A few things: when you click on the videos, they will turn themselves in the right direction. There is a power point embedded, so if that’s not on your computer, you might need to download it. If you use Apple products to watch this, you might not get to see the Power Point. Technology beats me on this one.
Let’s get started! For this first session, you will need something to write with and something to write on – no special supplies needed just yet. Mostly this is in case you want to take notes, which is totally not necessary as no one is grading you.
Why a retreat on creativity? Because all of us are creative. We are. YOU ARE. Being creative does not mean being Georgia O’Keeffe or John Philips Sousa or Twyla Tharp or Mary Oliver, although we would certainly say that all those people are creative. You don’t have to be an artist to be creative. Please read that sentence again. YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE AN ARTIST TO BE CREATIVE.
ACTIVITY: Write down all the ways you are creative, and by ‘creative’ I mean all the ways you create or make things (except your bed; making your bed does not make you creative; it just means you show yourself hospitality.)
A little bit about me and my life as a creative person
In 1993 I moved to Springfield, Illinois, for my first call as a pastor. While in Springfield I was introduced to the works of George Colin, a folk artist who lived a worked in the town of Salisbury outside of Springfield. George made beautiful pastel drawings (i own four of his works) and for a while was popular in Chicago art galleries. He also painted outdoor furniture in the folk style.
So I took one look at that furniture and thought, “I could do that.” So I did. I painted chairs for auctions, painted children’s chair for friends expecting children. It took time but it was fun and it was a flow activity for me. I would utterly lose myself.
Cut to life as a married mom of an infant toddler, where all my creative juices were used up trying to get dinner on the table and making up games that would distract my kid while allowing me a 30 second nap.
Now that my daughter is older and more independent, and I share work and home with my husband, I’ve got more space for creative outlets. And because I am a human being in the world, I experience things and feel things about those experiences. Creativity – and for me, artistic expression – is an emotional outlet.
The Matron Saints Project
You now have the option of clicking on the link below to a power point about the Matron Saints. Your computer will probably download it… but it might not. You’ll need to “enable editing” then click on the “slide show” tab and then click “from beginning.” There is audio, so when you bring up a slide, click on the speaker icon in the middle of the slide to hear what I have to say!
Again, not a Luddite, not an expert. There is probably a better way to do this. For those of you on IPads or other things for whom the Power Point doesn’t work, my apologies. I added audio to the Power Point and if I save the presentation as Google Slides, the audio doesn’t work.
If we were meeting in person, this is point where I would open it up to conversation. I’m still trying to figure out how to do that!
And if we were on the retreat I had planned, we would be winding things up for the evening and getting ready for evening prayer. What I had planned was to introduce the idea of Praying with Color. For that, you would need colored pens or pencils and paper, but you can also do this in monochrome. If interested, you can click HERE.
STAY TUNED FOR PART TWO!!
When I was planning the retreat with the folks from Valley Presbyterian, they asked what scripture I would use to ground us and give us a guiding image. So here it is:
In a second, we’re going to breathe together – inhale to the count of four, hold for two, exhale to the count of five. Click on the video to take a few deep breaths with me.
I hope that some of you are familiar with Susan Howatch’s series of books on clergy in the Church of England. Seriously, I learned a lot about pastoring from those books. The first book is Glittering Images and the last is Absolute Truths, and this quote is from the last book. In it, a sculptor is trying to explain to a priest what creating is like.
The writer of Genesis tells us that when God created the world , God declared all the creation good. Novelist Susan Howatch describes what happened next. “God didn’t create the world in seven days and then sit back and say: ‘Gee whiz, that’s great!’ He created the first outlines of his project to end all projects and he said, ‘Yes, that’s got a lot of potential but how … do I realize it without making a first-class [mess]?’
