And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten, the cankerworm, and the caterpiller, and the palmerworm, my great army which I sent among you.KJV, Joel 2.25
When, oh Lord, when? When we turn to you. When we place them in your hands. When we ask you to!
I am a bit of literalist sometimes in reading scripture. When I read, “They that wait upon the Lord will renew their strength. They will mount with wings like eagles,” I ask: How does that happen?
Which is what I usually ask when I read this: And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten?
I ask, How does that work out in practice?
Now, forgive me, God, and do not smile–for trying to reduce the immensity of your power to my capacity to understand it. But that is what I need to do, right now as I paddle in the shallows of your immensity
* * *
The phenomenon of the years the locusts have eaten being restored to us is actually not an unfamiliar one in the story of creativity.
I think of the wonderful poet Rainer Maria Rilke who gathered up strength and sweetness all his life as he struggled with a writers’ block which lasted for decades, indeed intermittently all his life. And then, in his phraseology, the angel came. And he wrote the beautiful Duino Elegies in an astonishing burst of creative power. Like Handel who wrote the Messiah in three weeks.
Faulker wrote As I Lay Dying in six weeks working six hours a night from midnight to six a.m. Annie Dillard comments on this, “Some people cross the Niagara Falls on a bike. Some eat cars. Who would offend the spirit who hands out such gifts?”
Samuel Johnson wrote his classic Rasselas in a week to pay for his mother’s funeral, creativity blossoming under time pressure. Sylvia Plath wrote her astonishing Ariel poems in her life blood over a period of weeks, “The blood flow is poetry/There’s no stopping it.”
I suppose Van Gogh experienced a similar burst of creativity before his incarceration.
The trick I suppose is to accept God’s gifts of creativity with open hands, flowing with his rhythms so that one can be creative for a long time, and not burn out like Plath or Van Gogh after their bursts of genius.