“The secret to creativity – observed Albert Einstein – is knowing how to hide your sources.” The problem comes when sources dry up.
Each Friday morning once I have read my Bible and prayed the first task of the day is to write this letter to accompany the emailing of the notices. Normally I allow 45 minutes – I aim to have my breakfast before prayers in church at 9.00 am.
Sometimes I know what I am going to write and I just write. And that’s it. Wonderful. Other times I just stare at the computer screen and wonder what to say. Like this morning.
I don’t enjoy those tasks which require creativity – too much effort and often too much wasted time as I, metaphorically speaking, chew the end of my pencil. Filling in a wedding register takes me four minutes each entry – I can calculate how long completely the quarterly return will take me. I like that, even if I am usually late.
But preparing to speak at the Christmas Family Service, for example, can take anything between 30 minutes and 30 hours. It’s the lack of predictability I find difficult.
It’s easy to think that true inspiration happens when the words just flow out of the keyboard. But over the years I have discovered that the Holy Spirit is just as involved when faced with a deadline you have no choice but grind out the product.
The story behind the television sitcom Steptoe and Son comes to mind. I am old enough to remember the very first episode, written by Galton and Simpson as a one-off in a series of six comedies.
The point is that the writers were totally stuck for this one show, altogether uninspired. Total writers block. But they were paid to do a job. And so line by line, page by page, they made themselves do it. Painful. And yet such was the impact of this one show that the public demanded more. It ran for eight series.
One of the key discoveries of the Christian life is to know that when we are at our weakest God is at his best. That can be unnerving, especially if like me you are in the professional ministry. You can’t exactly put a notice on the church gates – “No services this Sunday, vicar has doubts”.
For strangely those talks, sermons, contributions, articles you just grind out – despite any feeling of being inspired – are often the ones which change lives. And vice versa. And that insight makes all the difference for a faithful ministry.