As an English teacher, I am interested in the creative processes of the writers I like to read. Before I actually studied the matter, I imagined that a writer, struck by the muse, would retreat from normal life to some secret, perhaps exotic location, enter a world of magical, uninterrupted creativity, and emerge with a flawless, profound utterance. But then I read that Shakespeare would frequently compose in bustling taverns, mostly because of the free lighting at night (candles and lamp oil weren’t cheap), but also to keep an eye out for a possible colorful character sketch or conversation that might work its way into a play. Stephen King writes daily for the same amount of time, as if he were punching the clock for a job, and Jonathan Franzen, one of my favorite living writers, writes in an office with only a desk, a lamp, and a computer with just Microsoft Word on it. Many writers note that they wrote their best material when they weren’t feeling particularly inspired. I read an interview with another writer who sums up all of this nicely: “I do my best work and am most creative when I am connected to the business of real daily life.”
John the Baptist, who is featured in today’s Gospel, is viewed by the people with the similar hyperbolic image I once had of writers. The crowds gather eagerly around John, whom they suspect may be the Messiah, the truth bearer, their new moral and spiritual compass incarnate. They question him as if he were an oracle: “What should we do?”
I could almost hear John sighing peevishly before he answered. He seemed overwhelmed and irritable about having to address their inflated expectations. His answers, and I paraphrase: “Be charitable. Don’t cheat or bully people or gossip about them. Be thankful for what you have.”
Later on, Jesus, particularly in his parables, provides similarly un-glamorous commands for living a life pleasing to God: The Good Samaritan: be compassionate; the Prodigal Son: forgive people even when they screw up royally; The Persistent Widow: be steadfast in prayer.
Writers eventually have to deal with the critics, some of whom will pan even their best work. But Jesus has taught us just a few simple qualities to make the story of our life an enduring masterpiece in God’s eyes, and they are nothing more profound than love, humility, kindness and compassion.
— Mr. David Brumfield, English Teacher