We recently watched a TED talk by "Eat, Pray, Love" author Elizabeth Gilbert. I have not read her book yet, but found her talk quite fascinating. Watch it on a Sunday afternoon when you are more likely to have 20 minutes, unless you're the second counselor of a bishopric: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=86x-u-tz0MA. Gilbert spoke on the topic of genius, how the ancient Greeks believed that someone who created or did something amazing was not inherently brilliant in and of themselves, rather their skill or lack their of was attributable to their genius, what they believed was an unseen whisperer of secret knowledge and inspiration. Gilbert then explained how over time, especially during the Renaissance, the world came to slowly replace this with the concept that a person succeeds or fails based on their own powers and talents.
Gilbert said that she believed that this new model was a mistake and that she felt there was more truth to the Greek model of genius. She based this opinion on her own experience in writing. Often, she felt that information was given by an outside source as she was struggling to solve a problem. Later, she began directly addressing this source and asked it to give her the information her creative work required. I have often felt the process of obtaining inspiration has been similar for me, and I see God as the knowledge giver.
As an example, I remember working on my capstone research project as a history student. My capstone class covered middle eastern studies and my class had only four people including myself, so unfortunately my professor afforded each of us a lot of personal attention and the lofty expectations. He expected that we would each produce a 25-50 page research paper. Yikes! To even begin such a daunting journey I had to have a research idea, and sadly I had just come down with "historian's block", a distant cousin to the ailment more commonly contracted by writers and other creative types. This wasn't just my diagnosis: my professor held no qualms about bluntly informing me that all my ideas stank. Day after day I wrestled with this problem until I found myself with absolutely nothing and my topic proposal was due the next morning. I went to bed and prayed for help with the kind of fervor that imagine comes only to those who know they will die tomorrow.
And my prayer was answered: I don't remember inspiration or an answer to prayer coming to me in quite this way before, but that night I dreamed of an amazing research idea. It was such a good idea that I remember thinking it couldn't have come from me. The dream was so vivid, (which is saying a lot since this was an answer to a research problem) and I saw every point I needed to include from start to finish. I then woke up at 7:00 am and began writing everything I dreamed down on paper. One hour later I had a topic proposal printed and ready for my meeting with my professor. I was shocked by my professor's reaction: it was the first time he had ever praised my work and he said it was apparent I had spent a lot of time developing my research topic. What he didn't know, and what I was too embarrassed to admit was that I had only put hand to keyboard less than an hour earlier.
Unfortunately, I don't seek this kind of revelation often enough, but I was reminded again how much easier life would be if I had a constant flow of this kind of useful and relevant information. It turns out that I was laying in bed tonight and "my genius" began talking to me again telling me some really useful things--it was a nice reunion. (Uncle Mike would suggest I get my head examined, lay on his couch, or both.)
As a side note I'm definitely an internet addict, and I think this is due in part to the fact that I have come to believe, somewhat naively that the answers to all of life's questions can be found via Google. I have often sat here, at my desk, clicking and re-clicking my three favorite web links (Gmail, Slickdeals, GoogleNews . . . Gmail, Slickdeals, GoogleNews), hoping that something would penetrate my skull, inspire me, or motivate me. Sadly the internet is somewhat lacking when it comes to getting good, relevant information to the really tough questions. Strangely, we live in the "Information Age" but so much information is, in fact, misinformation and exhausting to sift through. Some of the best answers to my questions have come to my mind in the quiet of the night when I can't remember when I prayed for help, or even what I prayed for, but I realize that the information I'm receiving is something I need to remember and act on, so I write it down, and thank God for telling me.