art, calling, creativity, faith, God, Holy Spirit, Seminary, writing

Creativity and the Holy Spirit: Resistance, Hospitality, and Permission

My final reflection for my Seminary course on the Holy Spirit:

Shortly after starting to put together some thoughts and some notes on creativity and the Holy Spirit, I discovered that this topic was bigger than the parameters of this assignment. I feel I could study the intersection of these two concepts indefinitely. Therefore, for the purposes of this essay I have chosen to stick to the themes that have surfaced in my life in regards to this holy intersection: resistance, hospitality, and permission. Resistance because it has been so dominant in my spiritual life as well as my creative life. Hospitality because it created a pathway and a process for moving through to something more. Permission because it is what I crave most in my spirituality and my creativity. Christine Valters Paintner talks about the creative and the spiritual journey as being a spiral way rather than a linear one.[1]I agree and as such I do not progress only one time through resistance then hospitality and then permission. Instead, I return over and over again to each stage as I spiral toward the center of my true self. 

Creativity

In my professional career I worked in banking and project management.  However, if I look back over my life, I have always dabbled with creativity without fully embracing it. In those seemingly uncreative positions, I found myself developing new ways to be more efficient and helping employees become the best versions of themselves. I designed databases and spreadsheets. I rewrote training manuals and restructured departments. Even as a child I loved arts and crafts. One year I inherited a set of Barbie dolls and even though I wasn’t much into playing with them, I really enjoyed designing and building furniture for their imaginary home. I used my father’s tools to build a couch, a table and chairs, and a refrigerator (and since the only paint we had was light blue, everything matched). As a young adult this creativity morphed into occasionally making gifts for family and friends. One year I realized I had forgotten to purchase wrapping paper for Christmas gifts, so I took this opportunity to create my own and painted gift boxes and paper. Once I had children, I appreciated the opportunity to do children’s crafts with them. We would make cards for family birthdays. We would make gifts for grandmothers on Mother’s Day. Whenever friends came over to play, we would plan a craft to make with them. I even volunteered in the Kindergarten Art Appreciation program at my daughters’ school, even when they were no longer in kindergarten. Then my children grew older and while they were still creative, they no longer needed me to create projects for them. I struggled at this time to create my own artistic practices. 

Resistance

“Just remember, in choosing, that we often resist what we most need.” – Julia Cameron[2]

“When resistance kicks in, do you listen to what it has to say to you, making space for its wisdom?” – Christine Valters Paintner[3]

“For most of us, the idea that the creator encourages creativity is a radical thought. We tend to think, or at least fear, that creative dreams are egotistical, something that God wouldn’t approve of for us.” – Julia Cameron [4]

My mother is an artist, writer, and poet and my father is an engineer. Both are creative, yet in different ways. Somehow, I had come to believe the world accepts engineering as the appropriate and acceptable way to express creativity in the world. It is responsible. Art always seemed irresponsible. It is too free, too creative. There are no rules or boundaries. It is easy to get out of control. I crave control, purpose, and function. Art does not always seem useful and I believed I was expected to be useful. I have really struggled with that expectation in recent years in my writing and my journaling. Is it useful? Yes, but maybe in an unconventional way. Maybe it is useful as self-expression or as a spiritual practice. Maybe it is useful because it keeps me sane, it keeps me in touch with myself and with my creator and therefore in a better position to love others well. Maybe it is useful after all. I find myself having this wrestling match over and over again. I can hear the arguing in my head:

“Be creative.” 

vs.

“No. It doesn’t make sense. It is a waste of time, a waste of resources, and a waste of energy. Why should I? What purpose does it serve?”

I wonder where this resistance comes from. In the past, just to avoid the argument I would decide to not create. I was willing to give up my craft rather than defend or explain myself. It was easier to deny my creativity than defend it.

I am realizing that not only have I been resistant to creative ideas that stir within me but I have also been resistant to the work that goes with creativity. There is toil involved. I have learned to be creative when writing in my journal. After I have let that creativity flow, I have a tendency to want that to stand on its own. Sometimes it does and sometimes it requires further work. In wanting to share my writing, there is always editing to be done. There is a tendency to want to skip that step and just receive the gift of the creativity without doing the work of co-creating a final project to share. Even as I worked through my many pages of notes for this paper, I was resistant to organizing the notes, editing, and writing transitions. However, I have found that when I am willing to put in the work of co-creating, taking what the spirit gives me and working further on it to create something new, it is very fulfilling and usually produces something that is beyond myself, something that also serves others in some way. 