Theologians don’t believe God withdrew from the world after the first creative blast and forgot about it…. No creator can forget! If the blast-off’s successful, then you’re hooked, and once you’re hooked you’re inside the work as well as outside it, it’s part of you, you’re welded to it, you’re enslaved, and maybe that’s why it’s such… hell when things go adrift. ….You can never rest until you’ve brought truth out of all distortion and beauty out of all the mess – but it’s agony – while simultaneously being the most wonderful and rewarding experience in the world.
“And that’s the creative process which so few people understand. It involves an indestructible sort of fidelity, an insane sort of hope, and indestructible sort of… well, it’s love, isn’t it? There’s no other word for it. You love the work and you suffer with it and always – always – you’re slaving away against all odds to make everything come out right.”
That feels a bit like life – slaving away, against all the odds, to make everything come out right. Thanks for living in that way, for following that old camping adage I learned long ago, leaving a place cleaner than when you found it.
As we start on part two, please watch this TED Talk by Elizabeth Gilbert the elusive genius. Click HERE
So this section is about How to Be a Creative Person. There are two parts.
1. Be a person.
My brilliant and talented friend Eileen told me that in the Hebrew language and sense of things, only God creates; the rest of us make. That implies that God is the only one who can make ex nihilo, out of nothing. And I don’t want to get bogged down in semantics on this, but there is truth to that idea. When we make something – dinner; a piece of music; a poem – we are using things that already exist – food; sound/notes; words, meter, images. And how blessed we are to have all those things at the ready! Maybe that is also part of that preparation stage, getting things ready. The French, in cooking, use the expression mise en place – everything ready to go. For some creators/makers, they need to have everything in place and ready to go – the easel, the canvas, the brushes, paint, water bottle.
I am not a trained artist and I’m a bit haphazard in my process. I was making liturgical banners with a fantastic and trained artist in the congregation and I think I scandalized her but my disregard of the right (and, I’ll admit it) better way of doing things. I get ahead of myself sometimes, and I’m so eager to get started that I jump in. And sometimes that’s fine, and sometimes it’s not, like when you’re baking and you’ve mixed all the wet ingredients and you’re about to add the dry when you realize you have neither baking soda nor baking powder and everything grinds to a halt.
I’d like to introduce you to the idea of wabi-sabi. Leonard Koren (in Wabi-sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets and Philosophers) says, “Wabi-sabi is a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. It is a beauty of things modest and humble. It is a beauty of things unconventional.”
I will have “real” (as in trained) artists express concern to me that I am using Elmer’s Glue in my mosaics. Fair point. Those little squares may indeed one day fall off and the piece will not be as it way. I’m okay with that. The pessimist in me says that life is wabi-sabi, impermanent.
If you watched The Good Place on tv (and if you didn’t and you’re looking for a way to spend your self-isolation time, find it on Netflix) there was a beautiful moment near the end of the series in which one of the characters comments that life is precious because it ends. It is our impermanence that makes life more meaningful and beautiful. Wabi-sabi, as I understand it, picks up on that and say there is beauty in that which is not eternal or complete.
Crispin Sartwell, in Six Names of Beauty says this. “Wabi as beauty is humility, asymmetry, and imperfection, a beauty of disintegration, of soil, of autumn leaves, grass in drought, crow feathers. For such reasons, an appreciation of wabi is an appreciation of the world and a certain sort of refusal of its transformation for delectation. Wabi as an aesthetic is a connection to the world in its imperfection, a way of seeing imperfection as itself embodying beauty… Sabi is a quality of stillness and solitude; a melancholy that is one of the basic human responses to and sources of beauty…. Thus wabi-sabi is aesthetic of poverty and loneliness, imperfection and austerity, affirmation and melancholy. Wabi-sabi is the beauty of the withered, weathered, tarnished, scarred, intimate, coarse, earthly, evanescent, tentative, ephemeral.”
Lent is a wabi-sabi time. So is self-isolating because of a new virus.
AT LAST: TIME TO BE CREATIVE!
