Engaging Our Creativity
“The primary creative act is the living of our daily lives, making it a work of art.” – Christine Paintner
We often think of creativity as the private domain of artists, dancers, musicians or writers, each possessing special and unique talent that sets them apart from the rest of humanity.
Since most of us are engaged in normal jobs and unspectacular vocations, we may not feel we have the opportunity or ability to be creative. Yet, creativity is so much more than the arts, and by simply being human we are equipped with the divine, creative energy that allows us to make an impact on our world.
We Are All Creative
Stringing words together in a sentence is an act of creation. Deciding what to make for dinner, doing an algebraic equation, and dealing with conflict all offer unlimited opportunities for creative expression and solutions. All of these tasks involve a similar process that forces us to look beyond what we see to imagine what could be.
Nobel prize winner Harry Kroto shares that his processes as both a professional chemist and designer are exactly the same, even though the outcomes are different. He says that “in all creative processes we are pushing the boundaries of what we know now to explore new possibilities. We are drawing on the skills we have now, often stretching and evolving them as the work demands.”
We are creative because we all engage this exploration, whether in our work as poets, mothers, chefs, chauffeur, artists, or business owners.
To John O’Donohue, “the heart of human identity is the capacity and desire for birthing. To be is to become creative and bring forth beauty.”
In light of this, I suggest that instead of letting ourselves off the hook and handing over the realm of creativity to the artistically gifted, we begin to think of creativity as a ‘mind skill’ that we bring to hundreds of situations every day.
Creativity as Divinity
Creativity is intricately connected to the very essence of our humanity. In the Christian tradition of imago Dei, humans are made in the image of a divine, prolific creator.
If this is true, then the creative impulse would be deeply embedded in our humanity, flowing from the source of our creation, whether we call that source God, Goddess, universe, spirit or flow. Being born out of the divine imagination means humans possess creativity as a fundamental, divine-like characteristic.
Many creatives talk in terms of mystery and sacredness when discussing their process, and look to this higher source as a place of inspiration. For Cameron, the universe is a “vast electrical sea” that opens up creativity, where she often will “sense the presence of something transcendent – a spiritual electricity, if you will – and I have come to rely on it in transcending my own limitations.”
Songwriter Mary Gauthier also uses the analogy of electricity when discussing her creative process, as she affirms the deep mystery and firmly locates her source as outside of herself. To her:
Songs are a faint whisper from the future that pulls us from the past and seeps into the present. A songwriter is the role of a medium…one eye in the now, one eye in memory, and a third eye focused on the other side of the thin veil of the future, trusting that it will somehow all work together. […] My work is to be a receiver. The process can be otherworldly as if a visitor takes over my writing, then vanishes.
Elizabeth Gilbert is another creative voice who weighs in on how connecting to a greater source brings creative flow, but can also be a source of emotional health. She encourages creatives to consider and acknowledge the creative inspiration that comes from beyond themselves as a form of self care to replace the self-loathing that many experience from the pressure, rejection and perfectionism inherent in the arts.
Creating a Life & Culture
At the most basic level, human are active participants in creating our individual lives and, in turn, the cultures where we live. Every decision contributes to crafting a life, a character, and a legacy. Even passivity is an act of creating because since nothing is static, every choice moves us in one direction or another.
By naming ourselves as creatives, we unleash a powerful force where we can walk into something greater than ourselves. Real, change-making creativity that explores and creates new possibilities is demanded in the classroom, the factory, the boardroom, the staff meetings, as well as the art studio and our churches.
Culture is what we make of the world. Culture is, after all, the name for our relentless, restless, human efforts to take the world as its given to us and make something else. – Andy Crouch
As a side-note it is a shame that Crouch’s teaching is problematic in some Christian circles, which engage culture through judgment, fearing or hiding. Sometimes they will try to rescue or exorcise the effects of culture from our lives, but meaningful culture-making was rarely part of the discussion. Instead, the realm of creativity was reserved for producing mediocre, homogeneous, dull, stamped-with-a-cross-so-God-must-like-it products for the evangelical consumer machine.
