I did everything I could to avoid posting something this week.

I slowly and meticulously inventoried all our books, even alphabetized them. I spent an afternoon hiding in the attic (read: furnace in the sky), then prolongedly squawked about how hot it was. I made a lot of pour-over coffees. I initiated long conversations about any- and everything with people who had better things to do, including the homeless people in the park across the street.

loud-noises

And then the worst possible thing happened, which is that my to-do list of inverted priorities dwindled down to one major item left glaring up at me from the legal pad: POST. I tried covering it with a parking ticket to ease the stress, and when that didn’t work, I ducked out of the office altogether and didn’t come back for a full two days.

Eventually, of course, I had to face the demon, so I headed to the library with my computer and an armful of books in tow. The armful of books (currently a smattering of novelists, a social scientist, various and sundry theologians, and Anne Lamott, who is my life coach) is supposed to help me write, but this is a lie. It has never worked. Mostly the armful of books just stares at me—a mountain of other people’s completed works, perfection—while I nervously chew my pen. When I’m brave enough to actually open the books, I flit from page to page and book to book—anxious, fugitive, telling myself I’m looking for inspiration while in truth I’m running from the present moment (you know, the stark reality in which God is with us), where any hope of a possible true thought lies.

Dallas Willard, in his book Hearing God, gives a telling parallel for what some Christians (confessedly, this one too) tend to do when they’re seeking inspiration:

In primitive rituals such as ‘Bible roulette’ (picking verses at random for guidance) frequently practiced by present-day believers, we see a desperate urgency to get a word from God, especially a word on what is going to happen and what we should do about it. If necessary, some people are prepared to force such a word from God or someone else. … Hearing God cannot be a reliable and intelligible fact of life except when we see his speaking as one aspect of his presence with us, of his life in us. Only our communion with God provides the appropriate context for communications between us and him.

It strikes me that we’re doing almost the same thing, me and these Christians. Armful-of-books roulette—flipping furiously through pages, trying to find something that speaks—is on par with Bible roulette as an endlessly alluring but also endlessly fruitless love affair with control. It’s the approach to the book, of course, and not the book itself that’s the problem. (I’m sure Marilynne Robinson would be plenty inspiring if I weren’t holding a penknife to her words, yelling “Inspire me!” and actually expecting something to happen.)

bible-roulette

None of this comes as hard-fought-and-won revelation. I’m sprawled out on the floor of the library (it’s a special, privately-owned library, where they’re pretty short on judgment) when a friend on staff walks in and sees me lying next to the armful of books, which stands tall and proud and menacing beside this collapsed little person.

“What’s your deal?”

“I’m trying to write a thing.”

We talk a little; I explain what I’m thinking about, why none of it is working, when out of the blue she asks me, “What color is your rabbit’s foot?”

“What?”

“What color is your rabbit’s foot? You know, you’re trying to re-enter some space where you can write and everything is clear by rubbing some lucky rabbit’s foot.”

“Oh, yeah. It’s green.”

“Huh. Mine’s pink.”

Ridiculousness engenders freedom, or maybe it’s the other way around—either way, she’s dead right, and it shakes me. In the face of what I perceive to be the law not merely of Thou Shalt Post but of Thou Shalt Post and It Shall Be Good (completely imagined, because if anything at all has been articulated here, it’s the opposite), I do try to rub the lucky rabbit’s foot of reading people I think are Good and Interesting, all in the hope I can be like these little gods. I keep thinking I can storm the realm of grace, where words flow free because the writer is unconcerned with perfection, precisely by putting perfection in the crosshairs and firing away.

The bad news is that I’m a hopelessly bad shot; the good news is that, as Gerhard Forde puts it, “utter despair of our own ability … looks to the grace of Christ and so leads to life.” Granted, he’s speaking about and against works-based salvation, and I’m just talking about works (or work) in general, but you see how they resonate. Rubbing the rabbit’s foot doesn’t get us anywhere–not with our work, not with our friends and families, and certainly not with God–and if it leads to a despair that leads us to Christ, that’s pure gift.

It’s certainly not the first time I’ve tried rubbing the rabbit’s foot and come away defeated, and it probably won’t be the last, but as for today that keychain is bobbing in the river. The armful of books is at home, where maybe later it can actually be enjoyed for what it is, not instrumentally used to get somewhere.

Meanwhile, the weekend is here and I’m thinking of getting a Tamagotchi to hang in the rabbit foot’s place. Those were always cooler, anyway.

tamagotchi-kid