In a recent New York Times, David Brooks talks about the disciplined habits of creative writers. Maya Angelou used to wake every morning at 5:30, drink her coffee, and then retreat to small hotel room that she kept for her writing. With nothing but a desk, a chair, a Bible, a deck of cards, and a bottle of sherry she would write until 12:30 or so.
John Cheever would get up early, put on his only suit, ride the elevator to a dark basement room, take off his suit, and write in his boxer shorts until noon. Then he would put his suit back on, and ride the elevator back up for lunch.
It was this order in the lives of Maya and John that provided the the ardor and creativity of their writing. One could not happen without the other.
As a Presbyterian pastor, I have suffered for years through lame jokes about the “frozen chosen” – we Calvinists who are obsessed by doing everything decently and in order. And I am sometimes guilty of crushing creativity in the guise of proper polity and procedure. But I also know that in my own life, my habits of the heart are what give shape to my most passionate and generative work. It is order that gives birth to my ardor.
An hour of strenuous exercise and stretching – three times a week – is what gives me physical energy and emotional stability throughout the week. When I miss it, both my body and my soul hurt. Spiritual reading and morning devotion time is what helps me connect with the holy, so that the day becomes about something bigger than me. Daily conversation with my husband – away from the phone and technology – is what keeps our love open and growing. And after 40 years of preaching, I know that my most eloquent sermons need 6 to 8 hours of research, prayer, and writing in order to truly sing.
As I watch my son and his wife raise their little boy, I am amazed – and a bit chagrined – at the discipline of their parenting habits. No TV, naps at exactly the same time every day, sacrificial spending for exceptional daycare, and skin on skin hugging every evening. I was never that disciplined as a young Mom! But the joy, creativity and freedom that this little boy expresses most of the time convinces me that it is the order in his life that gives birth to the ardor of his precious little soul.
Thanks be to God!
Susan Andrews is the mother of Nathan and Anna, the wife of Sim, and the grandmother of Declan and little Ray (to be born the end of October). In her spare time she serves as General Presbyter of Hudson River Presbytery, and tries to instill order amidst the ardor of Presbyterians in the Hudson Valley.