Friday, May 31, 2019

Incubating the Impossible in an Unlikely Place

Today is the Feast of the Visitation, a church festival day which has only recently become important to me. This feast day celebrates the time that Mary goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Both women are pregnant in miraculous ways: Mary hasn't had sex, and Elizabeth is beyond her fertile years. Yet both are pregnant. Elizabeth will give birth to John the Baptist, and Mary will give birth to Jesus. For a more theological consideration of this day, see this post on my theology blog or this article by Heidi Neumark in The Christian Century.

In the churches of my younger years, we never celebrated feast days. What a loss. I love this additional calendar that circles through the year, this calendar that reminds us of what ordinary people can do.

I also find these days inspiring in so many ways. Today, let's think about what this day teaches us as we approach our creative processes.

In our age that worships fame and celebrity and insists that if they haven't come early, then what we're doing isn't worth much, this feast day reminds us that there are times when we may need to sit with our projects. It may be good if it takes months, years, or even decades to bring a project to completion. We may need periods of distance to see what we're creating with fresh eyes. It may take time for us to know what we're doing. We may need to wait for the surrounding world to be ready.

In short, when I find myself feeling despair over how long it's taken me to meet my publication goals, I remind myself that time to incubate is not bad.

I also love the idea that these two women have each other. They're both taking similar journeys through very unusual territory, and they can use support.

We live in a culture that doesn't support much in the way of creativity, unless we're harnessing our creative powers to make gobs and gobs of money. It's good to have fellow travelers. On this day, I'm offering up gratitude for all those who have given me encouragement while also working on their own projects. I'm grateful for the ways that their creativity has nourished mine.

This feast day also reminds us of the value of retreat. I love to get away on the writing retreats that I take periodically. I get so much done when I'm away from the demands of regular life. And even during those years when I return with not much done, I often have a blaze of creativity shortly after I return. Those retreats nourish me on multiple levels.

This morning, I'm feeling most inspired by the possibility of the impossible. The world tells us that so much of what we desire is just not possible. Our work will never find favor, our relationships will always disappoint, we will never truly achieve mastery over what hurts us--in short, we live in a culture that tells us we are doomed. We swim in these seas, and it's hard to avoid the pollution.

Along comes this feast day which proclaims that the not only is the impossible possible, but the impossible is already incubating in an unlikely womb. It's much too easy for any of us to say, "Who am I to think that I can do this?" The good news of this feast day is that I don't have to be the perfect one for the task. By saying yes, I have made myself the perfect one.

The world tells us of all the ways that things can go terribly wrong. We need to remember that often we take the first steps, and we get more encouragement than we expected. God or the universe or destiny, however you think of it, meets us more than halfway.

Today is a good day to think of all the times we've been afraid to take those first steps, those projects and dreams to which we've said no. Maybe it's time to go back and say yes. It's not too late. As long as there is breath in our bodies, it is not too late.

So today, on this feast day that celebrates unlikely miracles, let's practice saying yes. For one day, let's quiet the negative voices that shout at us. Today, let us try to remember all of the dreams we might have discarded as improbable, impossible. Nourish all the possibilities. Let's choose one possibility and try it on for size. Let that dream incubate a bit. Let it swell and grow into a full-blown alternative.

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