Creativity as Spiritual Practice

I read in The Artist’s Way:

Are you contemplative? Yes.
Do you allow yourself to go on retreat? Oh, well…

Shortly thereafter, I saw a magazine ad for a nearby retreat center. An ad for the same center popped up on social media a few days after that; I clicked, and Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, would be speaking there soon. It was expensive.

A week later, I randomly received a yoga catalog in the mail. I flipped through, and saw that Cameron would be leading a retreat at a yoga center on the East Coast. Even more expensive.

Interesting: I’d considered retreat-ing, and opportunities popped into view.

About a week later, another ad appeared on social media: a FREE online retreat with Cameron and one of my favorite artists, SARK, plus five others. The topic: Creativity as Spiritual Practice. In my wheelhouse, do at my own speed, and free? Sign me up!

I’ve listened to two of the seven speakers so far and gained wisdom from both. As I took notes on the second speaker, though, a rather obvious thought grabbed me:

Creativity is a spiritual practice.

The speaker talked about being told as a child that she couldn’t draw, so she should find something else to do in life. She cut herself off from creativity and became a successful doctor instead. But she wasn’t whole until she recovered her creative self.

I want to write, “Who tells a child they can’t draw, so find another career?” Except, how many of us heard the same message? Art’s just not your thing, honey. You’ll find your thing, don’t worry.

Hogwash.

First of all, Art and Creativity aren’t necessarily the same thing. Too often we get all high and mighty about Art. Art hangs in museums, so the average human can’t make Art. Maybe not, but we can all create. And it doesn’t have to be your career, although it might be. It can be a hobby that fulfills you in ways you never imagined and influences who you are in all spheres.

Secondly, creativity is spiritual. At the least, it connects us to our own spirits. Creative activity is pure self-expression. As a Christian, I believe that humans have been created in the image of the Great Creator. We join God in co-creating our lives, and we image God most fully as we engage with Him in body, mind and spirit. I regularly practice my faith, praying/meditating, worship, etc. Why not fold creativity into that mix? I connect with God in new ways as I create.

Whatever you believe, creative work is less work than flow, getting things down rather than thinking them up. Receiving, not straining, and expressing. Poet Jon Fosse said, “To compose poetry,” he might have said, to create, “is about listening…it is, so to speak, about bringing forth something that already exists…”

Thirdly, creativity is about practice, not necessarily mastery. It’s not something you do just like anyone else. You do you. Not everyone can be Picasso, Matisse, O’Keefe, but everyone can express themselves. It doesn’t have to look like anything specific, and it doesn’t have to look like anything else anyone has made.

When I practice yoga, it’s my practice. I don’t have to do it perfectly, because the best I can do is breathe and stretch my own body, imperfect and healing and differently balanced each day. I don’t compare, because someone else’s breath and stretch makes for their practice. I don’t practice towards an end, but for the sake of my presence in the process.

When our kids were young, we expected them to participate in a sport most seasons: soccer, basketball, baseball, swim. Hiking and biking with family and friends on weekends. We didn’t expect them to be champions, but to enjoy movement, play a game, be active, learn good sportsmanship. Eventually, they’d tried enough sports to know what they liked and didn’t. They understand that physical exercise is a practice, a discipline for overall health.

Why don’t we treat creativity similarly? So what if you can’t draw, try painting. If not painting, ceramics. Try music or writing or collage, mosaic or poetry, jewelry making or sewing or cooking or…

Why oh why do so many young children hear the message that they’re just not creative, especially at, arguably, the most creative stage of their lives? No wonder so many adults don’t believe they are creative. We lose part of our humanness when we cut off our creativity.

Like playing sports, we can play at creativity. And like anything you practice, it gets easier over time.

Creativity is a spiritual practice. I’m all in. How about you?

