By Denise McGuiness, PhD, M.Div | Pastoral Psychologist, Deacon
Many people spend most of their time living in their heads. This is especially true for clergy. We are good with words and have made a profession of sharing words of wisdom through sermons, counseling, Bible studies, newsletter columns, etc. We use words to explain a theological concept, formulate an idea, state an opinion or give a rationale for our actions or beliefs. There is nothing inherently wrong with this, but in my own life, I reached a point where it was time to give my left brain a rest and begin developing my right brain, the center of creativity. I have found this release through the practice of contemplative photography and glass on glass mosaics.
When asked to write about creativity as a spiritual practice, I immediately thought of two books that have opened my horizons to just how important this practice is for my life. One was The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron. This book has been around for almost 30 years and has helped many to claim their inner artist. Cameron states,
“…we are all creative—and with the use of a few simple tools, we can all become more creative. Creativity, I believed, was a spiritual practice. We had only to open ourselves up to the Great Creator working through us. We became channels for spiritual energy to enter the world. Writing, painting, dancing, acting—no matter what form our creativity took, the Great Creator caused us to flourish.“
Cameron encourages her readers to use two primary tools:
- Morning Pages: writing three free-flowing pages each day, sometimes exploring the inner critical messages that block your creativity.
- Artist Dates: a block of time each week to nurture your creative consciousness through play and self-nurture.
Her basic principle is that creativity is the energy of life and lives in us all. When we open ourselves up to this creativity, we open ourselves up to God. God’s gift to us is this creativity. By being creative we give back to God, allowing God’s creativity to be manifested in this world.
Madeline Engle (Walking on Water: Reflections of Faith & Art) states that all art that is open to the Divine is an incarnational activity. When we paint, compose music, decorate an altar, or write a story, we as artists are willing to be a birth-giver. She encourages the artist to be like Mary, who willingly agreed to become the bearer of the Messiah. Engle says,
“…the artist must be obedient to the work, whether it be a symphony, a painting or a story for a small child. I believe that each work of art, whether it is a work of great genius or something very small, comes to the artist and says, “Here I am. Enflesh me. Give birth to me.” And the artist either says “My soul doth magnify the Lord,” and willingly becomes the bearer of the work, or refuses…“
For Engle, letting creativity flow through you is an act of obedience to God, the Great Creator who encourages the artist to find the cosmos within chaos.
It was hard at first for me to believe that I could be an artist. I decided to commit to the morning pages and explore what inner voices held me back. I soon discovered that voices of criticism from my family were key in my dismissal of my creative talents. This awareness allowed me to explore my creativity using photography, pairing it with the practice of Visio Divina. This is an ancient practice of encountering the Divine through images, used extensively in the orthodox and Catholic church and now making a resurgence in Protestant mainline churches. This practice has deepened my experience of the presence of God and led to a joint effort with David Tinney to publish a book on the subject (Available Light: Awakening spirituality through photography, soon to be published by Dorrance Publishing Co.).
One of my favorite creative spiritual practices is glass on glass mosaics. This is a form of art that uses stained glass pieces glued on a piece of glass in a frame to form an image. Grout rather than lead foil is used to finish the piece.
I was first introduced to mosaics while at a soul collage workshop where I sat next to an artist who practiced this art. When I said to her, “I am not an artist,” she encouraged me to try this craft, stating that everyone was an artist. She offered to teach me at her studio at the Grunewald Guild. I worked with her for several months and have since worked with another artist who helped me let go of perfectionism and go with the flow when placing the glass in a project.
Through this practice, I have learned to be aware of the inner critic that tries to tell me I am not creative enough and to continue to create anyway. I have learned to play more in my art. Learning to do this with creative arts has also helped me not take myself so seriously and be more playful in my life in general. This spiritual practice has helped me to be more open to inspiration and creativity wherever it presents in my life. It has released me from the total focus on logical, left-brained activity and opens my vision to other ways of interacting with the world.
As Engle states, we each have the option to obey the call from God to find cosmos in chaos through our creativity or to reject the call. I would encourage all of us to find our inner artist and feed it so that the Divine can be manifested more fully in the world.