Skip to main content

phone book

I just finished an online spiritual formation course. The final assignment was a creative project based on some concepts we studied over the last 4 weeks. Usually, ideas line up in my brain and eagerly pepper me with scenarios for possible projects. But this week, much to my dismay, everything was silent.

On Saturday, I tried to put some ideas down on paper, but after three attempts to come up with something creative (all of them whined about the fact that I was uninspired), I stopped. What do you do when you lack inspiration? Everything seems deflated and limp, void of life. Words fall flat - monotone and without meaning. Music becomes mechanical. I abandoned another idea mid-sentence and scribbled two words beneath the mess: phone book.

My lack of inspiration was reminding me of a saying. When something does not hold our interest, we say that it is about as exciting as reading the phone book. On the other hand, it is also said of someone who has great charisma that they can read the phone book and hold people's attention. And then I realised that a phone book, a book full of the names of real live people, is actually very exciting. Each name represents a living, breathing, human being on this planet. If I met them, I would likely find them engaging, interesting, and want to hear their story. No matter what their situation in life, they would also be carrying the image of God: that attractive, energising element of his glorious spirit. The whole earth is filled with God's glory, and that includes Jim, Lisa, Roger, and Nancy.

I woke up the next day and the idea was still there. So was some excitement about it, and the seeds of some practical ideas as to how to put it together. I also realised that being inspired is not just a feeling. Nor is it the ability to fill a bucket full of creative ideas time after time. It is having the breath of God in me, the life of God pulsing deep inside my soul. And that is as constant as he is, not as fickle as my emotions or thoughts.

Here, then, is my attempt to read the phone book. All photos are taken from my personal collection. I trust that my friends and the random strangers pictured here will not mind lending their faces for a brief second to show the glory of God. Big thanks to Dean who did his magic on the audio engineering side of things.

Big white phone books are no longer printed, so I got creative and accessed a few other lists, most of them online. The names used include all the children our church sponsors in South Africa, some employees at the Federal Trade Commission in Washington, DC, a few of my neighbours in Montreal whose last names start with "D," and pretty much the entire rundown of services and businesses in a small town in Botswana (Maun) found under the letter "R."

The whole earth is indeed so much more glorious than I am able to see. Open my eyes, God. Let me see your glory today. In all things great and small.


Shelley said…
I can't get any sound! boo far as I can tell the problem isn't on my end...I just watched that amazing 10 year old on america's got talent to check my headphones. and they work, and she was amazing...but I want to hear yours!
Matte Downey said…
hmmm. sound works fine on my computer. maybe make sure the sound is up on the bottom control panel of the video and that nothing else is muted?
Matte Downey said…
oh, and btw, there is silence for the first 17 seconds. :-)

Popular posts from this blog

the songs we sing

NOTE: I am going to make some pretty strong statements below, but understand that it is my way of taking an honest, hard look at my own worship experience and practice. My desire is not to be overly critical, but to open up dialogue by questioning things I have assumed were totally fine and appropriate. In other words, I am preaching to myself. Feel free to listen in.


When I am in a church meeting during the singing time, I sometimes find myself silent, unable to get the words past my lips. At times I just need a moment of stillness, time to listen, but other times, the words make me pause because I don't know that I can sing them honestly or with integrity. This is a good thing. We should never mindlessly or heartlessly sing songs just because everyone else is. We should care deeply about what we say in our sung, communal worship.

At their best, songs sung by the gathered body of Christ call to life what is already in us: the hope, the truth, the longing, t…

comedic timing

One of my favourite jokes goes like this:
Knock, knock.
Who's there?
Interrupting cow
Interrupting cow w---

Timing is important in both drama and comedy. A well-paced story draws the audience in and helps it invest in the characters, while a tale too hastily told or too long drawn out will fail to engage anyone. Surprise - something which interrupts the expected - is a creative use of timing and integral to any good story. If someone is reading a novel and everything unfolds in a predictable manner, they will probably wonder why they bothered reading the book. And so it is in life. Having life be predictable all of the time is not as calming as it sounds. We love surprises, especially good surprises like birthday parties, gifts, marriage proposals, and finding something that we thought was lost. Surprises are an important part of humour. A good joke is funny because it goes to a place you didn't expect it to go. Similarly, comedic timing allows something unexpected …

singing lessons

When I was a young child, a visiting preacher came to our country church. He brought his two daughters with him, and before he gave his sermon, they sang beautiful duets about Jesus. They had lovely voices which blended well. The preacher, meaning to impress on us their God-given musical talent, mentioned that the girls had never had any singing lessons. The congregation nodded and ooohhed in appreciation. I was puzzled. I didn't understand how not learning was a point of grace or even pride. After all, people who have natural abilities in sports, math, writing, art, or science find it extremely helpful to study under teachers who can aid them in their development and introduce them to things outside their own experience. Being self-taught (though sometimes the only option available to those with limited resources) is not a cause for pride or celebration. Why? Because that's just not how the communal, relational Creator set things up.

I have been singing since I was a child. …