Tag Archives: Creativity

Growing a Story

By FASTILY (TALK) – I created this work entirely by myself., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6850324

Growing a Story

Some kernel of truth was planted in the fecund imagination
And as the new shoot broke from the warm moist ground
Spreading its initial leaves to breath in the air in a new world
As an alien sun showers the cotyledons of the seed with radiation
And the roots begin to drive into the soil feeding on the detritus
So many things can happen to this new seedling over its maturation
The environment it emerges into may be too toxic for it to endure
Animals and insects may eagerly devour its first green leaves
Or weeds may grow up around it choking its access to the sun
Drought may deny it the nourishment it needs or flood may overwhelm
Subterranean pests or diseases may devour the roots it sinks
But sometimes, against all the odds, the roots delve deep
The plant spreads its tender branches towards the heavens
And the story slowly grows, struggling to reach maturity
Putting forth leaves, flower and fruit and delighting the eye
Yet no story grows unchanged by the world it enters
The knots and gnarls that give it character as it grows
Some branches have to be pruned carefully by its author
As it takes its place among the orchard that invites the hungry
To walk among the collected trees and to taste the fruit
Which provides the seeds for the next generation of stories

Cooperating with Creativity: A Reflection

Blue Dancers by Edgar Degas, 1899

“Creativity is the relationship between the human being and the mysteries of inspiration” Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic, Creative Living Beyond Fear

There are times where creativity seems like a divine gift, something external and strange and magical that comes from some unknown space in the cosmos. Normally these are times where I let creativity take the lead, where I allow curiosity around a phrase or an idea to lead the way. During these times the providential provision of resources and words can be delightful if a little scary. There are times where my words both reflect me and something that is not like me at all, even when there is truth in the strangeness. I enjoy cooperating with creativity whatever spirit it may be, letting it flow through me and guide me, surprise and startle. Sometimes I can almost stand back and watch it dance and spin and leap and all I can do is simply try to record the joy or lament of the dance. As one who is not a dancer, I am at best an uninformed commenter on the art and yet sometimes the comments themselves capture some of the beauty whether dark or savage or light or joyous or somber.

There are times where creativity seems like some strange reserve of energy within me, like the old Polynesian idea of mana or the Chinese concept of qi. Feeling like some vital energy that is a part of me and that expending it in a forced manner leaches strength from the very marrow of my being. When it feels like a time-constraints force me to be creative in an urgent matter it almost feels like I am doing violence to creativity and to myself at the same time. It is like this thing which can be separate from me is somehow conjoined, that we feed off the same energy. Not like some unwelcome parasite that simply leeches its victim for its own purposes but some type of symbiotic relationship where the creativity, genius, daemon, muse or whatever name you give it cannot do its work without your participation in the dance with it. When it is forced to dance a dance it no longer wants to dance or is not ready for, then I, as its partner, am the one whose head pounds, whose muscles burn and whose soul aches.

Creativity can be elusive but she can be a delight. Sometimes she stays away for days on end, or perhaps it is me who has been away on some other journey, too distracted by the alluring entertainment on some screen or some pressing task at work or home. Sometimes she comes when the time is not right and by the time I can give her my full attention she is off dancing somewhere out of site. I’m not sure what creativity is or how it works, I’m just trying to learn how to cooperate with it. To be attentive to its call, to listen to the music it chooses, to observe the dance, to do my part as a recorder of these mysteries of inspiration. I try to work diligently but not to force or bend it to my will, that seems to do damage to both of us. Perhaps it is something deep within me, perhaps it is something else, perhaps it is in some strange way both. I may never know, and perhaps to know would steal away the magic and delight, like knowing some illusionist’s trick. So, for now I’ll let this dance end as the music fades and leave this reflection for others to see. Perhaps serendipity may allow this to be that providential provision that another curious observer needs as their creativity calls its tune.

Anfechtung

Roland H. Bainton’s classic, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, is one of several Luther biographies I have on my shelf and it is a classic work, even if it is a little dry to read. I want to focus in on an insight from one of the last chapters called ‘The Struggle for Faith’ in most of what I write below but first I’m going to indulge a bit of nostalgia since this was also the first book on Luther’s life that I read many, many years ago while I was in middle school. I remember giving a presentation, it was required that we do a biography on a historical figure, and since I knew very little about this person so important they named the denomination I grew up in (and continue to be a part of) I remember finding this book and choosing it from the library. I also remember my verdict on the book, it was boring (to a middle schooler much of the impact of the theological debates was lost). Still over three decades later I find myself once again returning to this classic bio of Luther and finding a new insight from it.

