I have a lot of writerly friends (we find each other, somehow) and one in particular who is kind of a machine. He’s written a ton of stuff in several different veins and I’m doing some freelance editing for him as he (finally) gets toward publishing some of it. Part of his having so many stories and books is that he’s been at this for years, but part of it also is that he just swims in narratives. Words come out of this dude like water, ensuring that he always wins NaNoWriMo at least two days early and generally is always writing.
The writing part I get—in any workshop of any sort for writers, there is the mandate that you sit down and write. You have to be willing to spin out the crap as well as the really amazing phrases, and to a certain extent it’s a job just like anything else: if you don’t put in the time, you’ll never have written anything.
But in order to write, you have to have a story to work with. Here’s where I fall apart sometimes: I have a character, or a scene, and absolutely nowhere to go with it. Or, like I found Monday night, I have that first bitchslap from Lady Muse and then the rest of my life overwhelms it.
Here’s what happened: Monday night, at about what-the-hell-it’s-bedtime:30, some stories and Scriptures discovered each other in my head and decided to have a party of like concepts. I found myself squinting into the sudden brightness of my bedside lamp with my trusty little notepad (I have them tucked away all over my house, I know how this works) and sketching out the edges of a sermon.
*Gasp!!!* I know. It was actually a hilarious thing to be scribbling away and freaking out about what it would mean to actually write this and then to maybe show it to someone and then (waaaaaaaay) down the line actually say it to people zomg. But writing is kind of like food poisoning, to make a really terrible but (in my experience) accurate analogy: what is in you needs to get out, must get out, damn the regulations and rules. And if you keep it in, you feel off—not dead, or even unbearably horrible, but wrong-footed in some internal way. This whole thing was probably a prime example of a history of pajamas moment (remind me to tell you that story sometime, Reader, it’s pretty fantastic) but that was where my brain and my heart were.
The next night, again at seriously-God-why:45, I was chipping away at this idea. I was thinking about the process and the language aspects that I do and don’t have, wondering whether I was parsing the story too much and misrepresenting the Scripture, thinking about having heard this Scripture preached on recently and where that concept went and how mine worked with that. I was super tired the next morning but pleased, ready to keep hacking away at this.
And then, of course, I had a life.
It is a hell of thing, how much stuff like meetings gets in the way of my plans. I haven’t touched that sermon attempt since Tuesday and likely won’t, in the great wheel of meetings and plays and reassurances and work and visits and so on that rolled through the back half of this week. And next week is a conference that will totally steal my time and energy (so don’t look for a post next Friday, dear Reader) and keep me in a much different place than that of writing sermons. (Like I have any idea what that place looks like, anyway. Go ahead, Magister, you have free rein to chuckle through the whole of this little essay about my totally making up how the process goes.)
But even beyond all that, since I’ve been thrown out of that rhythm I just haven’t tried to climb back in. It’s a matter of waiting for the muse—or the Spirit—to strike, which is a little silly. And then, today, I read this brilliant idea of the Spirit as snake (that you should totally read, for realz) that drops out of nowhere and gives us strength, or ideas, or sermons.
Or blog posts.
I’m guessing that sermon writing is like fiction writing, or school paper writing, or blog writing, or any other kind of writing; there is not always the phenomenal example simply lurking in your mind. You have to spin out the crap, to wade a bit in the waters of words so that you’re available when God troubles those waters. In writing, as in everything else, you have to open yourself to being present to being startled, or surprised, or pulled away from sleep at seriously-not-again:05. It’s almost as though waiting is its own spiritual practice.
“Lord, grant me patience,” say so many homespun plaques in country restaurants. But why? Do we want patience so that we can bear it when people are trying our nerves? Do we think that something marvelous will reward our patience like the arrival of Godot? Or so that we can bear it when God is weaving a picture we cannot yet see?
But those who wait on the Lord
Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31, NKJV)