Despite the fact that creativity and spirituality are intimately linked I used to say that I was the least crafty person on the planet.
But a couple years back I took an online course on creativity with Oprah and Brené Brown (yes I’m that sort of geek!) and Brené was like: everyone is creative! I was dubious. But, PhDs with research to back them up tend to be right, and she was.
Humans and Creative Spirituality
Humans are creative. It’s how we solve problems, it’s how we survived lions and figured out fire, and eventually built whole civilizations. The problem is we’ve learned to value certain types of creativity over others. At the same time we have stripped much of our spirituality down to rote repetition of specific prayers or activities. And these two problems are related.
We all start out as children drawing and painting. We don’t even think to judge our work, we just enjoy it. We happily offer the fruits of our creative labor to those we love without a jot of shame or embarrassment. These are offerings (a spiritual practice) at their purest and most true.
It isn’t until we start comparing our work to other people’s that we start saying things like “I can’t draw” or “I’m not creative.” The truth is I can draw, it just doesn’t look like Monet. (Or Monet doesn’t paint like me.) And when we do that we constrain our imagination to a narrow box of what counts as “creative.”
I actually really like slapping paint on things and playing with color. I’m capable of sticking some silk flowers into a grapevine wreath thingy. And if I don’t look at bloody Pinterest for comparisons it’ll even look pretty! It’s kind of fun too, if I don’t judge myself harshly. Which is probably the most true sentence ever uttered about anything we do.
What does all that have to do with spirituality? A lot, and we’ll get to that soon.
The Surprise Quilt
I have a friend who quilts, she’s good at it. She posts her finished projects on Facebook, and one of them caught my attention. When I remarked again on how talented she is turned it around on me: “girl, you can totally do this, it’s easy.”
And she sent me the name of what is quite possibly the simplest pattern in quilting ever. (“Jelly Roll Race.”) I watched a couple Youtube videos, took a deep breath, and made my first quilt. (Well there might have been roughly 8 trips to Joann Fabric in between. I cannot ever get everything I need for any project in one trip. It’s a gift.)
Just like that. And it was fun. And in the end I had something that was pretty, and I could use. Note: I did not say I had something perfect. And this is where we step into the realm of everyday spirituality and how it intersects with our creative lives.
This isn’t technically a story about quilting. If you are thinking “I could never make a quilt,” then I dare you to watch this video. Give it a try, because I bet you can quilt. If I can, pretty much anyone can. (No cutting required, and all you need to do is sew a straight line.)
But it’s not about quilting. What is it about? A friend encouraged me, I took a brave leap, and I discovered once again that I can create beautiful things. And that is the heart of what it means to be human: to create.
Imago Dei: Or the lie of I can’t do that
What today’s conversation is about is that “I could never” and “I can’t” or even “I’m not.”
The heart of humanity is creative. Christian theology states that human beings were made in the image (which means likeness) of a creative God. It is our ability to imagine that makes us human. We are human because of our ability to dream up something that doesn’t currently exist. But we modern folks have defined creativity so narrowly: as those who make art. And then we’ve wrapped art in judgement until most people are convinced they are not creative.
But anyone who has dreamed up a menu for dinner, or fiddled with a recipe, or put together a smashing outfit, or played with makeup until you made the look you had in mind happen, is creative. If you’ve seen some cheap grocery store roses and thought, those would look really pretty with some white daisies, and made it happen, you are creative.
To create is to be spiritual
If human beings (you and I) are made in the likeness of a creative God(dess) then the single most spiritual thing we could do is create. Which might sound surprising if you were raised in 20th century religion. Because somehow much of Western Christianity decided that spirituality was about thinking things in our heads at God. Prayer has become a head thing, about talking, or feeling.
But prayer wasn’t always so narrowly defined. For much of human history (and much of Christian history) prayer was something we did with our bodies, it was painting (cave paintings are the first religious art), dance, making music, even the art of cooking a very good meal was a holy act. And when we merge our spirituality and creativity everyday spirituality is the natural result.
Expanding Creativity into everyday life
If you’ve managed to get two kids to split anything without screaming fits you are incredibly creative! (And I am in awe.) We just don’t tend to give you credit for that minor miracle.
If you are human you have the ability to create, you might not have consciously used it in years but it’s there. It was there when you played pretend as a child. And when you drew a big yellow smiling sun over your house and your stick family. It is still there, packed down into a tight little airless space by judgement and comparison. But it’s still there. The creative process and spiritual practices are intimately linked.
Every time I make a little foray back into the world of creativity my soul gets a little lighter. Creating something creates joy. And I for one need more joy in my life.
Play: A creative and spiritual adventure
What if you could unlock your creativity, get the rust off it, and really fly? That’s what the Creativity and Spirituality Challenge is all about.
For today let’s start small. Grab a journal, your phone, or a sheet of scrap paper.
Think back to your childhood. What were your favorite ways to create? You may remember coloring or drawing, or you might have to think about what things your parents saved from your early years. Do you still do those same things, or have you stopped? Think about why you have stopped and what you might like to try again.
You really are creative.
And second: what do you create now? You might have to be creative (hah!) here. Maybe you quilt, or draw. Perhaps your creativity is in the weekly menus you create for your family, the special cake recipe you modified from a box mix, or the stories you make up for your children at bedtime. Be generous with yourself. Can you, this week, while doing the things you listed be conscious of the miracle you are working? Can you simply pay attention and give yourself credit for doing something important in your world?
Review the ideas of mindfulness and everyday spirituality, can you see how these might work with the creative endeavors you currently practice to make those things fully part of of your spiritual life?
Here’s your sign.
Finally: make yourself a sign. Do this however works for you. Get out your kid’s crayons (or yours if you are coloring book obsessed like me), or paints. Or grab a highlighter and a pen from your very professional desk. Maybe open up that painting game you’ve got on your phone. Now make yourself a sign. I am going to suggest that you make the sign say: “I Create Beauty!” Don’t argue with me or give me that look. You do.
But make your sign, even if all you can manage is the word “Create” as a reminder to yourself. Then tuck it in your calendar, or tape it to your mirror. Or make it the lock screen on your phone (this is my favorite way to see something important frequently.)
Remember: the heart of humanity is our creativity. It is who you are, it is the work of your soul. You are creative, and the heart and center of your whole spiritual life is rooted in that truth. Practice awareness of your own creativity, and the way that joins the creative work of the Divine in this amazing world.