“If I dismiss the ordinary — waiting for the special, the extreme, the extraordinary to happen — I may just miss my life.…To allow ourselves to spend afternoons watching dancers rehearse, or sit on a stone wall and watch the sunset, or spend the whole weekend rereading Chekhov stories—to know that we are doing what we’re supposed to be doing — is the deepest form of permission in our creative lives.” Dani Shapiro
I love this quote. But struggling with this permission has been a theme of my writing life. As an Evangelical, I hear God telling me to leave my comforts and go out to save the lost, to help the widows and orphans and those in prison, and to go two miles with those who ask me to go one. I know I’m to “go and preach the gospel and make disciples.”
As a writer, a peacemaker and a thinker, I fear I should be doing these things more. Too often I opt for my safe cave.
I realize the point of Christian service isn’t helping others so much as leaving oneself behind to enter what’s assumed to be the life of Christ. Similarly, the deeper point of prayer changes us, not things. Because only when we’re changed can the world be truly improved.
But what does “leaving oneself” look like? Raised in the church, I always thought dying to self had to look like doing things you don’t want to do. Whatever you selfishly want because you’re evil and can’t be trusted, you need to forget that and do what God wants, which means all that hard stuff like soup kitchens and prison visitation. And sure, that’s part of it. But if that’s all it means, I’m just not sure where joy is going to come in. Maybe afterwards. But certainly not before or even during the forced labor.
And I fear too many Christians would force themselves, others, their kids, and everyone to adopt their cause of soulless giving just to prove their point.
British author and psychologist Adam Phillips has noted, “When we are inspired, rather like when we are in love, we can feel both unintelligible to ourselves and most truly ourselves.” Is this the reason creatives seem selfish? Yearning for this unreal fantasy world where we disconnect from the world, read Emily Dickinson, watch instead of participate, and obsessively ponder our navels?
Is writing proof we love ourselves too much?
I don’t know. Probably at times, yes. Yet without such moments of transcendence pursuing the Muse we would not have the Bible or any history beyond the feeble things we can recall to ourselves.
Go and write the full fantastic reality you experience today. And do it as though the eternal fate of the lost depends on it.
Because it does. And that fate is yours.