Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.
~ Isaiah 40:31
marissa j neil
Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.
~ Isaiah 40:31
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” ~ Acts 1:8
This is where I find permission to create, in my journals. Years ago, I (reluctantly) started writing in a journal. Free thought, no rules, just writing. Now I do the same with paint in an art journal. Just as I found permission to write, I am now trying to find permission to do art. There are no rules in the journal, except each new day I have to turn the page and show up. It’s a bit of a mood journal, like those mood rings of childhood. As my mood decides the colors, I pick up a brush and just move it along the page. Not much thought, more like devotion. Nothing frame-worthy comes from it, but that is not the point of the journal. I am just giving myself permission. Permission to choose a color. Permission to get the brush dirty. Permission to put paint on the paper. Permission to take up space on the page. Permission to make marks.
Some days I am open to the process, some days I am still resistant, and some days I don’t show up at all.
But my journal waits patiently.
As does the Spirit.
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.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.
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.
“Just remember, in choosing, that we often resist what we most need.” – Julia Cameron
“When resistance kicks in, do you listen to what it has to say to you, making space for its wisdom?” – Christine Valters Paintner
“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 
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:
“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.
“The position of the artist is humble. He is essentially a channel.” – Piet Mondrian
“I learned to get out of the way and let that creative force work through me.” – Julia Cameron
“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
“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.
“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
“We express our being by creating. Creativity is a necessary sequel to being.” – Rollo May
“You do not need anybody’s permission to live a creative life.” – Elizabeth Gilbert 
Books like The Courage to Create, The Call to Create, The Right to Write, andThe Artist’s Wayare 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. 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.
”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
“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
“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
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.
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”
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.
Christine Valters Paintner, The Soul’s Slow Ripening: 12 Celtic Practices for Seeking the Sacred(Notre Dame: Sorin Books, 2018), 155. Kindle Edition.
Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way,(New York: Penguin Random House, 2016), 4. Kindle Edition.
Christine Valters Paintner, The Artist’s Rule(Notre Dame: Sorin Books, 2011), 74. Kindle Edition.
Paintner, The Artist’s Rule, 5.
Rollo May, The Courage to Create (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1975), 7.
Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic(New York: Penguin Random House, 2015), 86. Kindle Edition.
Linda SchierseLeonard, The Call to Create (New Orleans: Spring Journal Books, 2009).
Julia Cameron, The Right to Write (New York: Penguin Random House, 1998).
Cameron, The Artist’s Way.
Exodus 31, 36
Paintner, The Artist’s Rule, 142.
John Mark Hall and Matthew West, City on the Hill, (Essential Music Publishing, 2011), http://www.lyricfind.com.
It is hot and muggy yet I felt a hint of a cool breeze as I eased into the adirondack chair in my garden. The slightest rustling in the trees above. Maybe a remnant of a seashore gust. Maybe a teaser that fall is coming. Whatever it is, I’ll take it. A reminder that God’s Spirit is always on the move.
The pace of autumn always catches me off guard. It comes every year, and every year I am surprised by its gallop. When I lived further north, fall used to represent long sleeves and sweaters as the cool air turned the leaves. Here in Texas, it has a different feel. The heat lingers and turns everything brown. A slow burn. No snow to brighten up the landscape, just dormancy as the trees sleep. A grayness settles over for the long months of winter.
The transition into fall has been a struggle the past few years. I want to learn how to embrace the season as it presents itself here.
Can I love the temperance?
Can I embrace the gray pallet?
Can I accept the release, the letting go?
Can I live into the dormancy and the fallowness?
I wonder if it is the pace of school life juxtaposed to the dormancy that throws me off. The earth is shutting down to rest while academic life is ramping up. Can I find connection in the dichotomy? Can I create space for and honor the dormancy while still participating in the cadence of school life?
The briskness of the autumn air in Wisconsin and Maine used to invigorate me for the deep dive into school. Maybe I can allow the late Texas heat to purify me and refine me.
Maybe autumn in Texas is my yearly crucible. Maybe the Spirit really is on the move.
I just finished my third year of Seminary. Most of the students who started with me just graduated and are moving on to their ministries. Since I have been attending part-time, I still have a few years to go. I haven’t shared much about my experience with my classes here mainly because it has been a real rollercoaster ride and I have just been holding on for dear life! Though it has been challenging, it has also been transformative and life-giving. I am not the same person I was when I started three years ago. I would like to be more intentional about sharing some of my Seminary experiences here so I’ll start with an essay I wrote on the Christian mission. This essay was for my course on Interfaith Studies, Comparative Theology, and Ministry where we learned about many of the world religions and how to best engage with others from different faiths.
The question for the essay was: “What are the features of ‘Christian mission’ in a multireligious society characterized by a widespread poverty and social inequality, animosity and violence between people due to various factors, and ecological deterioration?”
While I am sure there was an appropriate academic answer, I decided to go with a more personal, reflective response. Here is what I wrote:
Our Christian mission is to serve God’s people – not just Christians but all of God’s people – with love and humility rather than with arrogance and power. We are to listen to and lift up others and to trust that God is already working in their lives. We are to be the student when called and to be the teacher when called, and the only way we will know which one is called for at any given time is in relationship with one another.
Jesus tells His disciples in John 13:34-35, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” I am not sure that Jesus would recognize us as His disciples, as we have failed to love one another. We have not loved as Jesus commanded and the state of the world is evidence of this. The world does not appear well-loved.
