Monday Over Coffee: "Elusive"

Published July 17, 2023 by Greg Funderburk

You can't order it about or hit it with a stick. You have to coax it out in all sorts of strange and crafty ways.

—John Cleese, Creativity

If you're in my age demographic, you probably grew up quoting Monty Python. Everyone has a favorite line or two from the irreverent British comedy troupe: "It's not pining. It's passed on. It has ceased to be." (Dead Parrot sketch); "It's just a flesh wound." (The Holy Grail movie); and of course, "Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!" (Spanish Inquisition sketch).

After the group's successful run on British television and their string of popular movies came to an end, most of the "Pythons" stayed in show business and continued to do remarkable things. Terry Gilliam became a full-time film director. Eric Idle wrote his memoirs, a science fiction novel, and then gave one of the most comic yet moving eulogies ever at his friend, George Harrison's memorial service. Michael Palin is a passionate traveler and has starred in a series of critically acclaimed travel-related TV shows. And finally, John Cleese has starred in several James Bond and Harry Potter films and was nominated for an Oscar for his screenplay, A Fish Called Wanda

Cleese also recently came out with a marvelously brief and insightful book called Creativity, which offers some terrific tips on writing, art, and accessing the creative impulses he suggests we all share. In it, Cleese recounts a number of situations in which, while writing a sketch for Monty Python with his writing partner, Graham Chapman, the gag at the center of the sketch would stall out. He just couldn't come up with a good ending. Frustrated with the endeavor, he might put it aside for a while or even give up on it completely and go to bed. However, a little later, or even the next morning after a good sleep, the ideal comic conclusion would simply present itself to him. "I began to realise that my unconscious was working on stuff all the time, without my being consciously aware of it."

In speaking about how the unconscious is like an elusive muse that works as a mysterious ally to our creative instincts, Cleese goes on to say, "the language of the unconscious is not verbal. It's like the language of dreams. It shows you images, it gives you feelings, it nudges you around without you immediately knowing what it's getting at.... You can't order it about or hit it with a stick. You have to coax it out in all sorts of strange and crafty ways."

Rather mysteriously and sometimes frustratingly, our faith can be like this, as well. It seems to be a part of how the Holy Spirit works resident within us. We're told the Spirit is there, but we don't always sense the Spirit's closeness. We feel around and hope the Spirit emerges and is made known to us. It's also in how prayer seems to operate inconsistently, even sporadically, in our lives. Let's be honest. The feeling of God's presence can be elusive. Sometimes it seems like our prayers are just vanishing into the thin air as they metaphorically ascend to heaven.

John Cleese's book spoke to me because I think that what creativity is to our unconscious, the Spirit is to our soul. They're connected, interlaced, curiously tethered in some mystical way, and when we open-heartedly, open-mindedly offer the Spirit our best efforts, our earnest energy, and the asset of our time, something usually emerges from these efforts, just not always in the way we think or within the timeframe we might prefer. There's resistance and flow. There are stops and starts, ups and downs. That's just part of it. It's the nature of how we commune and connect with the Spirit of God. It's just how the physical encounters the spiritual. It's how humanity interacts with the divine. It's how the heavenly flows into, and on rare occasions, might fleetingly envelop the earthly.

Just as Cleese says of the unconscious, the Spirit of God can't be ordered about or hit with a stick. Though we know God is always there, the Spirit must be coaxed out, lured out into the open sometimes. It requires patience, endurance, persistence, and close attending. It requires employing some strange and crafty ways. Sometimes it's earned through stillness. However, other times, it's just bestowed upon us unexpectedly in a moment of grace. It's hard to figure, but if we trust, if we hope, if we wait—the Spirit usually shows up, or maybe again it doesn't right away. Maybe some time passes; maybe we awake to the new day and the Spirit will appear right before us with just what we need.

Or not.

But then, when we least expect it...

God—You move marvelously in mysterious ways. Amen.

Greg Funderburk