I wake up some days with unwanted particles of the sense of inadequacy sticking to my skin like the residue of dreams I never invited into my mind, and I want to flick them off, but they cling stubbornly like they are coated with adhesive. This is one of those days. Sunday, 19th February 2017. There is no apparent trigger. Thoughts of “my writing is not good enough” and “I don’t know how to do life but everyone else does” penetrate my mind’s firewall. Sometimes my firewall fizzles out into a mere tower of smoke whose ability to resist intrusion is laughable at best.
Many Sundays, I do not have the strength to rekindle the flames. The weight of the beginning week’s work begins to settle and my heart gets heavy. I pick up my phone and complain to my best friend, vaguely wondering how tired he must be by now of hearing me complain about the same damn things over and over again. I wonder if he has learnt these encouraging accolades that he always types in response by rote. And unfortunately, I wonder if either of us even believes them anymore, or if we ever truly did.
Church today is a healing service. The Holy Spirit speaks to pastors, directly revealing burdens, illnesses and infirmities borne by members of the congregation. We pray. A man’s eyesight, corrupted by some type of diabetes, begins to be restored. He can now read the worship lyrics on the screen and the small print on a business card. We barely hear him say the words, interrupting him with cheers and applause. He has tears in his eyes as he reads, and why shouldn’t he, when he has been the grateful medium for the performance of a miracle?
He is here. The Holy Spirit. I can sense his presence. I never wail or fall down dramatically when I do. My experience of her is through sensations within my skin, in my spine, within organs of my body that do and do not exist. Transcendental peace. He is here and he is working. Does he want to speak to me?
Things calm down after the healing. The pastor’s daughter sits in front of me to the left. She is doodling in a notebook, practicing calligraphy that I can see as soon as she puts the book down. It is gorgeous and I wonder if she is responsible for the calligraphic art on the walls and in the bathroom as well. Envy rises, pulling forth an unnecessarily long and troublesome string of connected thoughts.
I know a girl. I met her here in college. She is art without effort. You can see it in the way she dresses and the objects she owns. You can see it in the way her hand moves; whatever she draws is beautiful, she has made her room beautiful, everything she makes is beautiful, and she is beautiful. An evil thought: I would be beautiful too, if I was as creative as her.
Why am I an inadequate artist? How come, when I am constantly told I am creative, I can neither see nor manifest the creativity everyone else says I possess? I think of my dislike for a story I am writing and my cluelessness about how to begin another story I want to write. I start to panic. I start to pray.
A fictional demon called Screwtape encourages the ineffective prayers of humans who, for example, after praying for the virtue of being charitable, then try to elicit feelings of charity within themselves. As if humans can generate virtue. As if humans can give themselves what only God can gift to us. But if humans were able to manufacture the answers to their own prayers, they wouldn’t need to pray often, would they?
And so my prayer changes. Creativity is a gift and a virtue I have been mistakenly trying to generate. Of what I gave myself none, I cannot give myself more. Let its giver write through me to produce the content I was purposefully designed to produce, at the quality I was designed to produce it. Let him speak the words and use me as his medium. Why worry when he will provide?
The service ends. There is pizza for lunch and I join the queue. A woman I have never seen before walks up to me and smiles. I think she is coming to join the line behind me, but she remains at my side. So she is here to talk to me. I am used to church members engaging in friendly conversation with strangers for the sake of community, and I assume that’s what she’s here for. But I am wrong and the first sign is how she doesn’t ask me my name. This is because she is not here to ask me to tell her who I am; she is here to assure me of what I should already know about myself.
She asks me if I’m a student.
Yes, I reply, and I tell her my college.
Am I new here? She has never seen me in church before.
Well, I’ve never seen her either. I reply no, I have actually been coming since near the end of last semester, alternating between the early morning service and the late morning service.
“What are you studying?”
“I haven’t declared my major yet. I’m kind of studying everything right now.”
She smiles. A few seconds of silence.
“You are very creative. You are an artist.” She says them like statements, even though they should really be questions, given that she has no idea who I am.
“How do you know that?” I inquire, slightly startled. I look down at my ordinary black-tee-and-trousers outfit, wondering how anything about my person as presented could possibly have given it away, when I had never considered my outward appearance to be anything like my idea of self-styled wacky artist. “Do I look like I am?”
“Then how did you know?”
She doesn’t answer.
“You just know?”
More moments of silence.
“You have a lot of passion. A lot of things you want to do as an artist.”
“How do you know that?!” and I am nearly yelling now.
I am annoyed. Why won’t she answer my questions?
She asks me if she may pray over my hands. I am startled but I agree. I give her my hands, my favorite parts of my physical body, also the parts I curse and blame most often for causing my artistic inadequacy.
As I listen to her prayer, the words pass through my head as if my mind is a tube with two open-holed sides, but the meaning sticks, and I am freaking out. She is praying over my hands, over my artistry, and nearly repeating everything I prayed on my own a few minutes ago, back to me, back to God. She prays over my writing but does not know I am a writer. She prays over my drawing but does not know that I draw, that I wish I drew more often, that I envy artists, or how often I wish I was a better visual artist. She prays over the fruitfulness of any creative endeavor my hands deign to undertake, and I want to cry.
He is still here. The Holy Spirit. Working subtly, not in huge bangs nor in the deafening rush of a waterfall, but like a river whose reassuring trickling I am occasionally tuned in to hear. He heard my prayer. He prayed my prayer for me after he spoke my life. Perhaps he gave me that prayer in the first place.
Now that I have recovered somewhat from the shock of the moment, I just want to say: thank you.