Creative Brooding

Sermon: Creative Brooding

Texts: Genesis 1:1-2 (several translations); Luke 4:1-13

Date: February 3, 2019

©Rev. Dee Eisenhauer, Eagle Harbor Congregational Church

 

          One of the most enchanting sounds in the world is the sound of the wings of birds in flight.  Do you agree?  Take a moment and see if you can recall that sound, wings displacing air.  Sometimes when birds are silent the whuff whuff of wind beneath wings is the only signal of a bird nearby.  I remember being startled and then awe-struck by the sound of owls in flight a couple of times when I was walking alone at dusk, in that blue moment of fading light.  Owls are quiet but you can still hear their wings stirring the air if they happen to catch you in a quiet moment.  I’ve also marveled at the collective wing sounds of flocks of birds, geese and what John’s family calls “LBJ’s” (little brown jobs). And then there’s the magical sound of a hummingbird in flight, the air vibrating as the hummingbird flashes by in a blur of color, and then hovers over a flower or feeder. 

          Our consideration of the creative move of “hovering” this morning begins way, way back.  In the Beginning, no less.  The first creation story describes the spirit of God hovering over the formless void.  Some translations and many artists picture the hovering Spirit as a bird flying over the formless deep.  Can you hear the sound of wings over water in your imagination?  One scholar, Catherine Keller, suggests that the spirit was vibrating above the face of the waters.  I find that very evocative; the word vibrating takes me back to the sound of the hummingbird stirring the air with wings moving so fast they are a blur.  Imagine the Spirit hovering over the formless void, the deep, the chaos with the vivacity and dynamism of a hummingbird.  But bigger.  Since we’re metaphoraging rather than literalizing let’s make the hummingbird-like Spirit the size of a 747 jet in our mind’s eye.  Can you visualize it hovering over the deep, vibrating over the ocean of chaos?  Can you hear the hum of wings writ large? 

          Troy Bronsik’s book Drawn In connects with the Genesis story as he writes about “hovering” as a step in any creative process.  It’s a stage that follows beginning a creation and having to wait patiently to see what emerges.  It’s an awkward phase of creativity, where one has an unfinished product, perhaps embarrassingly short of what one dreamed it would be, yet something more than what one had before.  Bronsik sees in the first creation story in Genesis a deliberate move to avoid rushing to completion.  He writes, “No sooner had creation begun than the Spirit slowed the process down to what must have felt like a crawl.  Watching like a hovering…[bird].”  “The earth was formless and void, and yet God didn’t rush it.”[1]  Hovering is the creative posture of patience. 

          Throughout Scripture God’s Spirit shows up, in a sense, hovering over unexplored potential–whether it was the chaos of the formless deep, reluctant leaders like Moses, untested youths like David and Jeremiah, or open souls like Mary’s.  And then there was Jesus, whose story recapitulates Genesis when the Spirit hovers over him like a dove on the day of his baptism.  The Spirit hovers over creation time and again, patiently drawing out the potential of the as-yet-unfinished creation. 

          I suspect many of us would just as soon skip the “patiently waiting” step of the creative process, whether it has to do with something we’re making or whether it has to do with what is being made out of our lives as they unfold.  Our times are about wanting something right now, the faster the better, whether the product is something we are ordering online, or a thing we’re trying to make in our few “spare” minutes, or a phase in our lives when we just want to get on with it.  We often feel frustrated by letting things unfold in their own time.  As our Tuesday Bible study group was discussing hovering as a part of the creative process, I noticed that a feeling of frustration often accompanies having to wait for an answer or a forward movement that seems blocked.  Yet we noticed as a group that stepping back, taking a breath, waiting in some fashion was often very fruitful.  Clearing space for the Spirit to hover in one way or another results in renewed creativity, surprising intuitions, unexpected answers, forward movement. 

          Clearing space for the Spirit to hover is both necessary and increasingly difficult.  I was looking at one of my books I would put in the category of “old friend” as far as books goes, a devotional published in 1966.  The introduction quoted a pundit complaining about how few places were left where one could escape entertainment.  The writer was talking about how the music of invisible orchestras was invading every space from the dentist’s chair to the supermarket to the elevator.  This was, I presume, in the early days of Muzak tinkling in a growing number of public spaces.  He was wishing entertainment could be restored to its proper role in society so that people could have the right “to brood undisturbed.” 

          His curmudgeonly commentary about invisible orchestras invading every space seems almost quaint at this point.  We are so used to ubiquitous music that we barely even notice it any more.  This writer is probably spinning in his grave about how TVs and smart phones and computers are now dominating the human landscape.  When he wrote “the number of places where a person can escape entertainment becomes smaller every year,” he had no idea what we’d be up to by 2019; his mind would be blown.  The author of the devotional book, Robert Raines, wonders why no aroused citizens were lobbying for the right to brood undisturbed.  Why should we let ourselves be entertained right out of our minds without putting up a fight?[2]  He advocates for people to make time and space for undisturbed brooding, creative brooding. 

