10 October 2009

Full Engagement

The purple flowers of a bush growing just outside my bedroom door open in sunlight and close at night. The leaves of the bush are a vibrant green. It thrills me when the big yellow butterfly stops by: the color combination is almost psychedelic.

Summer is winding down. The morning sunlight is less intense. Dead purple petals litter the ground around the bush. Today, the yellow butterfly was nowhere in sight. There was only a trio of small, rusty-mud colored butterflies, flitting about, choosing a bloom and parking on the lip of the flower. They lean headfirst toward the throat of the bloom and push their heads inside. For a long minute, they drink. I looked closely for signs of breathing and saw none. "What a way to die!" I thought, just before one of the three awakened from his stupor and floated lazily to another flower face.

Drinking deeply, total abandon, hardly breathing, focused....pleasure.

I'm re-reading Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. In the lush, trembling arrival of Spring, the central protagonist, Janie, has a conversion experience--the first strong stirrings of womanhood are excited in her adolescent mind and body. I hadn't felt that part of the book so strongly when I read it 10 or 15 years ago.

I'm also reading and re-reading as many Toni Morrison books as I can find at the library. I finished Sula last night and Love is at the bedside table. I want to re-read Beloved and Tar Baby, too. Morrison is a national treasure and, like the butterflies, she does lean in single mindedly with total focused abandon in her work. Drinks deeply and produces literature that satisfies deep thirst.

Sun calls the flowers. The flowers call the butterflies. Call and response.

It's said that creative activity is the way we humans cooperate and collaborate with God (however you conceive or define that word). We meet God halfway in a never-ending call-and-response cycle. The response part is crucial. I wait sometimes, too much of the time, for a Call. For an inspiration so potent that I will be compelled to respond. Fully, deeply, with abandon. Yet, the Call is all around me and within me all the time. God's part is done. The response part, my part, lags.

This, for me, is at the core of religion or strong faith or spiritual practice. The practice is about showing up, over and over again, stepping into partnership with God, dancing with the Life Force. Staying Awake.

This is a rather neglected aspect of my life for a few years now. Mostly I only talk about spirituality now, reminisce rather than practice. I live what I believe, as far as that can be done without taking action. It's a passive spirituality.

The topic of talented black male visionaries in the non-profit world has come up a few times lately. Among the provocative ideas the topic sparks, I wonder what drives them. Is it a response to a Call or something inside that won't let them rest? Or a combination? Or something else? Is their vision their religion?

artist: Erik Kaye

The momentary hallucination I mentioned in the last post included a sense of passionate, purpose-driven living. My house guest this week walks with one question these days-- "Is it sustainable?" This week we've applied the question far beyond the housing, ecology and political themes that generally inspire her work. What about purpose-driving living: Is it sustainable?

I don't have the last word on that from personal experience. I've read that such work/living, feeds the worker and so it IS sustainable.

This week, I will run an experiment. I will respond to every creative call. Will Response feed me? Is it sustainable?


  1. Thank you for this exploration of creativity, call and response ... A quote from the film *Babette's Feast" has been with me the past day or two: "An artist is never poor."


    It rings true, but I don't know exactly why. Any clues, ideas?

  2. No strong inklings. Although I'm tempted to suggest the rich inner life that the artist's imagination provides as a possible answer, there are plenty of artists who've experienced lengthy and/or permanent lapses in imagination. Who made the statement in the film?

  3. Babette herself, the artist/chef, after her employers want to pity her for having spent all her money preparing that one fabulous meal. What you just said about a rich inner life seems like what was intended, but I agree that there are lapses in imagination as well. Hmm. Maybe I just *want* it to be true.


What do you feel about what you just read?