Monthly Archives: June 2015

Inspiration or Imagination

William Blake believed every word he wrote came from God. I’m not so blessed as that. Most of my words come from my imagination.

I’m not convinced distinguishing between imagination and inspiration is critical to our stories or our lives, but it could be, so let’s pursue the question.

In a lecture entitled “Imagination vs. Inspiration,” poet Garcia Lorca maintained that the imagination was a form of logic which could do many things but couldn’t “touch the darker forces of nature or the most incandescent light, or the realm of the unknown.” Imagination, he explained, always works with facts borrowed from the “most clear and precise form of reality.”

In my experience, imagination usually begins with connections. I build Juan out of character traits I’ve witnessed. Then I lock Juan in a broken elevator with Lucy, who may have red hair, and I watch what happens. If it charms or excites me, I write it down.

Or a taste reminds me of a hamburger stand named Jub’s my friend Eric Curtis and I used to frequent. Soon I’m writing a scene that happens in Mission Beach, where Jub’s was located.

That’s imagination.

But inspiration appears out of nowhere. Or from somewhere we can’t locate. It could be some as of yet unidentified part of our brains. Or it could come direct from God. Whatever the source or path, it manifests itself in moments that can make us gasp in awe of a truth we hadn’t noticed before.

And it usually gives the kind of truth we can’t express in any other terms than the one we’ve just encountered. If we try to analyze, we may sense that this truth comes from beneath, beyond or above our reality.

It’s the kind of truth we find so often in the Bible. The kind that comes clear yet remains a mystery.

Saint Augustine’s Agenda

I’m going way out on limb here.

On a road trip I listened to a Great Courses lecture on St. Augustine. A remarkable fellow. Brilliant and charismatic.

At one point Augustine founded a college. But before he could get it fully established, the church snatched him up with offers he apparently couldn’t refuse. Before long he was a Bishop. About this time a schism occurred. A group called the Donatists became a threat to the established Catholic Church. Then for years, Augustine’s philosophy and theology was guided by the agenda of overcoming the threat.

Here’s a link to one of his most famous sermons, from a series on the Book of John.

“If any of you should wish to act out of love, brothers, do not imagine it to be a self-abasing, passive and timid thing. And do not think that love can be preserved by a sort of gentleness – or rather tame listlessness. This is not how it is preserved. Do not imagine that you love your servant when you refrain from beating him, or that you love your son when you do not discipline him, or that you love your neighbor when you do not rebuke him. This is not love, it is feebleness. Love should be fervent to correct. Take delight in good behavior, but amend what is bad. Love the person, but not the error in the person: God made the person, but the person alone made the error. Love what God made, not what the person made. If you love one thing, you remove another. When you esteem one thing, you change another. But if you are severe, let it be out of love, for the sake of correction. This is why love was represented by the dove which descended upon the Lord. [Matt. 3:16] Why did the Holy Spirit, who pours love into us, take the form of a dove? The dove has no bitterness, yet she fights with beak and wings for her young; hers is a fierceness without bitterness. In the same way, when a father chastises his son he does so for discipline. As I said earlier, the kidnapper inveigles the child with bitter endearments, in order to sell him; a father, for the sake of correction, chastises without bitterness. “

These days we might call Augustine’s angle tough love. If people misbehave, discipline them, even if it means beating or otherwise punishing them into submission. So this perspective at one point resulted in Augustine’s convincing the Imperial authorities to imprison and otherwise persecute the Donatists.

Here’s another perspective on love, from St. Paul ‘s 1 Corinthians: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

I have to wonder if Augustine’s position on love arose out of the pure, loving heart Paul describes, or at least in part from a professional agenda.

Who but God knows the answer to that one? I certainly don’t. Still, I can imagine an alternate reality wherein Augustine used his intellectual and persuasive powers in favor of winning souls and amending behavior by other than martial means, and in which the church, so influenced by Augustine, didn’t have the power of his words to justify collusion with government, advocacy of crusades, or inquisitions.

Though I wouldn’t blame the Inquisition entirely on Augustine, I will argue that writers or preachers influenced by practical agendas, political, monetary, or whatever, can be dangerous. Even the best, most sincere humans are not entirely objective or reasonable. In fact, given a powerful enough motive, most and probably all of us can convince ourselves of almost anything, and if we’re skilled with words, we can write or speak persuasively about it.

Preachers are usually beholden to the agendas of their particular church or denomination.

So the world needs independent writers. Ones who are free to, in the words of Augustine, “Love and do what you will,” uninfluenced by any agenda except their own vision of truth.

As Augustine might’ve been if he had passed on the Bishop job and stuck with the college he founded.

What Might the Spirit Give Us?

Most obviously the spirit may give us lines that are either clearly or subtly profound and perhaps original, such as Dimitri Karamazov’s, “Only how is he [anyone] going to be good without God? That’s the question. I always come back to that. For whom is man going to love then? To whom will he be thankful?” That inspired question given to Feodor Dostoyevski resonated in my thoughts for weeks.

And the spirit might give us metaphors, such as Olga Savitsky so frequently heard and employed. Here’s one I’ll probably never forget: “Puny faith is like a rusty zipper.”

Maybe even some nonsense comes from the spirit, to lighten our hearts, such as Lewis Carroll’s “Kaloo kaley, we’ll eat today like cabbages and kings.”

The spirit may help us with structure or guide us to the right place in our story to use a certain thought or image, so that it can achieve the greatest impact.

The spirit may even provide a theme or epic narrative that will define our life’s work.

William Butler Yeats proposed that for each of us there may exist one archetypal story or explanatory myth that, being understood, might clarify all we do and think, and so explain our destiny.

From Writing and the Spirit. Read it all.

A Colossal Mistake

My son Cody, at age thirteen, picked up a Bible and started reading. Later that evening, he announced, “Hey, I thought this would be a lot of preaching, but it’s a great story.”

Whatever the Bible may be to whomever, there’s no denying it’s a story. And having been a fan of stories from age two, a student of stories from age six, a writer of stories from age thirteen, and from age twenty-something a holder of several degrees in the study of stories from one angle and another, I feel it’s about time to offer my take on the Bible.

Suppose it’s the directly dictated word of God; or a literal history; or a collection of tales from a variety of sources; or a life-instruction manual. Or suppose it’s a work of fiction in the sense that it doesn’t mean to be read as fact but as a dramatized reflection of truth.

Most of us who have studied literature during high school or beyond have at least once been annoyed by a teacher giving us what he claimed was the only way to read a certain work.

As a writer, I don’t care how anyone reads my stories as long as they gain from them what I intend. If I write to entertain, as long as they are entertained, I’m satisfied. If I write to honor a certain type of character, if they admire the character, I’m content.

So from the creator’s angle (meaning whoever we deem the Bible’s creator or creators to be), I’ll argue that as long as readers receive what the creator intended, they have done the creation justice.

And what does the Bible intend to do? Unless I’m sorely mistaken, that’s simple enough. The Bible intends to bring people closer to the creator and more in harmony with each other.

Meaning, whatever genre someone might consider the Bible, as long as it works toward those intended goals, I believe the creator would be pleased.

Maybe I’m a heretic. Still, I’ll point out that an attitude like mine can eliminate a lot of bickering, bullying, and smugness that convince too many people not to read the Bible at all. Which is a colossal mistake.