Saturday, March 17, 2012

What Irish Monks like St. Patrick Can Teach Us About Living Our Creative Lives

If you came here hoping for a more spiritual post for St. Patrick's Day, let me direct you to this blog post over at the Living Lutheran site that I wrote. 

Or you might try this post at my theology blog where I talk about the life of St. Patrick:  "St. Patrick was born to a high ranking Roman family in England, but when he was approximately 16, he was kidnapped and spent 6 or 7 years as a slave in Ireland. While there, he learned the language and the non-Christian customs of the land.  This knowledge would come in handy when he was sent back to Ireland in the 5th century to solidify the Christianity of the country."

Or you might try this blog post about Saint Columba:  "Today we celebrate the life of Saint Columba, one of the great early Irish Christians, whom some would give credit for spreading Christianity to Scotland. He also helped spread literacy and founded a school for missionaries. He's one of the great monastics."  What my blog post forgot to point out is that Columba was essentially exiled to Scotland; he had to leave Ireland in disgrace after an argument started by Columba triggered a battle.

What do these two sainted monks, Patrick and Columba, have in common?  They were able to accomplish astonishingly great things, in circumstances where most of us would not have dared attempt them.  They headed off to awesomely tough lands and set up monasteries which turned into flourishing centers of education, art, and spirituality.

Of course, Celtic monks were famous for attempting loopy things--and accomplishing them.  Almost a year ago, Dave Bonta wrote this post about coracles, and he included this nugget of information:  "Though the ancient ocean-going coracles did probably have rudders (and according to The Voyage of St. Brendan, could be fitted with a sail), their relative unsteerability constituted part of their attraction to Celtic monks, for whom the ideal form of travel involved surrendering to the will of God and going wherever the winds and currents took them. Some of the more God-besotted ones set off without even an oar."

Without even an oar!  Imagine that kind of surrender:  I will get in a boat and God will get me where God needs me to be.

I wonder if we could have that same kind of surrender in our creative lives:  I will show up to do the work, I will send it out into the world, and I will surrender my expectations of what is supposed to happen.

I mention this element of surrender, perhaps because that's the kind of week I have had.  Often I have time for creativity almost every day, or I steal some time to make a submission or two.  At the very least, I have an idea or two for a poem that waits for me to find the time to work with it.

Not this week.  Last week we found out that 15 faculty members will be laid off, and 3 of them are in my department.  Our spring quarter starts in a few weeks, and they won't be with us.  So, in addition to all the administrator work that I had scheduled for this week, I've had to figure out how to staff 14 sections.  I've gotten to work early each day, and when the work day ended, I've trudged home exhausted.

This, too, shall pass.  I should look to the life of St. Patrick, who suffered as a slave, but was able to overcome.  And my life as a 21st century administrator is a life of ease and comfort, compared to the Celtic slavery that Patrick endured.

In these weeks where I haven't been writing as much as I'd like, I find it easy to slip into self-loathing and despair.  I worry about the publication opportunities I haven't pursued.  I think about the fact that I don't have too many decades left to write the work that needs to be created.

In short, it's easy to feel like I'm wasting my precious life.

Here, too, the Celtic monks can bring me comfort.  I should think about St. Columba, who some might argue was a man of massive mistakes, but out of those miscalculations came a thriving outpost of Christianity in Scotland.

Many of us might felt like those Celtic monks, trying to till a stony ground.  We may feel like the publishing world has shifted into something we no longer recognize.  Those of us who are working in higher education may wonder if we're headed to a time where very few people will go to college.  Those of us still making mortgage payments on homes declining in value may feel like the rules have changed, and we don't know how to play the game anymore.

We should take courage from the example of the early Celtic church.  Being sent to Scotland would be like being sent to a harsh, wild place--maybe like being sent to a barren planet today.  But just because we're inhabiting a barren planet doesn't mean we're doomed to failure.

We might find a completely different kind of success.

Of course, what we will have to master is the trick of letting go of our preconceived notions of what success will look like, so that we'll see the success that we're creating.

Celtic Christianity is one of the strains of Christianity that's healthy and thriving--and we can't say that about most ancient religions.  Yet if those Celtic monks had allowed themselves to be circumscribed by their circumstances, they'd be another one of those dead traditions that we might not have even heard of.

So today, as you drink your green beer or eat your corned beef and cabbage, think about those early Celtic monks without whom, we would not have this holiday.  Think about your own life.  How could you turn your corner of the world into an outpost where creativity can thrive?  How can your life provide comfort and courage to other creative types?  When you're having the kind of day/month/year that makes you feel like you're living on stony, thorny ground, how can you make good soil out of those circumstances?

No comments: