There is an underlying, in-dwelling creative force infusing all of life––including ourselves.
~ Julia Cameron, The Artist's Way
There is a Danish saying that translates, "A loved child has many names." We humans, around the globe, have many names for the creative force Cameron refers to––God, Higher Power, the Whole, the Source, Presence, Spirit––and those are just in English. Maybe it says something about the love and gratitude we feel for that underlying, indwelling force. Here, I mainly use the name "Creator," in part because this post is about creativity as spiritual practice and also to honor the way many Indigenous people refer to the force that infuses all of life.
All around us when we pay attention, we see creativity in action. As fall lengthens into winter, milkweed plants go brown and then creamy white. Their pods turn from spiky green to hard, thin shells and then open to scatter their silky parachutes, which are weighted down by small black seeds. They appear to have died, but in spring they come back, green again, evidence of the prolific creative force in nature. In summer it's easy to start taking creation for granted when there is such a profusion of growth; but what a miracle flourishes in the garden––the fact that a tiny, flat, yellow tomato seed becomes a ripe red tomato and not a curved, yellow squash; that a corn seed no bigger than the tip of a little finger becomes a tall stalk bearing several ears of corn, precious for nourishment of body and soul.
We humans, too, are part of creation. In the Jewish and Christian traditions, we are told that Creator formed us in Creator's own image. If we take that name––Creator––and think of ourselves as Creator's image bearers, then we, too, have been formed to create. Not creating, as Julia Cameron says in The Artist's Way, goes against our fundamental nature. It is a denial of the creative life force that infuses us.
I've often heard people say, "Oh, I'm not creative." They might believe that about themselves because they take a narrow view of what creativity is. They may think it's only about art or music or poetry. But we all have the creative force within us. Think of making a beautiful, nourishing meal. Of finding a unique solution to a knotty mechanical problem. Of figuring out a way to help a child who is having difficulty reading. I love watching physical therapists stand and ponder the best way to address a problem in the musculoskeletal system––creativity in action, there to observe.
Practice is an activity we engage in on a regular basis. The Artist's Way refers to a creative practice as one in which our focus is on the process of what we are doing, not the product. It is about being as present as possible, being in that moment, not some other moment.
For many years, I enjoyed cooking, but more recently, it has become a chore, something that has to be done regularly, if I'm to survive on more than peanut butter on a rice cake. However, even more recently, I began to look at cooking as an opportunity to be creative. I don't mean making some elaborate, extraordinary meal. I mean being present with the process. Attending to the brilliant orange of carrot discs, as I chop. Delighting in the contrasting colors, when I put together the green of a pepper, the red of a tomato, the white of a cucumber for a simple salad. Absorbing the smell of the lemon I'm squeezing over the salad.
When I pay attention, I'm often overcome by gratitude. Gratitude for these simple pleasures, for the smells and tastes and sights. Gratitude is one of the most genuine ways we connect with the indwelling force––saying thank you that we are graced to be part of it all. Just thank you. Medieval theologian Meister Eckhart wrote, "If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough."
One aspect of spiritual practice is the regularity of it––something we do most days, maybe even several times a day. However, spiritual practice is not just a habit. It's something we do regularly to consciously connect with God, or whatever name we give to that Force that infuses us and all of Life. Pearl S. Buck, perhaps best known for her Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Good Earth, grew up with Presbyterian missionary parents in China. She did not stay in the church, but she remained deeply impressed by how her father spent several moments in silence before praying aloud, using those moments to establish conscious contact with God. His tradition emphasized the intellect; yet he also recognized the need for a deep, felt connection with Creator.
Creativity requires us to pay attention, to be present, to bring something to life––whether it's a solution to a problem; a beautifully woven rug; a fine squash blossom necklace; a painted mural; an embroidered pillowcase; an expressive dance; a lovingly, thoughtfully prepared meal. It's easy when we are creating to forget about the present moment, to think about the outcome we hope for. Entering into creativity as a spiritual practice enables us to discover the joy of the process; the product becomes secondary, which doesn't make it less meaningful or beautiful. But the process becomes a vehicle for knowing ourselves and the Source more deeply.
This entry was first published in The Gallup Independent on August 19, 2023 in slightly different form. Reprinted here with permission.