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.
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.
I am reading the book Gently Awakened by Sara Joseph about the intersection of faith and art/creativity, about giving it all to God and letting God work through your art. In the chapter titled “The Precision of Timing,” she talks about her dream of having an art studio. When she finally has one and is first setting it up, she is drawn to the story of Joseph in Genesis 41. She realizes that it was thirteen years from the time Joseph first has his God-given dreams to the time those dreams became a reality. She also realizes that it was thirteen years earlier that she first prayed about her art and handed it over to God.
I started thinking about where I was thirteen years ago. Thirteen years ago, I was not a Christian. Thirteen years ago, we had just enrolled Lindsay in preschool at First Grapevine UMC. She had not yet started class. I had not yet started bible study. We had been to one worship service. I had no idea that thirteen years later I would be in Seminary. That thirteen years later I would be having my Ministry Orientation for Elder Ordination. That thirteen years later I would be on the Strategic Team planning the future of our church. That thirteen years later I would be writing about God. That I would be sharing my faith…a faith I didn’t even have at the time.
I could never have dreamt a dream that big. I was craving more and God gave me more, and then some. Thank you, Lord.
Ephesians 3:20b ~ Abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine
I was invited into a creative exploration of My Inner Artist by Chirstine Valters Paintner in her book Illuminating the Way. The idea being that we all have an Inner Artist; that we were created by The Creator to create. So it is just a matter of uncovering our inner creativity and letting it speak, or sing, or write, or dance, or paint, etc. This exercise asks a series of questions about your Inner Artist like “What does your Inner Artist look like? What does your Inner Artist see? Where was your Inner Artist born? What must your Inner Artist speak aloud? Why does your Inner Artist exist?” And then you take the answers and weave them into a poem about your Inner Artist. Here is mine:
My Inner Artist
Fun, adventurous, eclectic me,
voyager, pilgrim, backpack ready
With roots in Maine, and sprouts in Texas,
my heart tethered as I journey to see
God’s beautiful creation,
to stand in awe,
To shed the imposter,
to drop my cloak,
And then returning to Tell the Story,
the Truths I have learned,
the God I have seen
It is good, it is very good
Dear Loving and Faithful God, my Majestic Creator –
Thank you for my Inner Artist. I pray that I always have the courage to let her create as you call her to.
In Jesus’ holy name I pray.
God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good…
I have two tween-age daughters. We’ll call the 10 year old Twirly, and the 12 year old Booky (soon to be 13 year old when she will be referred to as the Bratty Teenager.) Booky, as practice for her soon to come bratty teenage years, has picked up a new favorite saying: “I don’t like it.” She says this all the time.
Me: Have some breakfast.
Her: I don’t like it.
Me: Here, try this tea.
Her: I don’t like it.
Me: Here’s a million dollars.
Her: I don’t like it.
You get my point. And her younger sister, Twirly, who is always trying to be like her big sister, has picked up on it too.
It makes me crazy, because I tend to be somewhat of an optimist and an adventurist, always looking on the bright side and up for trying something new. That is probably exactly why they say it, because they know it makes me crazy! I have tried to get them to stop. But since it is a somewhat trivial offense, I didn’t believe my tried and true form of punishment (like taking away their screens) was appropriate. So I had to get creative.
My girls are both writers. They are both very creative and artistic. In fact, it was their interest and dedication to writing that inspired me to give it a try too. So this gave me an idea. Let’s try some “Creative Punishment”.
So, I started with Booky, the biggest offender. I told her that every time she said, “I don’t like it”, she had to write something for me. And I get to pick the format and the topic. She had just finished writing a Shakespearean Sonnet for a school assignment, so I threatened that to get her attention.
True to form, we were having our normal after school chat about what we had planned for the evening, and she says, “I don’t like it.” And then her eyes get big and she cries, “Nooooo, not the Sonnet.” I grin, but decide to start smaller to convince her to play along.
I say, “So, you owe me a poem…about…a dinosaur.” She protested, “What?! No! I don’t want to write a story about a dinosaur!” Then I added, “It must take up the entire page, so choose your page wisely.”
