on notebooks

Originally published here for Chapel

I recently heard a talk from a lovely man on obedience of the Holy Spirit. He described the first act of Jesus’ ministry, when Jesus was at a wedding and his mum pointed out there wasn’t any wine left. She grabbed some servants and told them, “Do whatever he tells you to do.” Jesus sent some wine over to the master of the party, and, upon tasting it, he said, “You’ve saved the best for last.” 

A mentor of mine has been telling me a lot recently about what it means to experience contentment with God. He describes it like a day spent hiking up a long way, ending with setting up camp and starting a fire. He said, “Imagine sitting next to the fire, and you’re right next to God. You don’t have to say anything; you just sit next to each other and enjoy each other’s presence.” I’ve heard a few times that you’re most comfortable with the people who you don’t have to search for words with. Obedience is kind of like that: “He makes me lay down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters.”

A little while ago, I accidentally ordered a Moleskin notebook that was a little too small for what I needed it for, however I realized it fit well in my front pocket. Eventually I started carrying around a pen, and now I always have both with me. My notebook has showed me some things about obeying God through planning, empathizing with people, listening to the Spirit, and rest that I want to share with you. 

This morning, a program on NPR cited a study that said you’re 49% more likely to follow through with plans you write down. I run a few times a week with a great friend of mine, and she’s told me stories about how her father would sit down each morning and write a list of everything he wanted to accomplish that day. For the past year, I’ve tried the same. There’s something powerful about birthing your ideas onto a page; seeing a living, existing thing in front of you that once lived in your psyche is a power towards accomplishing your callings in life. 

One of the best part about notebooks, though, are that they are completely useless if not used. The creative process involves creating something out of nothing, and the practice couldn’t be more true with a blank page. I’m a fan of Agnes Martin, a mid century artist from Canada. If you’ve ever seen her work, especially Untitled #12, it’s characteristic of a notebook’s page. The lines she drew on her canvases showed such restraint with the space left in between, and most of her pieces invite imagination of clarity and tranquility. A notebook’s pages are similar, in that they exist for that which you use them for. Creativity lives in the freedom to take risks, and there’s no greater risk than to put into existence something that didn’t exist before. 

Notebooks are a social good. I was convicted at a conference I went to last year; one of the talks I listened to was on being present in the moment with people you speak with, and I am the worst around with accomplishing that. The guy talking said that one part of being present with others is to remember the details. A world where we invest in each other’s details is one with less misunderstandings, and more times learning from one another. The habit of writing down things other people suggest has been invaluable in my life, and I would guess it could be in yours as well. When you follow up with details others describe, there’s a connection of empathy between you both. Out of empathy comes understanding, out of understanding, compassion. 

Most of the books you might have read have been from ordinary people writing down their extraordinary thoughts. Great works that change us today sometimes have their beginnings on the pages of a notebook. Your thoughts are gifts; Jesus spent much of his time in the quiet, with God, praying about his purpose here. The things we do are because of our purposes in life, or the roles & goals we have. You are unique in your experience, passion, and gifts; communing with God and obeying the Spirit in the things you’re lead to do allow you to walk the way God has for you. Sometimes, a notebook is a plane for the Spirit to exist on like this, or a field for your mind to elate with God in. 

Notebooks are not the answer, but the medium on which your own questions and answers are processed on. Like a brush to the painter, or the kettle for when making your morning coffee, it paves the path on the way to a greater purpose. Consider your purpose; what calling is the Spirit whispering to you today? Write them down on a page in a poem; a list; a single thought; if you wish, and see where God takes you.