Barrenness is unpleasant. When creativity dries up it seems impossible to get it back, to return to a place of nutrient-rich dirt for growing ideas. I find that with writing, it can take time before I start working on something. I start by outlining phrases and thoughts scratched out on paper. It takes a while to mull them over, do some research, and peek at them now and again, before writing in earnest begins. Perhaps it’s akin to gardening. Seeds need a safe place to sprout and grow before they are transplanted. Without that safe place, though, when the dirt is dry, ideas are nothing more than dust.
Three things are never satisfied;
four never say, “Enough”:
Sheol, the barren womb,
the earth ever thirsty for water,
and the fire that never says, “Enough.”
Barrenness is a terrible space to be in. Surrounded by blogs and websites with creative people doing exceptional things every day, barrenness feels like an aberration. What’s wrong with me? Becomes the consuming question. Trying to conceive a thought, an image, a compelling storyline, is a mysterious and sometimes painful endeavor. These things don’t come when called.
And so, we try to combat the desert with practice. Daily writing times are a must. We use our surroundings as inspiration, taking notes of anything that catches our eye. With the help of phone cameras and a wired environment we can artfully display our session journaling at the coffee shop. Anyone and everyone can (and should) be creative–visually, that is, and in writing, as long as it translates well to digital media. Which leads us back into production, the words on the page, the image on the screen. Just like so, we are no longer wandering in the wilderness. We have brought ourselves out.
Barrenness is not to be taken lightly. Perhaps the death of one dream will lay seeds for the next. Perhaps a season of fallow ground gathers elements needed for the next harvest. Perhaps knowing what it is to be parched increases our capacity or desire to be saturated. ….How can we know?
Three things are too wonderful for me;
four I do not understand:
the way of an eagle in the sky,
the way of a snake on a rock,
the way of a ship on the high seas,
and the way of a man with a girl.
In college, as part of an experiment in daily practices, I once tried to read through Proverbs in a month. With 31 chapters surely it was made for our calendar. Stumbling through the chopped verses and contradictions was a rough ride. Compared with Proverbs, the gospel of Mark is a smooth read, like a modern novel. We want the Wisdom literature to be instructive and helpful, like a guide book–and it is, in part. Lately, however, I find it most soothing (and troubling and irksome) when I myself am wandering through the desert, though not for its instruction. The Wisdom literature–Proverbs, Job, and Qohelet, among others–is a help in times of struggling because the authors struggled. In writings attributed to Solomon, there is a wrestling with deep existential questions, like what brings happiness and is it even attainable or for whom? Proverbs gives us a vision of Wisdom / Sophia as the one thing to pursue above all else. If you seek it like silver, and search for it as for hidden treasures–then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God (2:4-5). Even a disillusioned Qohelet says Wisdom makes one’s face shine, and the hardness of one’s countenance is changed (Eccl. 8:1b). Moses’ face shone after meeting with God…on a mountain, in the wilderness.
A writer who can’t write is like a woman who cannot bear a child. There is angst and strife and discontent until something changes. Conceived ideas may miscarry. There is pain and wandering and aimless circling. This is also a space for deep mystery. Wisdom always points to God the Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer. Wisdom literature can teach us how to struggle in the midst of barrenness, or even just to keep walking. Finding kinship with Job and Solomon is one way to continue to seek God when everything around us is dust.