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Unraveling, Unlearning, Unwriting the Stories That Bind

July 24, 2020 by Rev. M Barclay

every poem. here.

is an unwrite.

of all that has been written in me without. permission.

—nayyirah waheed


We may not all write poetry, but we certainly all have things to unwrite within us in one way or another. Stories for which no permission was granted before they were written into our lives and flesh and becoming. Because we were children. Or in the pews. Because of the curriculum. Because we were different. Or simply because the texts have been passed down for ages. We are shaped by the pen of others. Of the collective. Of family. Of faith communities and lineages chosen and inherited. This is wonderful and terrible. We have little consent in the matter; so vulnerable to the care of others who weave into each of us their own dramas, horrors, and love stories. (And we, all writers into others, too.) Such permeable creatures we are. 

So few of the stories that need unwriting are obvious to those into whom they have been written—even as obvious as they may be to others. It is inevitable that there will be some stories we will go our whole lives thinking are true or good or unchangeable because they were written into us. This does not make them true, or good, or unchangeable. It only reveals the fact of our limitations as people. This knowledge is a cause for humility.

But this is not our fate in total. Grace comes along in the form of others telling the stories that can heal us. This grace calls us to wonder. Urges us to question. Unsettles us in our bodies when the old writings come up again. Might there be something that needs unwriting?

I cannot talk about much of anything I have learned over the years without acknowledging what it asked me to unlearn. In so many ways that matter, transformation is its own act of giving and receiving. Something liberative is offered to us by way of friends, lovers, writers, activists, poets, experiences, the earth—and something is given from within, in return. Given up. Given over. Given into. Handing over to Love what does not serve life. Trading what was written into us without permission by writing something new with intention. Something that unwrites our loyalty to what was damaging and queers the story going forward. Exchanges it. Divests from it. Abolishes it. Deepens it. Broadens it. Wrestles with it. Or maybe loves it into something else entirely. 

“Grace does not cancel out justice but makes justice transformative,” writes David Jensen.

In this time of national reckoning, of holy uprising, of uplifting Black wisdom, loss, and lives, there is so much freedom to be gained. Much learning and unlearning to do. So many stories that were written into lives without permission that can be unwritten and rewritten into new futures. But if it is to be a transformative time, it will necessarily ask for an offering in return.

What are we willing to let go of? Give in to? Give up?

What stories within and around must be queered or abolished?

What are we willing to re-write within us—before we write it into anyone else without permission?

By the grace of Love and beloveds, I am more free in heart and mind than I have ever been. And yet, I know there are still a thousand more stories written into my flesh that bind me and through me, bind others. Grace surrounds me in this knowing and ushers me more deeply into love that liberates. At my most grounded, I am not anxious about the pace of this work, knowing it is shared and I am not alone in it. The work is ours. We help each other unwrite and rewrite. One day at a time. We unravel in the company of others—ancient and living—and weave together something new.

“Search me, O Beloved, and know my heart. Examine my thoughts and the stories I tell about myself and others. See what has been written into me, with permission and without. And lead me in the way of love that liberates.”


Rev. M Barclay is the Director of enfleshed. They are learning and unlearning their way through life in the great company of books, poets, theology, beloveds, activists, Spirit, and creaturely encounters. M’s work—past and present—is an ever-unfolding journey into the places where delight, struggle, healing, spirituality, and collectivity meet. This has included hospital chaplaincy, working with youth, organizing faith leaders for reproductive justice, over a decade of LGBTQIA advocacy in the church, and other forms of justice work within and outside of Christian-adjacent communities.

Learn more about enfleshed, the work Rev. M. Barclay leads, here.

For a growing list of resources for the spiritual work of overcoming racism, click here.



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Our resolve must be different. My prayer is that we have finally reached a tipping point. My hope is that when the protests fade and the marches slow that our will as a church to truly eradicate the scourge of racism won’t dissipate but grows even stronger.” View a growing list of resources for the spiritual work of overcoming racism.