Ponder: Advent Word 21

August Rodin, “The Thinker” (1904)

Today’s assigned word–ponder–seems to give me the license to reflect on my own experiences of this year’s Advent Word project. I realize that extended autobiography is neither the intended end nor means of the daily assignments. However, with all apologies Lesley Gore, it’s my blog and I’ll bloviate if I want to.

If I were asked in a job interview to enumerate my strengths, pondering would not be among them. If Rodin were planning a new and female version of The Thinker, he would not choose me as a model. As empirical evidence, this semester I took a yoga class two days a week and skipped out before the meditation part at the end–making the plausible excuse that I had to get dressed for my 9:00 class.

In its distinction of the precise meanings of synonyms, Merriam-Webster suggests, “Ponder implies a careful weighing of a problem or, often, prolonged, inconclusive thinking about a matter.” Despite my reputation for braininess, I am completely done in by prolonged and inconclusive periods of thinking. Don’t get me wrong; I’m willing to put in all the sweat equity needed to bring any assignment to fruition. However, I break into a cold sweat when asked to come up with an original idea. This pattern has been the rationale for my perennial disclaimer that I am not creative. I haven’t seen this admission as self-denigration–just as self-assessment. That is, I know I’m good at many things, but originality is not among them.

However, this year’s Advent Word project has taught me an extremely valuable lesson about myself: In fact, I work much better on inspiration than on perspiration.

For example, on looking back through the list of words, I can identify immediately the assignments that simply didn’t touch me (herald, hasten, and spirit); for those three words, I brazenly substituted my own choices and called them “wild cards.” For one, at least (give), I used the assignment word but altered the sense entirely to “give thanks” and actually wrote about gratitude instead of giving. And for another (peace), the personal bitterness at the roots of my initial post caused me to append a photograph from a more placid period and my life and label it “4B” as penance.

Other words caused some initial labor before I could figure out my path and proceed. For a couple (watch and patience), I turned right away to the etymology dictionary. For several more (valley, begin, repair, and dream), I directly consulted the lectionary for the Sundays of Advent, from which the words were actually chosen. Associations from my personal life and the arts provided the spark for other posts.

But the ideas for some of my posts, I confess–nay, proclaim–were based purely on inspiration. Nor will I refrain here from my penchant for etymology to note that inspire came into English c. 1300:

“immediate influence of God or a god,” especially that under which the holy books were written, from Old French inspiracion “inhaling, breathing in; inspiration” (13c.), from Late Latin inspirationem (nominative inspiratio), noun of action from past-participle stem of Latin inspirare“blow into, breathe upon,” figuratively “inspire, excite, inflame.”

Directly upon seeing the first word, for example, I heard in my head “Who Has Seen the Wind?” It was the allusions in Christina Rossetti’s little poem that led me to explore the scriptural references that structured my insights for the day (which, I hasten to add, included related etymological references to the wind as the breath of God). Laughter offered a similarly instant suggestion for my post, which actually turned out to be about being open to God’s plans for our lives.

However, the most powerful result of listening for inspiration came as I approached yesterday’s post. When I saw the assigned word for the day, quench, I can’t say that I saw in my head Doré’s engraving, but I certainly had a clear image of the tens of thousands of people listening to Ezra read the Law after the return to Jerusalem. And throughout my entire research for the post that followed, I felt led to fact after fact and idea after idea so that the writing was quick and almost automatic. And then I came to the end and experienced what even then I felt was a miraculous confluence–not only of the Old and New Testament scriptures concerning the Feast of the Tabernacles, but primarily of my own belated discovery that both these biblical stories were related directly to the Advent Word of the day.

So perhaps the most important lesson for me in this year’s Advent discipline is openness to inspiration, which can be interpreted as listening to my own creative spirit. Another is that sometimes I simply have to rely on the discipline at the core of my nature to do what is needed for the task at hand. And finally, there is the willingness to wait–the central lesson of Advent.

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