Book Club Channel
Contemplation and Creativity: An Interview with Christine Valters Paintner
The gift of bringing creativity into dialogue with a tradition like monastic spirituality is that we have the wisdom of 1500 years of practice. The call to be in community is at the heart of the monastic way. Creativity heals when it is witnessed and affirmed by a community. This is why so much of my work is to support those in the ministry of spiritual direction as they bring the arts to those they journey with; the creative process is held and witnessed by another.
What's your take on what it means to be created in the image of God? And how would describe the "Fall" from your perspective?
I consider God to be the Original Artist. It is in God's nature to create. We each carry a reflection of that essential nature within us, so for me the "Fall" is about how we fall asleep to this divine indwelling. We come to believe that we are disconnected from God, from each other, from nature. This is one of the great lies we tell ourselves and is perpetuated in many ways in our culture—through class warfare and oppression of others, through our ravaging of the environment, through any theology that tells us we are too far from God to ever be whole again.
We catch glimpses of this wholeness through spiritual practice, we engage in disciplines that help us to awaken to this radical union. The mystics describe God as dwelling within each of us and when we are able to make the long, arduous journey of shedding all of the distractions and false perceptions about ourselves and who we truly are, then we experience a radical kind of peace, equanimity, and sense of union. We discover that we are responsible for our brothers and sisters and for the whales and beetles because our own lives are inextricably woven together with theirs.
Catholic monk Thomas Merton described this in his oft-quoted epiphany at the corner of 4th and Walnut in Louisville, Kentucky where he "suddenly realized that I loved all the people and that none of them were, or, could be totally alien to me. As if waking from a dream—the dream of separateness." This is the awakening we all yearn for even if we can't name it. The new monk and new artist are on this journey of awakening; they practice staying awake to this truth each day and they do it right in the midst of quotidian life.
In your book, you say: "Obedience means trusting that I was created as a creative being in the image of the Primary Creator and realizing that what brings me joy and energy will also bring me closer to my purpose." I can hear the critics now: "That sounds like the cult of me!" Your response?
There is a fallacy that obedience is all about sacrificing our own desires for God or for the church. I don't mean to say that following one's deepest call doesn't involve some very real sacrifice, but more often it is about letting go of our ingrained expectations and preconceived ideas, of our desires to make others happy, to not want to upset the status quo, and to be open to the radically new thing God is bringing to birth in the world. We participate in that as a part of a communion so that when I share my unique gifts freely and you do the same, we bring more wholeness to the world together.
What's been the most enthusiastic response—and where was the most resistance—to your book?
The enthusiasm I experienced was largely from folks who were thrilled to find kindred spirits, who knew their own deep desires to live in creative and contemplative ways and wanted support in that journey. I write about the archetypes of the monk and artist both as edge-dwellers, ones who live on the edges of a community or culture and call others toward this newness of vision and as such are often ostracized for it because people aren't ready to receive it.
Christine Valters Paintner, Ph.D., is a Benedictine Oblate and the online Abbess of Abbey of the Arts, a virtual monastery without walls offering online classes and resources in contemplative practice and creative expression. She is the author of seven books on monastic spirituality and creativity including The Artist's Rule: Nurturing Your Creative Soul with Monastic Wisdom (Ave Maria Press), Desert Fathers and Mothers: Early Christian Wisdom Sayings (SkyLight Paths), and Eyes of the Heart: Photography as a Christian Contemplative Practice (forthcoming 2013 from Ave Maria Press). Christine earned her Ph.D. in Christian Spirituality from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, and her work focuses on the intersection of the arts, contemplative spirituality and practice, and the wisdom of the seasons. Visit her website Abbey of the Arts.