So Booky is a bit of an over-acheiver…when not at home, that is. She gets mad when she doesn’t get 100% on her school assignments. When she comes home from mission trips, the adults are always commenting on what a hard worker she is. But at home she tends to try to get by with the absolute bare minimum amount of effort. So when searching for her “page” for her dinosaur story, she chose an index card. An index card. This is the girl who complains when there is a page limit on her written assignments because she always wants to write more. I call her Booky, not only for the number of books she reads, but also for the number of books she is attempting to write (currently working on two fantasy novels, yes two). She writes parodies in her spare time, for fun, over 15 so far. But I get an index card.
So for the next offense I requested a Haiku.
Clever. But on the third offense, it really got fun. I asked for a story about an orange…and a hedgehog. I was really interested to see what Booky would come up with. Leave it to her, a Hufflepuff through and through, to turn it into a Harry Potter story…
Harry stared at the hedgehog. He knew the incantation, he knew the movement, but he couldn’t do it. But he had to. This would decide whether he passed 5th year. He raised his wand and took a big breath. “Orangeocallyous!” he exclaimed. POOF! On his desk now sat an orange. He picked it up. He had done it! He would move on to 6th year. He tossed it up in the air and caught it. “Squeak!” it cried in protest. Wait. Oranges don’t squeak. He looked down at it and sticking out from the side was a little hedgehog face. “Noooooooo!”
Cute! And then, I asked Twirly to help clean up her room. “I don’t like it.” Busted! I requested a story about a baby chinchilla (we were once big Diego fans). Here’s her story…
One day there was a chinchilla named Rebecca. Rebecca had a cookie. She loved cookies, there was something about this cookie that disgusted her. She stared at it with a curled nose and a snarl. Suddenly there was a sound coming from in the bushes just below Rebecca’s tree house. She put the cookie down on the table, ran outside and studied the ground. There was no sign of a predator or her mom, who she had been waiting for to come home from Seattle. Then as she opened the spruce wood door to return to her home she saw her cookie hop off the table and out the door… TO BE CONTINUED WITH MY NEXT PUNISHMENT!
Love it! Leave it to Twirly to already be planning for the next offense.
So the “I don’t like its” have decreased. But my husband caught Booky in one more, and he pulled out the big guns…a Sonnet…about a chocolate malt. This may end up being my favorite form of “punishment”!
My husband got his sonnet, and we haven’t heard the “I don’t like it” since. I’ll have to apply it to another annoying bad habit (like “Your face”! Middleschoolers have the weirdest expressions.), so we can get more fun stories. Stay tuned….
Create in me a pure heart, O God,and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
the pattern draws me to sleepiness and heavy eyelids
that same pattern bobs me awake
I cannot help but be annoyed
And then the puppy comes in with her fluffy fur and wet kisses. Just enough weight on my lap to help me feel grounded. And the annoying drip has stopped.
I love creative practices and spiritual practices. So last year, I was drawn to the book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. And, as with many of my good books, I only made it through the Introduction. The book is a 12-week study, or really a 12-week practice, to help release your inner creativity. But I never made it to Week 1. But not because I didn’t love the book, but because I so loved the very first tool explained in the Introduction, The Morning Pages (or mind dump as I like to call it). It is “three pages of longhand writing, strictly stream-of-consciousness”. The book further explains, “Pages are meant to be, simply, the act of moving the hand across the page and writing down whatever comes to mind. Nothing is too petty, too silly, too stupid, or too weird to be included.”
It’s a mind dump. To get all the junk out. Just putting pen to paper and letting it all flow (or drip) out.
So as I continue my morning “mind dumps”, I won’t apologize for what ends up on my pages, but I will apologize now for what may end up here shared with you.
Thank you for coming on the journey with me…stumbles and all.
p.s. If you want to work through The Artist’s Way with me, I would love that! And it will be easy for you to catch up, because I am still only on the Introduction!
Dear Loving and Faithful God –
Thank you for minds and words and pen and paper. Thank you for fluffy dogs and wet puppy kisses. Thank you for connection with You and with others. I pray that I always find You in my Morning Pages and everywhere else I spend time today.
You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.