croaking voids and ancient pearls
What is creative inspiration? I need to know, because sometimes I lose it. If I know what it is, maybe I can find it after I’ve lost it. I used to be a farmer, had a farm, my crop was inspiration—and my labor was artistic might. I knew what I had, knew what I needed to grow. Pure, simple control—and it never rained.
The drought came and there was a spark in the barn and I lost all the infrastructure for my barren farm. These days, I fancy myself a hunter/gatherer type and I deal and trade in the art of discovery (and I love the kind of playfulness with nature when I creep up behind a deer or play Hide-and-Seek® with a bundle o’ truffles), the danger of relying on nature to give me something to eat. Give me my daily bread, dress me up in flower garb, and look! I’m as rosy as Solomon and just as amazed that the mist of mist is the one simple pleasure in life, of remembering our childlikeness. We are tired after a day of straining after schemes to capture the true nature of reality. Nature gently breaths its vanity on our hot faces and we say, “Thank you.”
I think this is a workable definition for creative inspiration: creative inspiration is that state of gratitude and relaxation that is given when a human has a sensitivity of heart and body toward the language of nature. If that is a lot of words to you, let me explain in as more as a few paragraphs.
I have in the past few months gone through what can only be described as acedia. It was a creative depression. And it was elicited by my strong ambition and desire to be somewhere else—to propel myself to some place other than where I am. I know now that I was ultimately acting out my fear of death and not out of an appreciation for life. I thought I was doing the right thing, but this kind of future-lust bore a nebula where I expected a constellation of fruit.
This nebula was a total fog about what I was really going through (my condition was unclear even to me), but the tense and nervous desire to explain myself to the void-maw croaking like an opening door in my chest. I tried explaining as if my entire existence depended on it, but every mental journey I pursued ended in sleep or sloth. I went through this for many months, trying to build up some kind of paradigm that would give a certain set of justifications or a set of solutions. My levels of creative inspiration went down, down, down. I got to the point where I had to humble myself and realize I had nothing to say, could give nothing, could grow nothing. I got to the point where I didn’t just feel like I had nothing to say (as if it were an illusion of humility to cover a real set of knowledge), but had the experience of trying to say something and finding there was nothing in me. I was emptied.
And I would like to think that I responded well to this forced kenosis, but in fact I didn’t. For many weeks, I despaired about the emptiness, but refused to fill myself up with something. Instead of filling up with repentance, I filled myself up with everything under the sun—and so the cycle of spiritual sighing repeated itself.
This is my tendency. Instead of cleaning the slate daily, I just kind of let the slate get dirty for a few days, a few weeks, a few months—and then I pull out some theatrical and dramatic revolution and try to change everything in my life so that “I am not unproductive anymore.” This is not just about isolated sins, but about everything in my life. Sin builds up in my life in the form of small decays and scars of death (small depressions, indents) in the image of God I am designed to carry. But we are designed to carry the image exactly because we only function if we are constantly tied to him in dialog. God is the body of the octopus and we are his arms and we are lifeless without the nervous system of prayer. But instead of asking for forgiveness daily and moving on, I will try by force of my own weak might to make things new again. But if I failed in the first place to lift myself up, how can I expect to not fail again? I will fail every time if I try to change things on my own. This is of course the mystery of being in Christ. I am a Christian and I am learning how to live amidst hope. But the hope lies deeper than the Mariana Trench and it takes us years to fathom it. How can we expect to understand fully when someone tells us how deep it goes? If we have faith, all we can do is be amazed and believe that it really goes that deep. Death wants us to stay in our rowboat on the surface of the ocean (wait for the storm! it says. It’s safer! it says). But I am already set free from the tyranny of death even though I have for so long been living with death as my father that it is difficult for me to see the contours of hope’s supernal paradigm. I am learning to see the storehouses of hope which are my inheritance—and I must dive and collect the ancient pearls sitting shiny inside rocky, camouflaged mouths.
So if this is going to work as a corporate exhortation, let it simply be this: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ is coming again. We who testify to this truth in our lives live by joy. If we let death still this joy, we are in sin. That is as plain as the matter can be. There is no thing, no single thing, that you can use as leverage for your sin in the face of God. You cannot say that you will just be one of those down, dark Christians. That is not how this works. Christ came to set you free from being down and dark in all matters, from being depressive and self-abusive. He set you free from trying by force of your own strength to become your own kind of hero. And he did set you free to enjoy your work whenever you ought to, resting afterwards in ephemera. He also set you free to feel the pain with those in pain, but to do so that you might both be saved out of that pit and into the joys of hope.
The joys of hope are not just the pleasures he has given us in the world. If that were the case, then we would call it the joys of life—and we would find ourselves in the awkward position of relying exclusively on ephemera for our existential satisfaction. If living in realized hope was only about having someone to thank for gifts that are common to all men, then we would in fact be no better off than those who can thank themselves for doing such a fine job of being alive. Hope is not that gift that sets us free to enjoy fleeting pleasures, hope is that paradigm which sets us free to be human. And to be human is to be like a child, grateful for gifts, and trusting as mad when things go bad. Creative inspiration is that vision of reality that sets us back in the place of children. We can be playful again, make a mess of the house, and not feel the impossible burdens of cubicled adulthood. We no longer have to feel the premature burden of keeping our own houses clean and swept–all we must do is ask God for forgiveness whenever our “helping” contributed to his burdens. And to accept that forgiveness is his joy and our relief.