I wonder if all writers experience the purgatory of titles, by which I mean being presented with an endless string of widely differing subjects but having absolutely nothing to say about any of them. Perhaps it is the natural hubris that comes with the work we do that persuades us that we should always have an opinion to hand, no matter what the circumstances.
Take ‘heat’, for example. Heat is the prevailing circumstance right now, as I see it. Everything else, even the most serious and demanding issues facing us, will evaporate under its impact. Heat lends urgency to the moment, so the necessities of life take precedence over any thoughts or ideas that we writers, in our hubristic way, think will benefit the reader out there. It’s more important to get those two bits of ironing done before 8.30am, so that you can break the monotony of only having two garments to wear that are remotely suited to these unprecedented temperatures. Ironing takes precedence over thinking about anything, let alone writing about it. The same goes for walking the dog and unloading the dishwasher, even though the dog would probably be happy to remain cross legged until 10pm, but my conscience qualms at the thought of letting this happen to him.
And now that I have finally sat down, the moist heat is building, like a kind of tsunami. I will tell myself, for another hour or so, that it’s not that hot, that I should be thankful I don’t live in a city and should just brace up and get on with it, but I know I will run out of stamina and focus quite soon, an excuse to call up to my husband for one of his iced coffee frappés.
The whole creative process seems subject to the weight of the heat. The struggle to think is not a struggle with nothing. It is a struggle with the overwhelming nature of everything right now. It might be easier to put off trying. But if a writer stops trying in the belief, perhaps, that there is nothing to say or, if there is, that someone else has already said it better, then fear very soon takes over. The writer fears that the ‘gift’, or whatever it is that magically allows us to string together a few ideas in a coherent fashion, will be withdrawn, perhaps as a kind of punishment for not trying hard enough, for not sticking at it. Perhaps, when the heat subsides, there will be payback time for all those mornings we’ve skipped, telling ourselves to get the ironing done, the dog walked, the shopping done, before it gets too hot. Writers live in fear of retribution, even ones who, like me, pray quite a lot.
When it comes to prayer and creativity, we are always swimming underwater. We are in our element, but also desperately coming up for air. We wait in the deep blue world, but there are no fish and no mesmeric changes of light, just blueness pressing us down, as the psalmist puts it; ‘You press upon me behind and before. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.’ (Ps. 139:5)
And yet we are invited to reach for this knowledge, if ‘reaching’ is what we do. We are being invited to reach deep for the wisdom that is beyond human grasping. So we reach and we wait, along with the millions of creative people who are reaching for an idea, too often making the mistake of thinking we will find it within the narrow confines of our own acquired skills or learned knowledge. And, as with the creative process, we often try too hard. Things happen when we stop trying and wanting. That is when the light breeze makes itself felt.
To live prayerfully is to live creatively, to go with the rhythm of the day itself, especially the ponderous rhythm of unending heat. To live prayerfully is to go with the rhythm of God, to be always ready, to wait but also to reach deep, to do nothing, but to be ready. By this I don’t mean brace yourself for an experience of some kind. We do not experience God when we pray. We simply allow ourselves to be known by God and that requires patience on God’s part, as well as ours, and a certain courage. You never know what might happen next.