Everything Thrums

As I prepare this post, Teen has the TV on while watching videos on his phone and Tween stares into the computer game abyss. The competing sounds drown out the natural world: birdsong, chattering squirrels, leaves rustling in the (too) slight summer breeze. My friend Bruce encourages us to listen, to tap into the flow, to tune our ears to the thrum of God’s creativity. But first, to deal with the noise…

re:create recess #14: Bruce Lawrie

When we were little our play was filled with creativity. Children can conjure up whole worlds before sitting down for a bowl of cereal only to dismantle their creation in favor of three or four more elaborate universes they assemble before lunchtime. I used to spend hours with my Revolutionary War army men that I ordered from the back cover of one of my Spiderman comic books after saving for months, hundreds of tiny molded plastic figures, red for British and blue for American. Great sagas unfolded out back in the sandbox behind the old farmhouse where we lived in Indiana. Regiments of infantrymen and drummer boys, backed by rows of cannons, fought epic battles in the shifting sands, deluged by flash floods emitted from the garden hose, bombarded by bricks and cinderblocks from above, set aflame, in one of the more gruesome and memorable battles, by my dad’s lighter I had snuck from his desk.

One of my daughter’s favorite forms of recreation when she was young was creating endless shows: plays, book readings, operatic arias, puppet shows, tumbling exhibitions, karate demonstrations, ballet, rock-n-roll shows, modern dance, the Macarena. The only encouragement she needed was a momentary lull in the adults’ conversation.

Maybe it’s because kids are so fresh from the Creator that their recreation revolves around creation. Imagine the fun God and Jesus must have had as they sung the cosmos into existence, reveled in the creation of the DNA helix, grinned at each other as the two trillion galaxies unfolded. How they must have marveled together at the first beloved child they breathed into being. Everything thrums with God’s infinite creativity. The mountains proclaim it; the Pacific shines with it; the Milky Way aches with it. Our kids are filled to the brim with it and when they play they are swimming in it.

As we age our creativity is dulled by worry and planning and all the other grown-up thoughts that fill up our heads. When adults make art they set aside the constant murmuring of these internal voices long enough to allow the Creator’s love to flow through them again. To create is to connect with the Life we sense pulsing just beneath our day-to-day reality, just out of sight. We catch glimpses of it, hear faint echoes of it, but can’t quite hold onto it. To pick up a pen, a paint brush, or a lump of clay and take the first step in search of what lies below is to reach out for the unknowable. We hope to capture a bit of the Light, something real that others can feel and connect with. To create art is to connect. These mirrors we build—a poem, a sketch, a line in a play—manage to reflect truth in a way our words and thoughts cannot.

It is as if these truths pre-exist us and it is the artist who discovers them, hacking through the thicket in search of something she herself can’t fully describe. The writer sits at her desk and aims in the general direction of where she caught a glimmer of Light. She writes and rewrites, not yet clear herself on where the piece is headed, cutting, editing, and editing some more. And then slowly she begins to see where she is going, perhaps she is on to something here. She reads her work aloud again and again until she discovers she may have found it, or a bit of it, the truth just beyond the veil. Built from words, her poem is a vessel that holds more than the words themselves can convey.

In 1964 Robert Wilson and Arno Penzias first heard the distant echoes of the Big Bang, an “inexplicable hum” they picked up on their radio telescope in New Jersey. Apparently, when the Word and God got together to kick things off, they started by humming a tune. To sing and to dance is to align yourself with the Flow, to experience the harmony of Father and Son. How easily our kids pick up on the joy singing through the world, ready at a moment’s notice to boogie with all they’ve got, to run and leap in the fading evening light, to curl so thoroughly into a story being read aloud to them before bedtime that their bedroom, their daddy, their teddy dissolve into the unwinding tale. Perhaps we can learn from them, turning our senses like a finely tuned radio telescope to the music of creation. Perhaps we’ll discover the song that moves us to play with our Creator.

Bruce and his creative daughter

 

Bruce Lawrie lives in Moraga, California. His work has appeared in Portland, Notre Dame, The Best Spiritual Writing, and elsewhere. Links to published stories: Who am I Lord, My Turn, and The Ride of a Lifetime