Inspiration Conversation: featuring “The Disciple’s Information Desk”

“Everybody walks past a thousand story [and poem] ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any.”

– Orson Scott Card

Poets get inspiration from all sorts of intricate corners of the world: the rhythmic Boing! of a basketball bouncing on cement; a self-help book’s chapter on other people’s opinions; an annoying, overreaching song on the radio, or even a client’s heartfelt complaint over the phone. Well, I just received inspiration from a sermon I listened to on this snowy March morning. I opened my living room and kitchen blinds; I let the blinding snow-light flood my home; I set out my laptop for the service’s live stream on the coffee table, and I wrapped myself in a large sweater on my sinking couch, ready for Sunday morning’s learning. And while my thin-socked toes froze, I heard my pastor’s sermon on the Transfiguration.

For those unfamiliar with the event, it is when Christ takes three of his disciples, Peter, James and John, with him up onto a mountain. While there Christ’s appearance suddenly changes, and out of the blue he is joined by Elijah and Moses. (Note that these two prophets have been dead quite a long time.) The disciples are stunned, and Peter literally blabbers out of shock. He’s interrupted, though, by an enveloping cloud, out of which God speaks and basically tells the disciples to “shut up” and listen to Jesus. After the cloud leaves, Elijah and Moses are gone, and everyone is ominously silent. Quite the event, huh? (Unsummarized version in Luke 8:28-36.)

Now during this event, the rest of Jesus’ disciples (he has a total of 12) have been approached by a man whose son is possessed and terrorized by a demon. This father asks the disciples to heal his son, but all nine disciples fail. But when Jesus comes down the mountain, this same man also approaches him, entreating Jesus to heal his only son. Unsurprisingly, Jesus heals the boy of the evil spirit, but not before saying something that really puzzled me: “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you?” (Luke 8:41a). I mentally gasped. Jesus was annoyed. How on earth? He, in a sense, actually complained. But at who, exactly? About what? It’s one of those semi-ambiguous complaints, and my imaginative mind doesn’t quite know what to do with it.

And that’s when an image struck me. I saw myself at my day job, at my desk, waiting for people to come in with questions that maybe I can answer and maybe I can’t. I saw the times I succeeded. I saw the times I’ve failed. I saw the times I’ve become annoyed and couldn’t bear the questions anymore. Then I saw the following poem shaping in my imagination:

The Disciple’s Information Desk 
Luke 8:37-43

They come to me, eyes
wild with confusion
to search and search
The woman losing her
coin, her whole day’s
wages, the shepherd
scouring his pastures
the woods, the streams
for his lost sheep
They come to me

To my unattractive desk
with their unprepared
Questions, with their
frantic hearts beating
out of their rushed mouths
And I listen, I half listen
I can only half understand
these harder questions
I cannot answer, I can
not fix. I am not the
Master. I am only the
Student worker here.

I am one of the helpless
disciples. Why Sir, do you
Come to me with this issue?
"I need help, and your boss is
not here." Then I will try. I
will listen. I will half listen
and half understand. I will
fail. "Please do something!
My son… my Son has gone
through enough with this demon!"
He is searching. This father
Searches for an answer from
me. And I fail.

I am a helpless disciple
Sitting at this unattractive desk
That brings forth the people
with questions. I walk with
the Wise, with the Miraculous
but I cannot heal your son
You must wait for my boss
to come down from the
Mountain. You must wait
until the manager is here.

- An original poem by Julie E. Harms

Perhaps I’ve broken the poets’ code by detailing my pre-poem inspiration, but I did so purposefully, and I willingly put myself at the scrutiny of other poets. I think it is important in the conversation concerning inspiration. Once upon a time poets wrote the highest form of poetry if they could allude to the most elaborate mythological, historical, or religious references. They were writing for the educated society, to those who could understand such images and complexities.

But in my opinion, contemporary poetry does not use outside inspiration to show its superiority; contemporary poetry uses outside inspiration as a conduit that makes the poem relatable to the contemporary reader. The fact that I used biblical inspiration for this poem does not on its own merit make it a better poem than others. But the fact that I took biblical contents and connected them to an everyday trial or experience is what heightens the poem.

Another poem that does this (and in my opinion does it better) is Helen Considers Leaving Troy, by Jeanann Verlee. Verlee modernizes the woman of Greek legend, allowing the reader to theorize and consider Helen in the light of a modern woman trapped in an undesired relationship. Not only does her content reflect this, but Verlee also uses a creative structure to accomplish that relatability. Each stanza is fueled with inner thoughts affected by an established situation: “while walking the dog,” “while paying the bills,” “when Menelaus writes a letter,” etc,.  These tie Helen to the present day, and overall create a more relatable Helen that we as contemporary readers find we can more intricately understand.

In relation to my own writing, I can hardly write without inspiration, It must be from something or someone or because of somewhere. In any artist’s creation there has been a touch of inspiration to spur that said creation. It may be big, it may be small, it may be a legendary figure from history, it may be words from an ancient book, or it may be snow-blinding light that still floods through my windows as I type. Whatever inspiration comes next, I hope to catch it as successfully as I did today. I’ve missed many a poem because I did not grasp the tails of inspiration soon enough. But that, my literary friends, is a thought to explore on another day.

“Not knowing when the dawn will come I open every door.”

– Emily Dickinson