You have been very patient with me and now it’s time to let you loose! For the real retreat that didn’t happen, there was going to be about an hour for people to go create something and we had prepared for a few options.
Option 1: Write haiku. You remember haiku – a brief poem in three lines, the first in five syllables, the second in seven syllables, the third in five syllables. Consider these words too:
- A traditional Japanese haiku is a three-line poem with seventeen syllables, written in a 5/7/5 syllable count. Often focusing on images from nature, haiku emphasizes simplicity, intensity, and directness of expression. [It is] the focus on a brief moment in time; a use of provocative, colorful images; an ability to be read in one breath; and a sense of sudden enlightenment.
- “A Japanese verse form most often composed, in English versions, of three unrhymed lines of five, seven, and five syllables. A haiku often features an image, or a pair of images, meant to depict the essence of a specific moment in time.” (poetryfoundation.org)
Option 2: Wabi-sabi photos
Using whatever camera is available to you, and a phone camera is just great, go outside and take pictures of things that express wabi-sabi to you.
Option 3: Altered books
Okay, I must confess I’m not sure what do here. Were we are Villa S. Maria on the coast in Santa Cruz, we would be sitting at tables with scraps of interesting paper, paper punches, ribbons, buttons, glue, brushes, and the all important gesso-ed board books. We would meditate on a quote and make a book.
But you all are at home, presumably without such supplies. I want to invite you to make a collage meditating on a quote. You would need paper and maybe magazines or some other kind of paper to collage with. And glue – tape works in a pinch. Let me offer that and get back to you about how else you might do this. Meanwhile, here are some quotes you might choose to base your collage on as you meditate on the words.
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” (Rainer Maria Rilke)
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:3-12)
The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
what they did yesterday afternoon
they set my aunts house on fire
i cried the way women on tv do
folding at the middle
like a five pound note.
i called the boy who use to love me
tried to ‘okay’ my voice
i said hello
he said warsan, what’s wrong, what’s happened?
i’ve been praying,
and these are what my prayers look like;
i come from two countries
one is thirsty
the other is on fire
both need water.
later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
where does it hurt?
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
If you twist and turn away
If you tear yourself in two again
If I could, yes I would
If I could, I would let it go
If I could throw this lifeless lifeline to the wind
Leave this heart of clay, see you walk, walk away
Into the night, and through the rain
Into the half light and through the flame
If I could, through myself, set your spirit free
I’d lead your heart away, see you break, break away
Into the light and to the day
To let it go and so to fade away
To let it go and so fade away
I’m wide awake
I’m wide awake, wide awake
I’m not sleeping
Oh no, no, no
If you should ask, then maybe
They’d tell you what I would say
True colours fly in blue and black
Blue silken sky and burning flag
Colours crash, collide in blood-shot eyes
If I could, you know I would
If I could, I would let it go
This desperation, dislocation
Revelation, in temptation
Let it go and so fade away
To let it go, oh yeah, and so fade away
To let it go, oh no, and so to fade away
I’m wide awake, I’m wide awake
Wide awake, I’m not sleeping
Oh no, no, no
Part Three: The Ups and Downs of Creativity
So, assuming you did try creating something, how did it go?
Now is the time to wave goodbye to your inner critic and gather around only those who love and encourage you!
Remember that piece of paper and writing thing I invited you to have when we started? Get that, and write down what was fun/ hard/challenging/invigorating/frustrating/wonderful/horrible about your experience of creating something.
Blocks to creativity
If we were together, this is the point where we would talk about our own impediments to creativity. Let’s list a few:
Write a few notes about your own blocks to creativity.
So that’s it for part 3, but I’m thinking about how we can have a real conversation about all of this! If you are participating in this retreat, and would like to be a part of a Zoom or other type of conference call/video, message me here on the blog or some other way. If we have a few who would like to do this, I’ll set it up!
Part Four, the end, will come tomorrow. I hope. The end of the retreat, that is!