Hospitality

“The position of the artist is humble. He is essentially a channel.” – Piet Mondrian[5]

“I learned to get out of the way and let that creative force work through me.” – Julia Cameron[6]

“An intentional practice of hospitality calls you to make room within yourself for all the inner voices that rise up in your creative process and contemplative prayer.” – Christine Valters Paintner[7]

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” – Hebrews 13:2 NRSV

I remember being surprised to learn that many creatives (artist, writers, etc.) experience their creativity as a movement of the Holy Spirit. I first read about this in Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way. The concept was very freeing to me because one of the roadblocks to embracing my own creative desires was feeling like I was wholly responsible for coming up with something original. Now I feel like it is more about releasing something that is passing through me but also bringing something of myself out with it. An expression of sorts rather than a wholly new creation of my own making. I had been treating my creativity as a stranger and was not being welcoming to the Spirit moving in me. I was not offering inner hospitality to my own creativity. As I began to understand it as a movement of the Spirit, I began to open myself to it. 

Now I love the idea of partnering with God, The Creator, in creative acts. Similar to the job of the scribe, sometimes my role is merely to share the message, whatever that might be, to express the idea, to create the art. I remember years ago discussing with my pastor at the time that I frequently had messages, stories, and explanations running through my mind, like a ticker tape at the bottom of a news broadcast. They felt like conversations but only in my mind. My pastor indicated that I reminded him of a writer he admired. It had never occurred to me to write these conversations down. It had never occurred to me that this might be how writers experience their ideas. It had never occurred to me that these ideas could be a movement of the Holy Spirit. Shortly after this revelation, I started a blog so that I had a place to share these conversations. I was surprised that other people were interested in what had been rolling around in my mind all these years. I was surprised that others experienced God in what I shared. Since then, I have been practicing hospitality to the flow of creativity moving in me, the Spirit moving in me. I am grateful for the opportunity this summer to practice this flow in the reflective papers I have been assigned in this course. I have also practiced this flow in my recent creative project of decorating my church for Vacation Bible School. I was intentional about not over analyzing or second-guessing my creative ideas. I just welcomed them and let them rise out of me. I am learning to trust this flow from the Spirit outside of my personal journal. 

Permission

“Is it not the distinguishing characteristic of the human being that in the hot race of evolution he pauses for a moment to paint on the cave walls at Lascaux or Altamira those brown-and-red deer and bison which still fill us with amazed admiration and awe?” – Rollo May[8]

“We express our being by creating. Creativity is a necessary sequel to being.” – Rollo May[9]

“You do not need anybody’s permission to live a creative life.” – Elizabeth Gilbert [10]

Books like The Courage to Create[11], The Call to Create[12], The Right to Write[13]andThe Artist’s Way[14]are all trying to explain, defend, and create space for the artist’s journey, for the creative life. A daunting task…like parting the sea. How do we hold back the sea so people can live their creative lives, their diverse lives, their beautiful God-given lives? The more I try to list things that are creative, the more I realize how everything seems creative. It may be easier to try to list what isn’t creative rather than what is. It seems that we are a creative species, that we were actually created to create. 

As I started to seek permission for my own creativity, I begin to recognize creativity in scripture starting with Genesis where God invites Adam into the creating process by asking him to name the animals. This invitation continues with God placing Adam in the garden to co-create vegetation and then again with Eve as she is given the ability to co-create humanity. In Exodus, artisans are filled with the Spirit and gathered to do work for the Lord.[15] Creativity resounds in the various forms of literature represented in the Bible: poetry, prayers, narratives, epistles, parables, etc. The four gospels are creative in their telling of Jesus’ life. Why would we ever consider that creativity and artistry is outside the work of the spirit? Why would we ever think that creativity would be something frowned upon by God?

Coming to terms with this, I want to help others be true to their creative selves, whether in art, in self-expression, or in faith. We are all still co-creating with God. We are all still discovering all of the options our abundant God has created. It can be a bit scary and it can feel out of control, but it is in God’s control. I am learning to trust God more. God is better at this than I am so I am trying to let go, listen, follow, and then join in. I am trying to work with the Spirit rather than against it. When I do, the magic happens. It is glorious. I accomplish things I never thought I could do. Even in something as small as using my creativity to decorate my church for Vacation Bible School, I put in this little bit and God blows it up into something amazing. Hundreds of children learn about Jesus. Youth learn how to be their own creative wonderful selves at church. Adults learn to let go and see what God can do when they release the reins a bit. It keeps giving and growing, as God’s witness to the ends of the Earth.

