I would claim that I have been inspired at times in the past. Since I know Latin, I know the word literally means to have air or the spirit blown into us---“breathed into.” Normally the language of inspiration involves the Deity. For centuries people would think that God inspired people. To this end, inspiration carried the notion that it was an opening or access to special or revelatory knowledge. In this sense inspiration was always a gift. Inspiration came from the outside.
I don’t disagree with any of this. I do think inspiration is a gift in the sense that it comes from without. This does not discount hard work or study. Often they are prerequisites for inspiration. I also like the idea that inspiration comes to us if we are open. I suppose it is theoretically possible for inspiration to come to someone who is closed and not looking for anything. However, the normal and expected coming of inspiration happens to those who are looking for it.
I also believe that God inspires people. Of course, if you are atheistic, then this makes no sense. If there is no God, surely there is no divine inspiration! This does not mean that atheists cannot be inspired. It does mean they would never think the source of inspiration is God. This is not the place nor the time to take on this point. Suffice it to say, since I do believe in some sort of Divine Being, I think that Being can be (and usually is) the source of inspiration.
What intrigues me is the process of the inspiration. As I thought about my own experience, I realized that inspiration seldom has been momentous. That is to say for me, inspiration is not some big mountaintop revelation. I don’t discount these kinds of experiences. Perhaps I have even had one or more that would be categorized as such. In my case, however, these were not moments of inspiration so much as occasions of experiencing the presence of the Divine Spirit. Hence, I am distinguishing between the experience of the presence of God and the experience of being inspired by God.
For me inspiration more often has been incremental. That is to say, inspiration has tended to come slowly over time. And more often than not, inspiration has come in little bits. If I were to use an analogy, inspiration is more like the dawning of a new day rather than the sudden burst of sunlight at noontime. Inspiration is more like the greying light that begins to brighten as the sun emerges into the full day. In the beginning it might be hardly discernable.
Because inspiration is incremental, it can be easily missed or overlooked. Analogously, if we are paying attention to the breaking of a new day, it is quite difficult to discern exactly when the night is finished and day has begun. That is why I like to describe inspiration as a kind of dawning awareness. Let me give you an example.
I have had three major career moves. Because I wanted to be involved in a work situation where I felt “led” to be there, that meant even in my first career spot, I felt inspired by God to be there. I realize this is very traditional language. I can try to explain in some detail more about the process of being inspired by God to take a particular career piece. It would be true for me, but would be singularly unconvincing to an atheist. But I am ok with that.
My second career move was equally inspired by God. In many ways this career move made little sense to a secular person. In the eyes of the secular world, I lost money, status and more. Why would anyone want to do this? It was a legitimate question, but the answer was simple: I was inspired by God to make the move. The inspiration was not momentous. It came to me incrementally. Only gradually and over time, was I more and more internally convinced this was how God was moving in me. Of course, I could have been wrong. After all, it is about faith. I trusted God and my process of discerning inspiration.
My third move simply repeated the incremental inspirational process. Career moves seem fairly big in life. However, inspiration is not limited to “big time items.” I am convinced I have been inspired in fairly small and, sometimes, seemingly insignificant ways. There have been many occasions when I felt inspired just to be quiet and wait. Perhaps I have remained more open because of this.
And just as many times, someone may come into my waiting presence with a problem or opportunity that I am able to take action. This has happened too many times for me to discount it as pure happenstance.
I go back to where I began. So much inspiration happens incrementally. It depends on me being open to the possibility. I need to provide access to my inner being for God to breathe in some spirit. I need to be aware and attentive. I don’t force anything. I wait for whatever gift may be given. And if there is no gift, that is ok. Life goes on. But when the gift of inspiration comes, I give thanks and respond.