Thursday, November 12, 2009

Inspiration and Perspiration, A Study in Balance

by Katherine Harms

Someone wiser than I once said that real achievement is 90% perspiration and only 10% inspiration, or something like that. I am mathematically challenged, so I may have the precise numbers wrong, but the concept is clear: any achievement is about hard work.
_However, achievement really does require inspiration as well; otherwise, hard work is merely drudgery, work that must be done for no heartfelt reason. There may be times when writing is, in fact, drudgery. When Mother requires a child to write a thank-you note to Grandma for a pair of yellow pajamas with lambs on them, the child who despises both the color yellow and anything to do with a sheep may consider the job of writing that note to be real drudgery. It is to be hoped that none of us who feel that God has gifted us with writing skill and called us to use that gift in service to others feels that writing is drudgery.
_In my experience, the writing life is about achieving a balance between the joy of those delightful moments when inspiration lights up the road ahead and the anguish of those painful hours when the road ahead seems to be nothing but a deep, muddy swamp. It can be a real challenge when inspiration shows more than one pathway without clarifying any way to choose among the options. I recently had the joy of a couple of inspirations coupled with a strong sense of calling in both directions. I felt torn, because I could not see how to answer both calls at the same time.
_I write on the subject of the life of Christian faith. Sometimes I write about teachings. Sometimes I write about faith disciplines. I have recently felt led to write on the subject of Bible study principles and techniques, because of questions people have asked me. I had the good fortune to fall into a class on hermeneutics taught by a seminary professor, and during that class _I began to solidify the structure of a series of Bible study guides. At the same time, I was experiencing a strong sense of calling to write and teach about the importance of Christian testimony. Cultural chaos, economic crises, social problems and a political climate of real aggression against religious expression made me feel that it is important for people of faith to speak up and live their faith publicly lest the Constitutional principle of freedom of religious expression in the USA be lost. Then one morning I found myself meditating on a Bible verse that said, “Do not be afraid.” It was addressed to the disciples Jesus sent out early in his ministry to announce, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” It became clear to me that this theme was the right focus for my work.
_Most people have trouble enunciating any heartfelt principle, whether or not it relates to their religious faith, because of fear of the consequences. They may fear the scorn of others, or they may fear that they cannot defend their point of view in an aggressive debate, or they may fear social or even political punishment for their viewpoint. It may be simple shyness. In the case of religious faith, those fears can impede a person’s ability to live and speak the faith with confidence. When I read the words, “Do not be afraid,” I realized how often God has given his people those words when he commissioned them to speak for him. The Bible is full of such reassurance. I needed to pull that message out and make it clear for myself and others in order for us all to feel confident and strong in our public expression of our faith. I do not see this expression as an attempt to convert other people; rather, I see it as speaking and living truth in public. It is not about judging people who are not Christians; it is about living with integrity and honestly confessing to the source of our life principles.
_To write a series of Bible study guides and to write blogs/articles/book on the subject of fearless, truthful expression of our faith were two very big projects. I was overwhelmed. How could I do both things? How could I achieve the focus required for either project while giving the required energy to both of them? The answer proved to be another moment of inspiration.
I had begun my research on the subject “Do not be afraid” using library software where I have stored multiple books and references on the Bible as well as multiple translations of the Bible. The search feature allows me both rigid and fuzzy searches using specific words and topics. I pulled up a search on my basic phrase, “Do not be afraid” and copied the resulting list for study. Then is when the light dawned. I would, of course, study the texts I found using the best principles and techniques I know for Bible study. Therefore, as I did the research for the work on Christian testimony, I would be creating examples of good practice in Bible study. One line of work would clearly provide the foundation for both writing projects.
_Now I have the inspiration I need to get both projects done. That inspiration must sustain me as I slog through the mud of research. I will study biblical texts in various translations. I will search commentaries, historical resources, and many other books and web resources. I will use specific principles of biblical interpretation to determine what I keep and what I discard. The analysis and record-keeping required for these projects will be all perspiration. That 90% perspiration part that we all must get through somehow. I think I can do it, because I believe this is what I was created to do.
_I have been writing lots and lots of words ever since I first learned how to do it. In grade school I organized a writing club. In high school I won writing contests. I have piles and piles of written work cluttering up my space. Writing lots of words is easy. Nevertheless, writing with discipline and writing to specific standards is not so easy. It takes a lot of inspiration to support the production of that perspiration, but I will do it. There. I said it. You can hold me to this promise. Check back with me in six months. I need to know that you expect some results. Please let me know that you are counting on me. I am counting on you.