As I started down The Path of Creativity, this month’s congregational theme, I found myself wondering about how our modern understanding of creativity is related to the religious concept of creation.
Psychology Today defines creativity as “the ability [of people] to discover new and original ideas, connections, and solutions to problems…fostering resilience, sparking joy, and providing opportunities for self-actualization.” The religious concept of creation, on the other hand, holds nature, the universe, Earth, life, and humanity as having been created by a supernatural “divine” entity. One perspective gives agency to human beings as central to creativity, while the other attributes all acts of creation to the divine.
Dr. Camilla Nelson, professor of Arts & Humanities at Australia’s University of Notre Dame, has documented changes as to how creation/creativity has been defined across time. Creation was associated with the divine up until the mid-19th century when Darwin showed that nature could create without intervention from a “divine” creator, explains Dr. Nelson. Nevertheless, human “creative power” remained associated with some kind of spiritual force until the mid-20th century, when Russia inaugurated the Space Age with its Sputnik launch. The US subsequently decided its educational system needed overhauling because it was producing conformity and “group-think.” US Navy Admiral Hyman Rickover, best known for his work in developing the nuclear submarine, insisted that what was needed was a qualitatively different kind of education capable of producing “creative people, sworn enemies of routine and the status quo,” in contrast to Russia’s totalitarian system. According to Dr. Nelson, more studies about the nature of “creativity” were published between 1950 and 1965 than had been in the previous 200 years, largely as a result of funding from military and defense concerns. Our modern definition of human creativity was therefore developed during the Cold War, Dr. Nelson concludes.
And yet, there are many who still feel there is a critical relationship between human creativity and the divine. “We are ourselves creations,” maintains artist/writer Julia Cameron, in The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. “We are meant to continue creativity by being creative ourselves. This is the God-force extending itself through us. Creativity is God’s gift to us. Using creativity is our gift back to God.”
Our friends at Soul Matters Sharing Circle launch us into considering creativity this month along a somewhat different path from either the strictly spiritual or the more modern/practical. We start with a simple definition from Peggy Taylor, a writer, musician, and creative development specialist who helps people connect with their innate creativity:
Creativity is our ability to dream things up
and make them happen.
Soul Matters points out that everyone is impressed by someone who takes what is and offers us an imagined view of what could be. But dreamy imagination is the easy part. Transforming imagination into life – making our dreams actually happen – is the far more challenging aspect of creativity, and it is so often scary that we tend to avoid it. “...[T]here is joy, beauty and play in creativity,” says Soul Matters, “but there is insecurity, loneliness and self-doubt as well.” Bottom line: creativity requires bravery / courage.
And it also requires companions on the journey. Soul Matters suggests we invite other people to join us on The Path of Creativity. “Something as daring as creativity is dangerous if we try to do it alone. ...[T]here is no such thing as 'a person of creativity,’ only ‘people of creativity.’” All creativity is based on what has come before; our creative endeavors are built upon what others have previously done. Creation never happens in a vacuum, but rather, in partnership with others.
Working together can help us defeat the natural blocks we face as we engage in the creative process. “The two terrors that discourage creativity and creative living,” according to Ralph Waldo Emerson, “are fear of public opinion and undue reverence for one’s own consistency.” Worrying about what others will think has certainly stopped many of us from bringing our most creative ideas to fruition. Consistency, Emerson reminds us, is “the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.” Today’s creative intuition is often better than yesterday’s conclusions, he maintains. But how do we break past the fear inherent to our creative endeavors?
Katharine Butler Hathaway, an American author who wrote about the effects of her spinal tuberculosis on her childhood and adult life, created a decision-making system to help herself avoid fear and stay on the path of creativity. “I would sort out all the arguments and see which belonged to fear and which to creativeness,” Ms. Hathaway wrote. “...[O]ther things being equal, I would make the decision which had the larger number of creative reasons on its side.”
If you are not an artist, a writer, or a musician, you may not think of yourself as a creative person, but “creativity is something we do with our very living,” Soul Matters suggests. Self-described teacher, potter, and poet Mary Caroline Richards, who goes by the name M.C. Richards, says, “All the arts we practice are apprenticeship. The big art is our life.” One of the Spiritual Exercises in this month’s Soul Matters Ministry Packet helps us experience that by suggesting we produce a “life-art” portfolio, generated by looking back on the “ordinary” events of our past week and listing the ways in which we have actually been creative. To give you a sense of what to look for and how to regard your life events from the point-of-view of creativity, here are some sample phrases describing everyday events that are actually quite creative:
I created joy inside my child.
I repainted my mood after a crappy day at work.
I planted a seed of hope in my friend.
I balanced my checkbook with the ease and grace of a ballet dancer.
We all want to be creative, don’t we? After all, it is SO much fun to imagine something and then give it life! Our tendency toward fierce independence means we could create alone, but the good news is: we don’t have to do creativity that way! This month, let’s not just ask ourselves, What do I want/need to create? but also: Who are my partners in bringing that creation into existence? “There are no creators without companions,” Soul Matters tells us. “The secret to creative self-expression is staying connected to each other.”
As we travel The Path of Creativity together this month, let’s use our imaginations to dream up the things we want to create. Then let’s get together and make them happen. Like so many other things in life, creativity takes a village. We are so lucky to have an entire congregation of kindred spirits who can co-create with us, helping us turn dreams into reality.
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