I don’t dance well but, when the music and mood strike, watch out! And I have danced with today’s guest post author; together, we have joyfully boogied at a friend’s wedding celebration and at concerts in the park. She danced with my kiddo first, though…she was one of his fabulous PreK teachers and, though I didn’t know it at the time, I’m sure he regularly moved between observer and participant during “Friday dance.” What I did know, what was abundantly clear, was that she loved him. She loved her students and she loved their parents. Her quiet wisdom draws us all in and keeps us there. I wish everyone I know could spend at least an hour soaking in Kristi’s generous presence, listening and being heard, learning and sharing, praying, laughing, dancing.
Create Challenge #16: Kristi Grover
“Love is the Energy of creation.”–Dorothy Sayers, Mind of the Maker
One of my mentors has often told me how, all her life long, she loved color and shapes. When she discovered paint as a young girl, it brought her great joy to use this medium to celebrate color and shapes on paper and canvas. Though she lived in a community that viewed such artistic expression as wrong and sinful, her father was held in high esteem; under his protection, she had freedom to paint. Moreover, her father was highly creative in his own way and encouraged her to express herself, to grow as an artist.
Eventually she fell in love with a wonderful young man and, after marrying him, moved far from home. No longer under her father’s protection, painting was no longer permissible. While she rejoiced in new love with her husband, she also experienced a private sense of loss and grief.
Slowly she found new ways to create beauty which were acceptable within the community: a garden with wide splashes of overlapping color, dramatic stone anchors, and an interplay of light and darkness; quilts and rugs and blankets fashioned of fabric bursting with innovative design; meals which celebrated the senses; a home which brought joy to all who entered. These gave her outlets for her creative energy and yet there remained an essential loneliness–she yearned to paint, and that was not allowed.
One hot summer day she canned fruit and vegetables from her garden. As the day ended and suppertime drew near, all kitchen surfaces were filled with cooling jars of produce. Where could she prepare their meal? She cleared space by stacking several jars on the window sill. As she turned to collect supper supplies, she suddenly saw a brilliant painting on the wide white kitchen wall. The setting sun burned through the varicolored jars and projected purples and reds and greens and oranges in a spectacular display. She stood still, transfixed by beauty. Smiling, she adjusted one jar to make the colors flow better. Then, in a burst of energy, she cleared them all off the sill and pulled together a different creation. After that, she said, “Every afternoon God and I would paint together.”
Eventually the young couple found a different community in which to honor God, where each could celebrate the unique artistic gifts they had been given. It has been a joy to witness their creative life journeys, and yet I have returned again and again to this particular story as an encouragement when I feel alone or stuck in my creative journey as an artist.
I am not a visual artist. I work with words and with the lives of others as I interact with them as teacher, mentor, friend. What I take from my mentor’s story is that creativity flourishes in an atmosphere of love. Everyone is creative, as we each reflect the image of God, so then I choose to love those with whom I am in contact and rejoice in how they uniquely celebrate God.
For the many years I taught young children, “Friday dance” was a tradition in my classroom. At the beginning of each school year I explained that I would play music at a certain time each Friday and those who would like to dance could do so. There was also a place where those who opted not to dance could sit and chat with friends, but I made it my own challenge to find music which would entice the most dance-resistant individuals to participate.
Occasionally I had a student who would fold his or her arms and stubbornly say, “I don’t dance.” That just made the challenge more interesting. Since the variety of music played through the year included classical, movie themes, rock, international folk, and country, even the most recalcitrant would eventually choose to dance, would even feel compelled to dance.
One student in particular stands out. He sat stubbornly with folded arms and rolling eyes for months. “I don’t dance!” he would say again and again.
“I simply haven’t found your music,” I would think.
And then, one lovely rainy Friday, he danced. The music that week, I had told the children, was warrior music; when it was originally played the warriors in a community would leap and lunge and swing swords and enact a battle as they danced. As the music’s first few notes began, I could see my reluctant dancer fighting to hold still. Suddenly he leapt out and, slashing with an imaginary sword and grimacing as he faced imaginary enemies, he danced and swirled his way in and around the other children.
When the music ended he stood, chest heaving and light of battle still in his eyes. He looked at me and slowly smiled. I smiled back. As the next song began, my warrior dancer leapt into the fray once more.
I truly believe we have all been gifted with unique creative abilities. Some individuals, it is true, use theirs in inappropriate, destructive ways. But many haven’t yet discovered their particular ‘medium;’ they haven’t yet found the music which makes their heart dance.
A friend of mine had recently been named to head a large industrial facility which had experienced dramatic loss in both output and morale. She heard my Friday dance story at a dinner party and told me later, “I need to find the ‘music’ which compels each individual member of my executive team to dance.” Obviously she did not envision her executive team dancing as they worked–given the nature of their work, a chemical research plant, the mind boggles at the thought–but rather she wanted to inspire each one to find joy and fulfillment in their work and then inspire those who worked under them to discover in their own ways a similar joy and fulfillment.
When I have lost the creative spark, I know I need to be quiet so I can once again hear my own music in my heart. Eventually I know I will turn around and be amazed at the beauty of the colors on a once white wall of my life as I hear the unique sound of the love song the Creator sings over me. And then God and I will again create beauty together. His energy and love will inspire creativity as we work together in the lives of those around me.
My work in life is as a teacher and storyteller. I take joy in many things – time spent with children and my family and friends; working in various ways for justice; hiking along high mountain ridge lines, walking in the woods, and sitting quietly to stare at the ocean; hearing and affirming as people share their life stories; writing and reading; rainy afternoons by the fire with my small grey cat; listening to music and singing and dancing; intelligent conversation and laughter; making a home. These and other things are true about me but the truest thing is that I am a child of God.