Monday, 5 December 2011
On inspiration overload: My time at Festival of Faith and Writing 2014
The first day pulls you in.
The opening plenary, amazing. You see friends from Twitter and have the strange experience of mentally fitting their face to their avatar. It’s too hard to choose breakout session options, and when you peruse live tweets you always feel like you picked the wrong one. But no matter. Tomorrow’s a full day of sessions and speakers and options. And although it’ll take you another month to listen to all you want to, you silently pray thanks for session recording.
Throughout the conference you feel a thousand emotions a minute. Inspired by one author’s words, weighed down by the next, both lifted up and cast into despair several times just that morning. Those writers you admire so much give their gift and you can’t help but feel dim next to their glow. You see the overabundance of talent and gifting and all the words being sent out into the world, and you wonder if your small voice matters at all. You suspect it’s already all been said.
Then, Anne Lamott gives you permission to be yourself just by virtue of being so genuinely herself. But seriously, the woman tells us she’s trying to love her body, then stands up and shakes her back fat for us. It’s so bizarre and yet, you’re not sure you’ve ever seen anything more brave and beautiful. And though you know of her success, you’ve read her and you know how widely she’s read and how beloved she is, but she doesn’t let jealousy or despair dominate. She tells you to write, she asks you please to write, to create, to do what you were made to do, and you believe her. She sounds like God herself, full of grace and love for your angst and small gifts.
By the third day, maybe you’ve already cried a few times. There’s only so much time, so Festival organizers have to pack the schedule full. I’m sure they turn away many worthy session options, even. But the truth of it is — there’s no margin. You want desperately to take a break, but more desperately don’t want to miss this next session on writing and justice, or the one after that on voice or memoir or poetry. I mean, it’s Luci Shaw. How could you skip that? You find a bench in the sunshine to just sit, and a new friend finds you, and it’s wonderful and important and when will you next get this chance?, but then you’re rushing off again. You’ve underestimated your need for downtime, especially in a creative and inspiring space like this.
You keep thinking ahead to the last plenary session, okay, partly because you want it to end even though you really really don’t. But most of all you know you’ll need the true words you know will be spoken on jealousy and art. Because have you stopped comparing yourself since you arrived? Have you been able to stop just for one minute and recognize how your unique calling fits, really sings here among all these voices, and you can stop looking around now? Maybe that’s why you’re so exhausted.
So when Rachel Held Evans says “We serve at the pleasure of a generous master. There’s plenty of work to do,” and then repeats it again and again, keeps singing it over us, like a psalm, like a lullaby, like a benediction, you can finally exhale. You can see how patient God is with you in your smallness, in your ignorance. You can see how he delights in you and gently tells you to knock it off already. Because comparison and jealousy will always cloud the real work He’s calling you to.
And to quote Annie Lamott (and her friend Pammy), honey, you don’t have that kind of time.