The deadline for the Lenten Devotional looms. The editors are EXPECTing my submission. But inspiration just won’t come. That’s the thing about inspiration…you just can’t force it. In fact, the harder I try, the less of it I seem to have.
Still, it doesn’t seem right to just sit here. Waiting. As if a lightning bolt is going to descend and write itself upon my paper in perfect insights, with perfect grammar and legible penmanship. There are plenty of sitters out there. Waiting. I am not good at either.
I need to DO something to hurry the inspiration along! I cut and paste a few verses of my chosen scripture (Song of Songs 2:8-13) onto the computer screen. A few different translations. Why not? I pour over them. Read and re-read. I take notes, look for connections, let my wander to visual imagery. I respond to the verses – in writing! – but to no avail. Everything lies flat upon the page. A day passes. Another. The deadline is mere days away.
And then suddenly a phrase enters my mind: No really, I love you. And I begin…”A man I love side-stepped death.” The scripture sends an image of lattice-work and the loved one calling. An image of the mullions on my very own windows. The lover looks in. I look out. What do I see? What would another see who stood here? Do they hear Him saying, “No really, I love you”?
The experience is powerfully crafting the writing as I wait on the images. Sitting and waiting, here I am after all. But the waiting is expectant. I am the fielder and it is the fly ball. I have heard the crack of the bat. I’ve got a line on it as it soars high in the sky. I try to gauge its descent, tending first right and then a bit left. I see it beginning to drop. I reach out my hand and open my glove wide. It is coming; I am ready to catch it.
Fielding inspiration when it falls is not easy. It takes practice and preparation. One must be ready. But sometimes the ball seems forever in the coming down. Those editors, after all, are waiting.
I type the last and hit submit. Then my friend emails to share that her dearest childhood friend had just succumbed to cancer. It was a long battle, but she still is not sure whether the departed came to know how much God loved her during her lifetime. Surely a God of mercy understands.
This is when I realize that the piece I had written was intended for a different deadline. It was meant to comfort a grieving friend and landed right on time.
My job is simply to settle under the fly ball of grace and catch inspiration as it comes down. Then, to prepare for the next. Kind of ridiculous to think I could force the ball to fall faster into my glove.
What a great name for a product, Resolve. It’s what I use on my carpets when my dog makes a mess. We have it in wide spray for “high traffic areas” and point and shoot for those smaller spots. Unfortunately, today there was much need for resolve and there wasn’t enough left in the can.
I’d like to say that this morning when I discovered the multitude of the project before me, I held my nose happily and, servant that I am, gamely took to the clean up. But no. I plopped down on the floor, rag in hand, and lamented, “there goes my devotional time.” Because that’s what this morning quiet time is reserved for. Sitting happily before my little lit Advent candle, saying prayers, reading inspirational writing and Scripture.
But this morning as I scrubbed, that became devotional time. Always with thanksgiving. Prayer never-ceasing, right? Oh, how God must feel when again and again we call on Him in the midst of our messes, piles that must be cleaned up so we can move on. With that thought, all of a sudden, my sullen demeanor turns a bit more to care and tending. This an old, old dog. Addled and wandering. He’s lost most of his senses and much of what he used to control. The process has been gradual. It wasn’t taken from him all at once.
In my care of him I have a glimpse of what befalls us all if we last. It’s really quite gracious of God to give me fair warning. I set the empty can of Resolve on the counter, in the only space available, right next to the creche. Nestled between the angels proclaiming the good news to a small family in a sodden stable.
What resolve that mother must have had. “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word,” Mary said to the angel. And how many times after that time must she have resigned herself to that self same prayer? Mine sounds much more like,”Have it your way, God.”
Thus chastened, I returned to my scrubbing and, wouldn’t you know that the Resolve spray “for large traffic areas” settles invisibly on your carpet, until your add a bit of water on a rag. Then you can see it has expanded to service a broader area. Ah, my little version of a loaves and fishes moment. Imagine, if I had thought to bless before spraying!
So, there you have it: today’s devotion in the do-do. Literally.
Instead of an Advent wreath, I have an Advent box this year, courtesy of some very clever folks at my church who assembled the supplies and invited me to come make one. I wasn’t so sure about “branching out” (pardon the pun), but it’s growing on me (again). There’s an order to my candles. No question about which one to start with. In my culture and language we read left to right, so start on the left. Each week, add a light.
Week one, I start with the candle of Hope. I’m not sure everyone calls the week one candle ‘hope’ but I am, because that’s how I’ve known it and because I think we need to start there. with hope. It recalls to me the one candle lit at the memorial service for my brother, John, just a few years ago. It wasn’t lit ‘for’ him, but it stood burning as we memorialized him. It inspired me to think of the Christians renewing their hope in that week all around the world and to celebrate the hope I had for my brother and now had, in Christ, for him.
Something about a candle and a flame focuses me. It draws my attention and it keeps it. So the lighting of a candle seems just the right thing for a devotional time. But, ever prone to distraction, I have been blessed by a second practice that has invaded my devotional time this year: the spotify Christmas devotional playlist – also created by my clever church compatriots. It’s a pre-selected list of songs from a variety of artists in an array of genres singing Christmas. I pretty much limit myself to one a day because, with those headphones on I could be lost to the world. Today’s selection was Amy Grant, singing Breath of Heaven.
So today, in week two of Advent, I light the candle of ‘peace’ and listen to the breath of heaven. She sings as Mary, favored by God, to carry a child she doesn’t know if she can carry. The words…
I am waiting in a silent prayer
I am frightened by the load I bear
In a world as cold as stone
Must I walk this path alone
Be with me now
Be with me now
in a world as cold as stone…echoes in my ears. Yes, so much so in Mary’s day and yet in my own. Cold. Dark. In need. And then she sings my prayer…
Do you wonder as you watch my face
If a wiser one should have had my place
But I offer all I am
For the mercy of your plan
Help me be strong
Help me be
Are you sure God? From the look on my face, are you wondering if you should have chosen better? Someone wiser? But …
Breath of heaven
Hold me together
Be forever near me
Breath of heaven
Breath of heaven
Lighten my darkness
Pour over me your holiness
For you are holy
Breath of heaven
Hold me together. Pour over me your holiness. Oh, that sight and sound might lead me to whatever is holy. Whatever is peace. It sounds so nice, doesn’t it, the quiet of a time with God?
But then, in attempting to treat my Advent box like an Advent wreath, I light first the candle of hope and then lift the flame to the next jar to light the candle of peace. Sweet peace. But the greenery between the two catches a spark and flames up. Frantically, I blow and snuff it out, hoping the smoke now rising is a lovely fragrance to God and does not activate my smoke alarm.
But isn’t there truth even in this? Between the hope and the peace, there is a spark. Tiny though it may be, it has the power to ignite and set afire. A power like no other. Not to be played with or taken lightly but to be honored and respected. I have escaped with a simple singeing. I’d be well-advised to treat it as something to behold and carry carefully.
Imagine how you’d feel if you knew the gift you carried was from God Himself. I would certainly start with hope and head directly for peace… and be a bit more careful.