So what does this love look like? For me personally, it looks like education and loving across lines. It looks like advocacy for the marginalized in my life, specifically the LGBTQIA+ community. It looks like holding open doors and inviting people I know and love into spaces where I am allowed but they are not. For me it looks like writing a blog, where I share my faith, my spiritual practices, and my struggles with the state of things. For me it looks like standing at the edges with those who don’t feel like they have a place at the center. For me it looks like donating time and resources to the organizations who are working tirelessly to make room at the table, to feed and educate the poor, to plant trees, to teach God’s word, and to share the benefits of spiritual practices. It looks like working with children and youth so they too can live into a Christian mission of love. It looks like cultivating friendships outside my faith to better understand others and their experience with what I call God’s life-giving Spirit. It looks like laying down my religious language so as to open lines of communication with the rest of God’s people. For me it looks like having hard conversations with people at my church, in my family, and in my friend groups about how Christianity and God’s word have been used as weapons against the least of these. It also looks like learning how to repent and apologize when I have been the one in the wrong using my faith as a way to judge or harm others. It looks like being willing to learn something new every day and being willing to wander into uncharted territory for the sake of love, relationship, and justice.
I certainly do not have all of the answers. I am grateful for educational and religious leaders who are willing to take a stand and teach those under their care how to better love people. I am grateful for brave voices from the margins who have risked everything to call attention to injustices and disparities. I am grateful for a savior who came for all of us and I pray that we can be better so that He will know us by our love, and as a result, all will know the love Jesus came to share.
Last week I was cutting up junk mail.
I have always been irritated and angered
by all the junk mail.
Then, I was inspired
by an artist I follow
to see differently.
Instead of seeing it as junk
I could see it
and free art paper.
As I was cutting,
I began to appreciate
the artistry behind the ads.
of color and pattern.
The art director,
the graphic designer,
the set designer,
the font maker.
the paper maker
and then the trees
it came from.
I could honor
their gifts and effort
as I created something new
from it all.
Maybe it could be
a form of worship,
for all our gifts
and our interconnectedness.
I felt peaceful
after seeing differently,
after collecting something old
to make something new.
Thank you, Maker God.
For your cycle of creating,
and for allowing me
to co-create with you
and others around the world.
In Jesus name,
~~Inspired by @finebergartstudio
I went for a short pondering walk around the park this morning. It was one of those walks that felt like a “thin place” where there is less divide between here and there. Normally the squirrels will scramble to a safe distance, with nut in tow. Today they just stayed on the edge of the path as I walked by. With the first one I just thought, “This one is really brave or extra friendly.” But then squirrel after squirrel stayed in place, like we were friends passing each other in the hallway. That knowing look, “Hi, how are you?” The birds were the same, allowing me to get closer than usual. I guess it seemed doubly strange in this time of social distancing. Human interaction is difficult, people pulling away as they pass, keeping safe distance. But today the animals were close, maybe knowing that was what I needed, someone to be close. I was in a state of joy and peace, and was thoroughly enjoying my walk.
Then, I turned the corner and suddenly a pain shot through the ball of my left foot. I was hoping I had just stepped wrong that one time but the pain continued. Instantly I felt despair. You wouldn’t think something so small could cause something so big as despair, but the truth is I have been in a long season of pain for the last eight years. As soon as one thing heals, something else hurts. I’ve had multiple foot injuries, broken toes, chronic back issues, a frozen shoulder, and the list goes on and on. Nothing very serious or life threatening, just chronic pain. I keep thinking everything will be better once the pain is gone. Today, I was finally feeling well enough to enjoy a walk around the park, feeling such joy and peace and gratitude, and then the pain showed up again. As I mentioned, my first response was despair. And then suddenly I wondered, “Is it possible for me to find joy and peace in spite of the pain?” Maybe that is my challenge. Maybe pain is just the thorn in my flesh, like Paul, that keeps me humble. Maybe the pain is not the end-all be-all dictator of my state of mind. Maybe there’s another way. Maybe…
I do hope the pain in my foot resolves quickly, but even if it doesn’t, I wonder if I can find joy and peace anyway.
2 Corinthians 12:9a
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you.”
For I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.
My baby girl sleeps
before her day.
My heart breaks
for her new
Joy bursts out
just one more
before you go.
I was invited to write a poem of instruction. Maybe some words of wisdom to my older self. Something I want to remind myself later to remember. Maybe on how to be a pilgrim or an artist or a creative or a monk, or how to be a writer or a contemplative…
I am not sure I know…
Mary Oliver says “Pay attention”
so see, hear, feel, taste, touch, perceive
go slow so you don’t miss anything
Record, she says “Tell about it”
God tells me to proclaim and witness
though I am not sure what that means
share, I guess
Perceive the sun setting
the dimming light
feel it, see it, taste it
What does a sunset taste like?
to both new
trust that the journey will provide
yet always bring pen and paper
and meet friends
and also leave friends
sometimes not everyone can go
where you need to go
And then follow
be an adventurer
the labels don’t matter
go where the wonder
Take your faith with you
not as tether
but as a light
remember what you know
and be willing to add to
that stockpile of inner wisdom
You will be afraid
find a way to go anyway
you can be afraid at home
or you can be afraid
on the adventure of a lifetime
pick the latter
Eat good food
whenever you can
Be willing to cry
that you will probably
stub your toe
a few times along the way
Don’t always look outside yourself
look inside too
sometimes what you are looking for
is already there
Be willing to lighten
the load as necessary
somethings will be
too heavy to carry
it is okay
to just drop them
and let them lie
and loving to yourself
you have never
been here before
And have fun
and then laugh some more
even when people are watching
they may laugh with you
and how wonderful is that.