RH Christmas 2012

Conversations & Percolation

It's time to bring others in. But only part way. I'm not yet ready for all-out collaboration. The idea is too new. Too unsteady. Heck, I'm not even sure it has legs yet. This is the time to bring in safe voices, voices that wonder aloud with me rather than making verbal lists of pros and cons. It's not the time for rash judgments and sweeping statements. It's time to engage in conversations that begin poking and prodding at the motionless form on the ground to see if it might have some life in it.

What is the point of these conversations? Well, there are two points. The first is to find threads. The second is to find if the threads can begin weaving into something better, bigger, more full than the idea making lazy circles in my mind.

I talked about threads awhile back, but, in short, threads are those commonalities that begin to point at themes. Are there a number of people asking the same question? Are so-and-so and them-over-there scratching at the same itch? Are there words, or ideas, or modes of presentation that seem to be popping up again and again in unexpected places? Many times the work of the creative person consists of latching onto these things, these patterns that no one else has yet noticed, and to bring them to the forefront, attaching them to an idea that is just beginning to grow.

This is the phase where it doesn't look like you're doing anything. Nothing at all. You're thinking about doing something, but there's very little actually "doing." Or at least how that looks.

But if you're well-accustomed to the creative process you'll know that this is the phase where the heavy lifting really begins. This is the difficult (and often quiet) phase of creativity where the idea is given time to grow and where you can begin to see the shape of it.

I can't skip this phase. I couldn't if I tried. One way or another I'm going to end up in this part of the process. I can skip it now and just get working, but the working will be interrupted—perhaps even stalled completely—by the necessity of this time. I can either allow the idea to add flesh to bones now, or I'll be drawing skeletons for days and will need to stop frequently to imagine what flesh on them might look like.

Process

Books.jpg

I got a package in the mail today. From Amazon. And while that's always exciting, it is particularly so this time around. This fresh stack of paper and ink represents the wisdom I'm about to mine for the next big project on my mind. This is my Christmas research. I may be further ahead than I've ever been before.

If I'm being perfectly honest, I usually have to skip this phase altogether. The time to soak in an idea, to absorb it and see how it eventually flows out of me is a luxury I'm just not used to. Usually I have a moment (many moments) of panic in mid-fall, and when the feeble light of an idea suddenly peeks over the horizon I simply run—and I do mean run—toward it fast as I can.

No time to think. Just act.

But finding this idea was like tripping over something on a path in that same feeble morning light. And you look back and see a gnarled root snaking it's way across the dirt. Your eyes follow the root to the base of a trunk. Follow the trunk as it leans its way into the air. And as the light grows you see the immensity of the tree with it's canopy now glowing green above you, silent, powerful and beautiful. Bit by bit you get the full picture.

I first tripped over the root a week before Christmas last year when a friend mentioned the word...

Wonder.

And like a match lighting—a familiar scrape and hiss, a tiny crackle and the smell of sulfur—I felt the first sparks of inspiration. Wonder. The word alone lifts our eyes from our shuffling feet and causes us to scan the skies for something bigger.

But in the midst of planning and rehearsals for the story we were already telling, I didn't have the time to think about wonder.

But then it came up again just before Easter. I tried this research thing back then. I got all of a chapter and a half into one book. Not great. But that chapter and a half was a good seed.

I was reading Living the Resurrection by Eugene Peterson; in it he makes the case that without wonder we cannot truly comprehend Christ's death and resurrection. He says that without wonder we cannot be enough in awe of Jesus to compel us to become like Jesus saying that, "Without wonder, we approach spiritual formation as a self-help project."

How true. How very, very true.

He goes on to say:

Wonder is natural and spontaneous to all of us. When we were children, we were in a constant state of wonder. The world was new, tumbling in on us in profusion. We staggered through each day fondling, looking, tasting. Words were wondrous. Running was wondrous. Touch, taste, sound were all wonders. We lived in a world of wonders.

But gradually the sense of wonder gets squeezed out of us.

I'm sure this feels familiar. I know it does to me. Peterson actually begins the passage with this:

We do not live in a world that promotes and encourages wonder.

This is where the Church comes in. No matter how wise, or learned, or versed we become, we cannot help but be filled with wonder every time we truly engage with the God we serve. We serve a wonder-ful God. We should, nay, must promote and encourage wonder.

And there is no better vehicle for this, in my mind, than the arts.

And there is no better time. Christmas—when men and women are already inclined to reverse into boys and girls—is the perfect time for the Church to aspire to inspiring wonder.

But first, I know that I need to be filled with wonder. I must experience the slack-jawed, wide-eyed sense of awe. I need to expand my mind and my heart and find myself in wonder of God. That's where this stack of books comes in.