The Spirit is a River

By Mette Ivie Harrison

A friend of mine told me once that she felt that the spirit was a river and that there were times when she dipped into it and accidentally came out with revelation that was meant for someone else, and her job was to pass it along—if she could. Or sometimes she found revelation in there that was actually meant for her ten years in the future, and she had to wait until then to understand it. This is not the typical Mormon view of the spirit. Like other Christians, we tend to see the spirit as the direct hand of God in our lives. Mormons even talk about the Holy Spirit being one of the Godhead, an individual distinct from God the Father and Christ, whose sole purpose it is to send us divine revelation in our lives.

But what if the spirit is a river like my friend suggested? What if the spirit isn’t as direct a way of getting what we need to know right now as we think? What if, in fact, the river is more like the way that artists and writers talk about creativity, the muse, or a way of getting out of ourselves and becoming part of a collective unconscious of a sort? I find it useful in certain ways to think of inspiration as being less directed from God and more something that you just bump up against. It isn’t always clear what inspiration is for, and maybe it doesn’t always have to be. Maybe inspiration is just part of being human, part of being both inside of ourselves and outside of ourselves.

I’m not going to try to argue here that my writing is always spiritual or inspired. There are times when a book idea does seem to come from outside of myself. But there’s also a lot of work and skilled effort that goes into making a raw idea into something that is publishable or understandable to anyone other than myself. On the other hand, there are times when I try very hard to write down exactly what I think the spirit is telling me, at least for myself, and not to add myself into it. This is probably an impossible task, since the minute I start using human words to describe the ineffable, that’s when it recedes from me. But perhaps it’s a useful task to set myself in any case—to write that which cannot be written, but only pointed at. (In fact, this is what my Master’s Thesis was about—writers who point beyond the words of their texts to a silence that tells more than words can.)

Certainly I would not try to coerce other people into reading or honoring my text by telling them that it is inspired. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t try to seek out spiritual guidance in my work. It’s just that the guidance happens in many different ways and at many stops along the way, not just in the idea itself and me writing it down initially. Inspiration doesn’t come to those who “deserve” it. It doesn’t always come to the worthy or the pure. And so sometimes I think we dismiss the inspiration we hear from voices we don’t want to listen to, because how can they know anything when their lives are no good example to follow?

Inspiration can come to me through someone else, reading a book or something on-line, through a ritual I’ve performed a hundred times before—but never like this, through music or an embrace. It can come when I’m sitting at my computer, with my hands on the keys, or when I’m cooking dinner and it’s really inconvenient for me to take a moment to write something down. It can hit when I’m in the bathtub, on the toilet, or in the middle of the night when I wish for one damned minute that I could go back to sleep instead and the inspiration could hit me when I’ve had a good night’s sleep instead. It’s not convenient. It doesn’t come when I call it, or at least, it isn’t biddable. I can practice to get better at listening to the inspiration, at being at its beck and call and so it will come more often, but I also have to accept that it might not come this time.

To me, the spirit can feel like a nudge, like a voice, like a reminder of something I’ve forgotten. It can also feel like diving into water and going so deep I’m afraid I will drown. It can feel like seeing something from someone else’s perspective that I’ve never seen before. It can be audible, or visual. It can be simply emotional. It feels like it’s outside of me, but sometimes it also feels like it comes from some deep part of myself that I’ve never let myself admit exists before. It is all of these things, and maybe none of them.

I’m not going to pretend that I have better access to the spirit as a creative person than anyone else. But I do think that practice helps you to learn to put yourself to the side and let something else speak through you. And also sometimes to stop being afraid of being yourself, of being exposed as the truly small and insignificant, but deeply feeling human that you are. We’re all practicing this together, and yes, I believe that there is always a creative part to the spiritual and spiritual to the creative. No one is specially chosen as the only recipient of this power. It’s our birthright as human, curse and gift, joy and work. Join me!



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