Stirring up Creativity
Many of us start out in childhood exploding with creative abandon and then on our way to adulthood, it all shuts down. This means that many of us aren’t really living up to our full potential and our organizations, schools, families and emotional lives suffer.
Robinson and others lay the blame for this regression of creativity squarely on our systems of mass education that focuses on testing and curriculum without crucial creative components and suggest that we cannot adequately move into our complex future unless we learn to dig deeper into our creativity, imagination and innovation.
The Inner Life
Regardless of how far removed we feel from our creativity, we can work to remove the obstacles and blocks that keep us from being our whole, full and creative selves.
Cameron’s The Artist’s Way guides the blocked creative through a series of exercises designed to tackle destructive thought patterns and habits, while also offering ideas for regular creative practices. The themes in her book encourage people to dig deep into their issues of anger, doubt, safety, power and perfectionism in order to break free from their creative obstacles.
Paintner goes even deeper into this idea by using the monastic tradition as a model for how to nurture creativity specifically through their ancient practices.
Creativity and contemplative spirituality nurture and support each other in their commitments to the slow way, to a close attention to the inner life and to the sacred being revealed in each moment. – Paintner
Themes of slowing down and going inward have been particularly helpful to me as a way to open up space for my own processing. Journaling, silence and listening are some of the greatest tools for my own problem-solving and creative decision-making that allow me to tap into my intuition. It’s the only way I can really see myself and discover what’s real and important for me and for others. Gauthier’s experience is that:
I can’t talk about nurturing creativity without also mentioning the number of creative authors who stress the routine and power of the work itself as a mechanism to getting unstuck. Gautheir reminds us to not “be afraid to dig into the deepest part of yourself and face your demons….when a songwriter writes about what truly matters to them, the song becomes a snapshot of their soul.”
During a popular TED talk, David Kelly encourages ordinary people to take baby steps in order to build their creative confidence and “regain the exiled artist.” He likens the process to the way psychologist Albert Bandura helps people tackle their most severe phobias by moving them through a series of small successes from fear to familiarity.
One of my favorite books on the subject, The War of Art is entirely about facing down the demon of resistance including fear, self-medication, criticism, procrastination or self-doubt. According to author Steven Pressfield, this resistance is all around us and comes at us all the time, so the best way to resist is to just do the work…consistently and without fail. It is tenacity in the face of resistance where battles are won and we are able to live the life we are meant to live.
Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine ourselves to be, but to find out who we already are and become it. – Steven Pressfield
It’s through creative exploration and freedom that we discover our true selves and our role in the world as life-builders and culture-makers.
Cameron, Julia. The Artist’s Way. London: Penguin, 2016
Crouch, Andy. Culture Making: Discovering our Creative Calling. InterVarsity Press, 2008.
Gauthier, Mary. Saved by a Song: The Art and Healing Power of Songwriting. St. Martin’s Essentials, 2021.
Gilbert, Elizabeth. “Your Elusive Creative Genius.” Filmed February 2009. TED video, 19:15. https://www.ted.com/talks/elizabeth_gilbert_your_elusive_creative_genius#t-87546
Graham, Elaine. “Being, making and imagining: Toward a practical theology of technology.” Culture and Religion 10, no. 2 (2009), 221-236. doi:10.1080/14755610903077588.
Kelly, David. “How to Build Your Creative Confidence.” Filmed March 2012. TED video, 11:30. https://www.ted.com/talks/david_kelley_how_to_build_your_creative_confidence
Paintner, Christine Valters. The Artist’s Rule: Nurturing Your Creative Soul with Monastic
Wisdom. Notre Dame, Ind: Sorin Books, 2011.
Pressfield, Steven. The War of Art. Black Irish Entertainment, LLC, 2002.
Robinson, Ken. Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creative. Tantor audio, Audible, 2011.