I'd like the record to reflect…

Author Elizabeth Gilbert (“Eat, Pray, Love”) gave a speech about nurturing creativity at the 2009 TED conference. I strongly recommend it to anyone who has 19 minutes to spare:  http://www.ted.com/talks/view/id/453

She discusses the ways she addresses her concerns about her own creative process, and new ways to frame the relationship between the artist and their art.

What she is getting at is the moments of inspiration and revelation that are more common in artistic pursuits than, say, double-entry bookkeeping (apologies to any accountants who are reading this). And I’m writing about it here because I believe inspiration and revelation are central to the experience of meeting the Divine as well.

The moment that grabbed me most occurs near the end of Ms. Gilbert’s talk, when she speaks to the invisible externalized part of her that provides inspiration:

You and I both know that if this book is not brilliant, that is not entirely my fault, because you can see that I am putting everything I have into this […] so if you want it to be better, then you’re going to have to show up and do your part of the deal […] but if you don’t do that, then […] I’m going to keep writing because *that’s my job*. And I would please like the record to reflect today that *I* showed up for my part of the job.

I’m totally using that line the next time I’m at davening! “Hey Man,” I’m going to say, staring up at the ceiling, “I just want to point out that *I* showed up. Where were you?!?”

If you happen to daven at my shul, you might want to give me a few seats clearance. You know, just in case.

Rabbi Elyse Frishman, of Barnert Synagogue, recalls a congregant who came to services one day, out of the blue. Afterward, this person complained to her that they “weren’t moved”. Rabbi Frishman’s response was that we shouldn’t expect to be moved the first time, or every time. Prayer takes practice, and our willingness to see ourselves in relationship to it.

I asked her about that recently and she said, “We don’t have the right to expect life to unfold gloriously before us, for us. We open ourselves to life with kavannah, the preparation that moves us beyond self-interest.  Then we can feel true wonder, and be moved to a higher place. Then we can experience blessing.

To put it another way, you aren’t guaranteed an epiphany in every box of Shabbat Crunch cereal.

Elizabeth Gilbert described “inspiration” and “genius” in it’s ancient Greek and Roman context. It was seen as an external being, a daemon who lived in the walls of the artists home and sometimes chose to participate in the artistic process.

Now, I don’t buy the idea of a disembodied super-natural “genius” or “daemon” (or even “angel”) who bestows moments of clarity or insight but has their own will and agenda. But I do believe that some ideas and expressions come from outside of us. In fact, “inspire” is derived from the Greek word “inspirare” which means “to breath into”

Torah tells us that God breathed life into the first person. In thinking about the Creation story, I’m reminded that, in the morning blessing “Yotzer Or”, we thank God for continually renewing creation. It wasn’t a one time, back-in-the-day event. God works at Creation in each and every moment. Taken in that context, it seems obvious to me that God would also be continually breathing into us. Inspiring us.

My friend Noah Budin says about his music,  “I don’t really write most of my songs. It’s more like I receive them.”. The opening line of the Amidah prayer says “My Lord, open my lips that my mouth may declare your glory”.

So I’m challenging you to look at the habit you have (or if you don’t have a habit yet, whatever experience you believe is most authentic for you) for worship, for communicating with God. Mull over the way in which you express your heartfelt thanks, or apologize in sincere regret, or share your deepest hopes.

Now just commit yourself to showing up, ready, as Ms Gilbert says, to do YOUR job. If you’ve never shown up before, make the plan to show up. If you do show up with some kind of regularity, stick with that. Either way, stop yourself there. Don’t ask anything else of that moment. Show up, and allow yourself to be open to whatever will happen – or not – that day. And then the next day. And the next,  because Rabbi Frishman is right. Prayer takes practice, and we can’t wait for revelation BEFORE we begin our prayer habit. We have to already be doing our job, so that inspriation can come.

Finally, we can’t expect to be open to revelation if we’re struggling just to figure out what page we’re on. But when we are ready when we know where we are, and before Whom we stand, you’d be amazed at how often inspiration visits us.