Surprised by the Muse

(written in April 2011)

Yesterday I left home at 6:45 a.m. and returned at 9:45 p.m. – one of those long days that exhaust me to numbness. The evening’s activity was worth the consequences: honoring our senior thesis award winner, some time to chat with his family and other students. But it was a long day.

When I left in the morning, the horizon was just turning its morning pastels, the sky lightening to a darker shade of its approaching day-time hue. The morning star greeted me cheerfully in the blank expanse, promising a sunny day at last. I wondered where and when and what phase the moon might be.

During the drive and several times during the day, I found myself considering that question. I could have looked it up, but never considered doing so; I didn’t really want to know, I only wondered.

Next spring, I will have a sabbatical, my first one ever. My goal is to create a book-length collection of familiar essays; one of those essays will address why the moon has become my muse. And it is because the moon is my muse that I don’t study her phases and the times of her rising and setting.

A muse by definition is not predictable. She comes and goes at her own pleasure; mine teases with her appearance in faculty meetings and church services, refusing to show her face when time abounds. She offers brilliance that leads to pages of helpful words, or she might barely peek in, if I am fortunate, to offer the revision of a single phrase. As Flannery O’Connor said about her strict schedule of writing, working at her desk during the same hours each day, “If inspiration wants to find me, she knows where I am.” One cannot in any other way prepare for her wayward appearances, and so I have no desire to spoil the illusion of my muse’s lack of predictability with charts and graphs.

Still, my muse is not solely, or maybe even primarily, about the inspiration she now and then grants. She is more importantly about the reminder that I do this work not of myself – I am, as is she, merely reflected light. When I try to shine by my own power, I have only darkness to offer; I must do my work where I am and as I am directed, and let the One who is the Light decide what He will reflect of Himself in that work.

And so I never know where the moon is until she surprises me with her presence, in a noonday sky or on an eastern horizon, at the full or as a merest sliver. And so, turning onto the street of my home after my exhausting day, she lights my heart and spirit with her sudden, unexpected, and brilliant crescent directly ahead of me – and I am glad I was not looking for her.

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2 thoughts on “Surprised by the Muse

  1. I’m loving the quotation by Flannery O’Connor — how true! And if inspiration tends to strike at unpredictable hours, we’d do well to emulate Mary Oliver and carry a notebook wherever we go!

    About the moon, there’s something wonderful about seeing the moon, either gibbous or fractional, against a deep blue sky. I, too, love the moon. In Catholicism, she is a symbol of the Virgin Mary: one whose light, though “celestial,” is after all, reflected light from the Sun.

    Your essays, observations, and explorations are always most welcome. Thank you!

  2. So true about carrying a journal, Tom! I invariably get ideas when I have nothing to write on. The O’Connor comment is probably paraphrased; I couldn’t find the actual when I was getting ready to post this last night, but every place I saw it referenced it was close to this . . .

    Thanks for taking the time to read!

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