Anfechtung, the spiritual struggle that Luther endured throughout his life which included both elements of depression and self-doubt combined with a struggle for faith, was a continual if frequently unwanted partner in Luther’s life. Luther’s struggle to find a gracious God would provide strength and hope for many people but it also came at a high cost for Luther. Luther’s impact and talent were prodigious and he became an inspirational figure of faith for countless people and yet in his personal life he was in a continual struggle for faith. He proclaimed that God was always good and yet he struggled to accept this gospel for himself. He until the very end felt unworthy of the grace he proclaimed. A quote from Luther and then Bainton that I found helpful:

 

If I live longer, I would like to write a book about Anfechtungen, for without them no man can understand Scripture, faith, the fear or the love of God. He does not know the meaning of hope who has never been subjected to temptations. David must have been plagued by a very fearful devil. He could not have had such profound insights if he had not experience great assaults. (Luther)

 

Luther verged on saying that an excessive emotional sensitivity is a mode of revelation. Those who are predisposed to fall into despondency as well as to rise into ecstasy may be able to view reality from an angle different from that of ordinary folk. Yet it is a true angle; and when the problem or the religious object has been once so viewed, others less sensitive will be able to look from a new vantage point and testify that the insight is valid. (Bainton, 283)

 

I have sometimes admired those for whom faith is simple, who seem to be unquestioning in their trust but that is not my experience of faith. I have often questioned my own struggles of faith, depression and have occassionally viewed them as crippling to my ministry. Yet, perhaps what may be an excessive emotional sensitivity may also be a critical part of my hermeneutical insight, my pastoral presence and my preaching’s relevance. Perhaps it is the vulnerability that allows questions and doubt that allows grace to enter in through my own weakness. Perhaps it is this quality that makes the Lutheran theological tradition resonate with me even today.

The Wisdom of Story Reflection 2: Modern Crises and the Balance of Work, Rest and Play

When I started the Wisdom of Story I had no idea that the session on act 2 of the story, the part of the story where the conflict comes in and changes things around would coincide with an actual set of minor crises (predominantly around a building project at my congregation) and the stress that would be added by that to an already full schedule. So I am thankful for thinking about crisis and the practices that sustain me immediately before needing to call upon many of these practices. There is ancient wisdom in the practice of Sabbath, which is not primarily about worship but about rest. For me one of my natural reactions to stress is to work harder and to attempt to plow through the crisis and outlast it. Yet, while this is one of my defaults it also tends to be an unhealthy reaction for me because it impacts my creativity, my joy, my relationships and it cuts me off from the support I need.

As an introvert I require space and time to recharge, but beyond the space and time there are things that recharge my batteries faster than other things. These include music, stories, exercise, eating well, learning, playing, solitude or time with people I love, and working with my hands. Music has always been a source of joy for me and whether I am singing along with a CD, attending a concert, drumming on the steering wheel as I drive or jamming to the air guitar alone in the house by myself, music is one of the things I love. Unfortunately, when I overwork I tend to put myself in places where I can’t enjoy music in the same way. A lot of my work is either talking with other people or things that require more concentration and often silence is beneficial. But I need the balance of music to bring richness into my life.

I am a person who feeds off stories. Stories come in many forms, in books, in a movie, sometimes I just make them up in my head. I’ve always been able to let stories take me into their world for a moment and to get caught up with the actors or characters. I often find things in the world of the story that bring insight into situations in my own world, and then there is also simply the joy of a well told tale. Perhaps one of the other gifts of stories goes back to the gift of Sabbath, it forces me (or allows me) to have an excuse to step away from that drive to work through my struggles and instead to sit in another place at some distance from my own crises and to come back to them re-energized from being away in a distant land or time or world through the story.

