I had a wonderful conversation yesterday during a podcast interview about writing and creativity. It reminded me of an idea that came while I was preparing to lead a retreat, and the idea is this:
There are multiple “spirits” that go into our creativity.
When I say creative work, I mean any work we do where we are “speaking” things into being. Whatever medium you use – whether painting or writing, yes, but also cooking and parenting. It is important to consider the everyday tasks we do as “creative work,” because there is nothing we do in a day’s time that does not lead to a new thing coming into the world.
Parenting creates a certain kind of child.
Building a spreadsheet creates an order to your life or business that was not there before.
This kind of creative work is deeply intertwined with both who God is and who we are.
Creative work is our share in the co-creative future we have with the God who spoke first.
I believe that though creative process may differ, but injected into that process at all points are three “spirits.” Creative work is always, regardless of the medium or method, done at the intersection of these three “spirits.” Having a context for creativity opens up a deeper and more significant way of understanding just what it is that we’re up to.
To be honest, this idea is fairly new and I’m trying out the contours here in this post. Yet much of it matches my experience, so my hope is that it connects with yours.
SPIRT of God
For me, the first and most critical “spirit” is the SPIRIT of God. I don’t put this word in all-caps because of some sort of predilection for linguistic reverence, but more to distinguish it from the other two.
The SPIRIT of God was the first to create. This SPIRIT animated human life and continues to do so. The all-caps movement – a being, yes, but known for presence and action – gives energy and gifts aplenty.
To honor this SPIRIT first and foremost in our creativity is to tip our cap to the bigger picture.
We are all of us caught up in a space, liminal though it is, where God is close enough to touch (Acts 17). The Kingdom is already here, but not yet fully fleshed out. Our creative work takes it cue from the “fleshing in” of Jesus and becomes part of the great Kingdom installation.
Practically, this stream of creativity brings us to humbly acknowledge that our limited plans and means all funnel upwards. Our creative work of parenting, for example, needs the superstructure of an unshakeable Kingdom. Without the superstructure, we have no recourse to lament sleepless nights. How can we do the creative work of simultaneously clutching and letting go that is raising teenagers?
God’s SPIRIT calls out the best of our creation. Our creative gifts congeal and find lightning fuel for a work that is beyond our reach.
spirit of the Moment
The movement from all-caps to lower case is not an accident. The higher reality of God’s SPIRIT and Kingdom needs a context. In fact, the teachings of Jesus (creative instruction for living with wisdom, you might say) are impossible to execute without a body. They are impotent without community, adverse circumstances, and frail personal intentions.
The creative work we do has an audience, and that audience requires our attention.
When I write, I am constantly searching for an intersection. I look for the intersection of the ancient story of God and contemporary human realities in psychology and other disciplines. Of course, these realities are rooted in an ancient being that is “humanity.”
Humans have always been human, you might say. We simply keep finding out more about what that means.
The political context is divided like Abraham’s bull. There are new rages to accompany new graces. Music is changing, as are movies and local churches. It is in this “spirit” that a difficult thing must be stated:
God’s SPIRIT does not create apart from the context of the “spirit” in which we live.
If that doesn’t sound theologically sound to you, here’s a little project. As you read the Bible, pay attention to how many times you have to say “In that time” or “back then this meant” or “the author is addressing.” The great story of wisdom that is the Bible has much of its creative force invested in the time in which it was written.
Creative work happens in this time and place. We learn the wisdom of that age’s “spirit” and we bring it into today. We find our contemporary intersection between SPIRIT and “spirit.”
Spirit within us
Finally, creative work will starve without self knowledge. The intersection of God’s SPIRIT and the “spirit” of our context is a creative moment waiting to happen. Listening to our culture, we see the places where “goodness, gentleness, kindness, and self-control” (perhaps underline that last one?) must come to life.
When we see the intersection between SPIRIT and “spirit” we are asked a simple question: What Spirit is in you and what does it sing to this moment?
The thing that keeps us fastened to the creative process is the SPIRIT of love speaking to the “spirit” feeling jilted and alone. We press our ear to the ground, listening and waiting. Then we bring ourself – our soul, our will and desires, our Spirit – to the moment.
Our unique skills, passions, and experiences prepare us for holy tasks at the intersection of the three spirits.
So what is the SPIRIT of God bringing to life in you?
Is there something you hear in the cries of the “spirit” of our present context?
What is in you, what Spirit lives in your will and desire, that must begin to work itself out?
I pray you constantly find yourself at the intersection. And when you’re there:
Build a house or a bridge.
Balance a budget.
Read Goodnight Moon. Again.
Know it’s fine to kiss him/her, thank them, and head home instead.
Write that paper.
Have the hard conversation.