Vocation

”Our calling is deeply connected to our creativity…Vocation is a daily invitation to be fully who we are and to allow our lives to unfold in ways that are organic to this deepest identity.” – Christine Valters Paintner[16]

“As creatures with the capacity of consciousness and choice, we can cooperate with and contribute to the greater process of creation, or we can deny or refuse our vocation and faith to reach our won protentional.” – Linda Schierse Leonard[17]

“But if you do not express your own original ideas, if you do not listen to your own being, you will have betrayed yourself. Also, you will have betrayed our community in failing to make your contribution to the whole.” – Rollo May[18]

I feel called to live creatively. I am discovering that my vocation is not necessary some new job or career, but just living my life as truly as I can. What I mean by truly is aligning with the Spirit and with my true self the best I can, in everyday tasks as well as in relationships, new and old. I am finding vocation in my family life, in friendships, in my church community, and in the projects with which I am involved. I had been thinking that God’s call meant I would go a completely different direction and start some new life or new career. What I am realizing is that part of my call, of my vocation, is to live the life I already have as truly as I can. (Maybe I really mean “holy”, but that is a loaded word, so I will stick with “truly.”) True to God’s Word, true to God’s Spirit, true to who God created me to be, true to loving others, and true to caring for this world. I think that is the best I can do on this earth. If there is more to it, I will have to trust God to show me. For now, this is my focus, my call, and my life. 

Final Thoughts

As a society, we tend to want everyone to be the same rather than honoring each other’s distinctive gifts. As the body of Christ, we are all unique with unique purposes that work together as one. As the Casting Crowns song declares:

“It is the rhythm of the dancers
That gives the poets life
It is the spirit of the poets
That gives the soldiers strength to fight
It is fire of the young ones
It is the wisdom of the old
It is the story of the poor man
That’s needing to be told”[19]

I have been releasing my resistance, offering hospitality, and seeking permission to be creative in art, in self-expression, and in my spirituality. I am leaning more into creative projects, into establishing a daily creative practice, and into my call to spiritual formation. The more I open myself up to creativity the more I open myself up to God’s Holy Spirit. I have been focusing on the practice of showing up in creativity and in spirituality, showing up and being open to the movement of the Spirit within me. As I do, I feel closer to God and closer to who God created me to be, and I am experiencing the extreme joy of co-creating with my Creator. 

~~~~~~~~~~

Notes

[1]Christine Valters Paintner, The Soul’s Slow Ripening: 12 Celtic Practices for Seeking the Sacred(Notre Dame: Sorin Books, 2018), 155. Kindle Edition. 

[2]Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way,(New York: Penguin Random House, 2016), 4. Kindle Edition.

[3]Christine Valters Paintner, The Artist’s Rule(Notre Dame: Sorin Books, 2011), 74. Kindle Edition.

[4]Cameron, 1. 

[5]Ibid., xix. 

[6]Ibid., xviii. 

[7]Paintner, The Artist’s Rule, 5.

[8]Rollo May, The Courage to Create (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1975), 7.

[9]Ibid., 8.

[10]Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic(New York: Penguin Random House, 2015), 86. Kindle Edition.

[11]May. 

[12]Linda SchierseLeonard, The Call to Create (New Orleans: Spring Journal Books, 2009).

[13]Julia Cameron, The Right to Write (New York: Penguin Random House, 1998). 

[14]Cameron, The Artist’s Way

[15]Exodus 31, 36

[16]Paintner, The Artist’s Rule, 142.

[17]Leonard, 3. 

[18]May, 12. 

[19]John Mark Hall and Matthew West, City on the Hill, (Essential Music Publishing, 2011), http://www.lyricfind.com. 

2 thoughts on “Creativity and the Holy Spirit: Resistance, Hospitality, and Permission”

  1. Marissa. Amazing. I have loved each word, thought, connection you have put together here. I smile as I am glad to have watched you continue to be in tuned to the Spirit. So happy for your self-discoveries and creativity that flows! I think of others who would benefit so by reading your words and hope it would be fine with you for me to share with them. A blogger should be fine with it, but at the same time, I just want to respect your wishes. And if on fb, which I haven’t looked at yet, it is shareable there, may I? Best to you and to each of your loved ones! Bev

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    Liked by 1 person

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