          It’s more critical than ever that we are intentional about putting all our entertaining devices aside for some periods of time to carve some quiet out of the noisy lives we lead.  How can the Spirit fruitfully hover over souls that are constantly flitting from one task or flickering distraction to another with no quiet pauses spicing our days?  Pausing for quietness, for wonder, for pondering makes an opening for the Spirit to hover over the unfinished artwork of our lives. 

          We can pause and invite the ever-hovering Spirit voluntarily, when things are going well, knowing that doing so will renew creativity within us.  The times when we are knocked into some kind of chaos involuntarily can be productive as well.  An illness, a death in our circle of friends and family, the loss of a job are all circumstances that can upset the order of our lives, overwhelming us with a sense of chaos, plunging us into a murky void.  We may feel like we’re going under, drowning in sadness and fear at such involuntary transitional moments.  Sudden changes can leave us feeling desperately lost. 

          We heard the story of Jesus in the wilderness being tempted by the devil this morning.  One can see this story as a story of hovering, a time when Jesus spent some time in the wilderness wrestling with his vocation.  Notice that it was the Spirit that led him into the wilderness in the first place.  Mark’s gospel uses stronger language, reporting that the Spirit drove him into the wilderness.  But Spirit didn’t lead or drive him out to that place-between-Places and abandon him.  It was a time the Spirit was hovering over Jesus, hovering with him, drawing out of him his fullest potential to be a holy leader.  He was tested and tried by the devil who offered him instant comfort and power.  Surely he would have been tempted to take the deal the devil was offering as he experienced hunger, weakness, and feeling quite lost. But he managed to be patient, to let the Spirit’s hovering with him give him strength and a creative direction for his subsequent ministry.  

          Our faith story teaches us that chaos and wilderness are both things God can deal with; in truth, some disorder can be extremely fertile ground for Creator God.  Jiddu Krishnamurti suggests that the cultivation of human gifts is best done when a person is in a state of total discontent; “such total discontent is the beginning of the initiative which becomes creative as it matures; and that is the only way to find out what is truth, what is God, because the creative state is God.”[3]  Whether we landed in a state of total discontent voluntarily or involuntarily, such a passage of time is potentially fertile time for some creative brooding.  The Spirit broods over us, as one of the Genesis 1:2 translations rendered it, brooding like a hen sitting on nest hatching new life.  When we can manage to match the Spirit’s brooding with some creative brooding of our own that is patient enough to wait, we find ourselves led into new, abundant life beyond the wilderness, rising out of chaos. 

          A word for those of us who might be a little too settled, a little over-scheduled, constantly rushing, continually distracted and entertained.  This quote from author Tom Robbins speaks to the work of the artist, the creative work ongoing in the world.  “In times of widespread chaos and confusion, it has been the duty of more advanced human beings–artists, scientists, clowns and philosophers–to create order. In times such as ours, however, when there is too much order, too much management, too much programming and control, it becomes the duty of superior men and women to fling their favorite monkey wrenches into the machinery. To relieve the repression of the human spirit, they must sow doubt and disruption.”[4] I agree with him that great artists can create both a sense of order and chaos as needed.  In our own lives we can have a little too much order and routine, too much schedule.  We might need to fling a monkey wrench into the machinery of our own routines, especially if those routines include entertainment filling every quiet moment.  A bit of chaos can spice up lives that have become too predictable. An optimum amount of chaos—not anarchy, but what James Joyce called a “chaosmos,” chaos-in-cosmos, an ordered disorder—allows newness to emerge in us and through us. 

          Beloved, next time you’re in a place of frustration, disruption or chaos, whether it’s chosen or it has been thrust upon you, prick up your ears. Listen for the sound of wings.  The Spirit is hovering nearby, vibrating over the void, brooding over unfinished creation.    Be still, giving yourself to a time of undisturbed brooding.  You will find yourself bedeviled by distractions and various temptations to solve your life NOW, but you can, with the Spirit’s support, send the devil packing.  Instead, wait.  Wait. Let the hovering Spirit hatch something new out of you.  Creator God is still brooding over you, brooding over this world– not finished with us yet, Alleluia. 


[1] Brosnik, Troy Drawn In: A Creative Process for Artists, Activists, and Jesus Followers Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2013, p. 27

[2] Raines, Robert A. Creative Brooding New York: Macmillan Co., 1966, p. 11

[3] Krishnamurti, Jiddu quoted in Eighth Day of Creation: Discovering Your Gifts and Using Them by Elizabeth O’Connor Waco, TX: World Books, 1971, p. 98

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