Published in  
September 21, 2021

The Chase for Inspiration

If you’ve ever been on a sailboat, you know the exhilarating feeling of observing the wind fill the sails as the boat glides through the water. It is breathtaking to witness the effects of that which is mostly invisible (the wind) and recognize it is the force that is propelling the ship. Conversely, there is another feeling that accompanies the sailor and that is the frustration of being tide over. Tide over describes when there is no wind to fill the sails, so the ship and sailors must float with the tide until the wind returns. Sometimes this can take days as sailors drifted slowly with the tide attempting to grasp any small amount of wind that comes.

At times creativity seems like grasping for the wind. Despite our best attempts, the canvases remain empty, the notes stay unplayed, and the words escape us. This is one of the paradoxes of creativity. It may be as fruitful as a rushing stream yet as barren as a desolate wasteland. This phenomenon we may call "the chase for inspiration." When artists become charged with ideas that overflow into beautiful pieces they declare they are inspired; but when creatives scour for the capacity to create and experience apathy in their craft they assume they are uninspired.

Etymologically, the word inspired comes from the Latin word inspirare, which means to breathe into. This is transferred into the English language quite literately, which we can see when we separate inspired into its roots in-spirit. Thus, when an artist declares they are feeling “uninspired” they are claiming to be "not in spirit." Conversely, when an artist overflows with zeal for their craft they claim to be "in spirit." Behind this etymological investigation, there lays a profound truth that is most clearly portrayed in the Biblical story. God, the author of all things, breathes His own Spirit into the lungs of humanity. From this breath, His creatures become living beings and undertake their own creativity in the land God has prepared for them. By His Spirit, they are equipped to use the gifts and talents they have been supplied for the ultimate goal of the Creator.

In essence, the author of life breathed inspiration into his creatures so they can breathe this same inspiration into their environment.

As the Biblical story unfolds, we see three varying possibilities stem from this equation of creativity. The first possibility is humanity remains in spirit with their creator and breathes the life given to them faithfully into their environment. Scripture portrays this as an Edenic ideal that is scarcely achieved. However, with the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, His creatures can now remain in spirit at all times because His personal animating presence remains in their lives.

The second potentiality is humanity departs from being in spirit with their creator but still breathes life into their environment, though the kind of breath they exhale into their environment will most certainly be a counterfeit for the true breath of life. In his essay “On Fairy Stories," J.R.R. Tolkein, the renowned English fantasy writer and Oxford professor whose works include The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, concluded that the story of the Gospel provided the ultimate happy ending and it is this happy ending that all other forms of storytelling grasp for. He believed the faculties and gifts of Christians could also be redeemed and used in the world. This happens most clearly when their creations are infused with Gospel story as the ultimate Eucatastrophe and "assist in the effoliation and multiple enrichment of creation."

The third and final plausibility for the equation of creativity is humanity departs from being in spirit with their creator and are unable to breathe life into their environment because both their gifts and spirit have deflated into inexpressible emptiness. Rather than filling our creative expressions with artificial wind, which is the response in the second potentiality above, might we take a step back when we're feeling uninspired and ask ourselves the honest question,

"are we in spirit with our Creator?"

If there is an insufficiency in our ability to breathe life into our creations perhaps this is stemming from an insufficiency within our own spirituality to receive or recognize the breath of life from our Creator.

The design for humanity was far greater than a utilitarian race. God’s primary purpose for creating us was not to be creatives but creations to be loved. Out of His love for us we see God's desire for humanity to partner with Him in the creative and restorative process of this world. Jesus told his disciples the key to bearing fruit in this world was abiding with Him. Only out of this relationship would stem true fruit. Creativity has never been the end, at least in the story of Scripture; therefore, we should not treat it as such. Creativity is merely the means to a journey of giving glory back to the one by whom we first received our inspiration.