yourself to include basic items you wouldn’t normally notice— window, piano key, painting frame, table legs, door hinge. When you have a reasonable list of diverse items, write a top-of-the-mind sentence for each word as a metaphor for love. Write down whatever comes to mind without screening. For instance, Love is a key on the piano that we strike many times to keep its note sounding. Or Love is a window that I some- times slam shut.

You can also expand the metaphor beyond its limits, as Mother Teresa did when describing love as a fruit “in season at all times.” If nothing comes to mind for a word, go ahead and skip it. Or if you find yourself writing a common metaphor, try writing its opposite to branch into a different association. For instance, Love is not a rose; it is the ground on which the rose’s petals will fall in time. Challenge yourself to explore metaphors you haven’t heard or seen before.

When you’ve written metaphors for about five minutes, if you feel you’re done listing but want to keep writing, look back at your sentences and phrases, choose one, and keep writing about that metaphor, beginning with the words:

Love is . . .

In Your Own Words: Writing about “Blessing”

Blessing is a good old-fashioned word that many of us use without stopping to think what we mean by it. The dictionary tells us that a blessing means “God’s favor and protection” or it can refer to “a prayer asking for such favor and protection.” But it is also often used in more general reference to “something that brings well-being.”

I like the definition given by author Rachel Naomi Remen when she says, “When we bless someone, we touch the unborn goodness in them and wish it well.” She also says the act of blessing doesn’t just flow from one person to another but it comes from the way we encounter each other. “A blessing,” she says, “is a moment of meeting, a certain kind of relationship in which both people involved remember and acknowledge their true nature and worth, and strengthen what is whole in one another. By making a place for wholeness within our relationships, we…enable people to remember who they are.”

Think of a time when you had an encounter with someone that felt like a blessing, something that helped you remember who you are. It might have been someone you knew or a total stranger. It could have been a long exchange or a single word or gesture. It might have been recently or long ago. Who blessed you?  What did s/he do or say?  How did it feel?  What did it mean?

Begin writing with the words below and follow wherever it leads you:

I remember being blessed…

In Your Own Words: Writing about “Peace”

We sometimes think of peace as an absence of conflict, but the experience of true peace can have a very strong presence.  Answer the questions below in a brainstorming fashion, jotting down whatever comes to you without asking why. If a particular question doesn’t evoke any response, move on to the next. When you get to the end, look over your answers and use as many of them as you like in writing from the prompt provided.

If peace were a room in your house, what room would it be?

What object in your home or in your workplace do you associate with peace?

If peace were a way of moving what would it do (walking, skipping, leaping. . . .)?

If peace were a food, what would it be and how would it taste?

Where in your body is most sensitive to feelings of peace? How do you experience peace in your body? (Use as many of your senses as you can in describing this.)

If peace were a color, what color and quality of color (deep, pale, reflective) would it be?

If peace were a musical instrument, what would it be and what music would it play?

If peace were a creature – on land or in sky or sea – what would it be and how would it live and move in the world? What sounds would it make?

What place in nature, real or imagined, do you associate with peace?

Now, using as many the associations named above as you like, begin with the prompt below and follow wherever it leads:

I found peace…