A collective gasp, then the room erupts. People are out of their chairs; the roar of shouts and screams is deafening. And I just have to laugh.
This was a few years ago. Sixty or so of my friends and co-workers were on a retreat, a couple days of glamping, all of us in cabins tucked into the folds of the hills that stretch down to meet the Pacific near Santa Barbara. At night we could hear the ocean, and the insects, and the occasional scurry of a skunk crossing the cabin’s porch. We enjoyed all the retreat classics: campfires, s’mores, bocce tournaments, etc. On the last night was the talent show, a mix of bad skits, bad raps, bad costumes, and all in good fun.
Near the end of the night, just when everyone was getting tired of laughing or groaning, this guy gets up, this unassuming guy. He’s the guy you’ve said hello to a hundred times but haven’t really talked to. He’s the guy who’s fairly quiet but who everyone likes.
And suddenly, he’s someone else. He’s doing magic. He’s charming, and polished, and funny, and he’s doing full-on magic. He’s calling cards and making things disappear and reappear, and after every illusion the room erupts in chaos. People are losing... their... minds.
Granted, it was some pretty great magic. But the real kicker was that we just never saw it coming.
That is the power of surprise and delight.
It’s different from shock and awe. Shock and awe renders us wide-eyed, dumbfounded, speechless. But surprise and delight feels like a gift, one that's been personally wrapped and marked with our name. Surprise and delight is exhilarating, and warming, and it leaves us deeply, powerfully grateful.
We love surprise and delight. So does God. I often think of the Holy Spirit as the bringer of conviction, intuition, power, or comfort, and he is all of those things. But I think the Spirit is also the bearer of those twin gifts of surprise and delight, constantly causing good things to spring up in the places we least expect them.
When you send forth your Spirit, [living things] are created, and you renew the face of the ground.
I haven’t been writing much lately, at least not much personal writing. I’ve said before that a dry-spell in my writing is usually the indicator of a bit of some parched ground elsewhere in my life.
A few days ago I sat down at my computer, opened the app that I use to journal, and guiltily tapped out…
I haven’t been doing much writing…
Blinking cursor. Blinking cursor. Blinking cursor.
And then… a word suddenly popped into my head. Inviting.
A rhyme. Writing and Inviting. I knew that inviting was the word that needed to end the next line. And I smiled. I smiled because I realized God was aiming to surprise and delight me again. You see, for years now he’s been using rhymes. Sometimes they’ll come out of the blue, phrases or whole stanzas, but far more often they come one line at a time. It’s as if he’ll whisper the last word and then grin as I find my way there. Inevitably, by the time I’ve written up to the rhyme the whole reason for the line will come as a revelation—the answer to something I’ve been puzzling over, the feeling I didn’t have words for, the diagnosis of what’s really going on. It’s like a conversation. Although, I suppose it’s not like one; it is one.
The rest of the conversation went like this:
I haven’t been doing much writing…
I haven’t been inviting
in the supernatural muse
who longs to infuse
my myopic views
with so much more
than the bore
of just getting by.
For weeks I’d been just getting by. My view of my world had narrowed down to the point that everyday was just a telescopic view toward the finish line. So here God was, gently reminding me why. For the sake of getting things done I’d written God off as a luxury, dismissed quiet, solitude, and study as the activities of those who’d never seen a deadline. I felt convicted and sorry.
But I also felt seen and loved because God had gotten my attention in the most personal and wonderful way. I’d written a single line just so I could say that I’d tried to write something, and then he’d used a rhyme to guide me back to reason. I hadn’t seen it coming. He had surprised and delighted me. He does it all the time. And I just have to laugh.