I’m thankful that early in my life I learned the benefit of staying fit and eating a healthy diet. Through my time at Texas A&M and the Army physical fitness was a daily part of my work day and my enjoyment of running endured well after my time in the Army ended. Physical exertion is a great stress relief for me and my body just feels better and I am more creative when I make the time to run and workout. When I am stressed I am more likely to miss workout and I also have one less method to work through stress. Diet also affects me greatly. I enjoy cooking and I cook pretty fresh food using very little preservatives. If my diet changes through eating out frequently or even eating at church potlucks then I notice it rapidly. Caffeine also has a stronger effect on my body than it does for many people and again it is another thing that is readily available and tastes good at the moment but when I am stressed it contributes to that stress.

For a long time I didn’t give enough credence to the need to play. I was simply too busy doing ‘important’ things to give myself permission to do something as unnecessary as that. I always enjoyed playing, whether it was sports or a computer game or doing puzzles of various kinds but I never made time for it. Sometimes it goes back to my love of story (which video games often do immerse you into a story world) other times it feeds that need for physical activity but in the midst of all of it is the need to bring fun and joy into one’s life. I’m still not great at making time to play but I’ve learned it is an enjoyable part of my life and very healing.

Being an introvert doesn’t mean that I shun opportunities to be around other people, but it often doesn’t recharge my batteries. People who I love and trust can help me recharge but I also need my times of solitude. I’m not cut out to be an hermit, I need other people but social situations (like parties) take a lot more energy than they give to me.

Finally, I do enjoy working with my hands. Whether it is working in the soil in my garden or building something or just trying to be creative.  So much of what I do requires my intellectual side to be engaged but I also have the need to use the tactile side of my personality. I like being able to problem solve and being able to see something created or improved through working on it.

Fostering Creativity        

 

I brought you into my home after years of neglect
You had moved from one dysfunctional home to another
Desiring more than just a roof over your head and food
Wanting beyond measure to be seen, heard, valued and loved
So many times your voice had been overshadowed and unheard
Noise from speakers or computer screens or the raised voices of anger
Drown out your soft voice that timidly awaited a guardian’s response
And you came into my life nervous, wanting to trust but unwilling at first
You pushed me away, tried to keep your distance not daring to believe
Your love had been shunned too many times, they looked through you
How many times were you moved late at night leaving all you had behind
How can you feel safe here in a new house when you never had a home?
 
Creativity, I know there are times you are scared to speak or to sing
And while I do not know how long you are mine to foster, my home is yours
I see you, I hear you, you are important to me and I love you
I will sit in silence away from the noise of the world if you let me
And I know it will take time for you to heal from the brokenness
But I see joy in you and I hope one day to see you dance
I want to be there to record your voice as you sing your song
Or to frame the pictures that your delicate fingers lay down
I will be patient while you lash out in fear or upend the furniture
I will be watching admiringly as you grow into whatever you become
For to me you are a gift beyond price and a treasure to be nurtured
A child to be loved and spoiled, supported and set free

Minding the Flow

Trinity River in Texas

Trinity River in Texas

There was a time when the words flowed from the pen
Like rivers of inky thought rushing toward the paper sea
And the flow revealed the gems and minerals buried
Within the rumbling currents of thought.
One day the waters stopped flowing
Dammed up by the constraints of time and productivity
Caught up behind the logjams of life
Too long untended and they quickly grew stagnant
But I’m learning to mind the flow again
Clearing away the detritus that prevented the flow
Slowly finding the silence to hear the water’s song
To prospect again in the sediment deposited on the shore
Rather than acting as if the waters need to be contained
Shutting them inside as if mindful of a drought
Instead to let the flow down and fill up the vacant pages
Not expecting that every exploration will yield up new surprises
Learning to merely enjoy the rhythm of the river again
Minding the flow, mining the shore, swimming in the shallows
Diving into the depths and sharing in the experience
Letting the words flow again and take their own course
As the paper seas begin once again to be filled with images

Neil White, 2015

The Playground of the Mind

 

suoitien

I wonder and imagine and play
With the past and present and future
Real and imaginary, fantasy and reality
All ready to coexist in the playground of my mind

And like a child entering a room full of toys
Anything is possible to be manipulated and combined
In the service of play and delight
The experimentation of the possible
And the boundaries of the unimaginable
Become the field of play

Sometimes I feel like the master of that universe
Able to manipulate the winds of creation
To serve my own whims and will
Oftentimes I am blown here and there by the winds of curiosity
Distractedly moving from one shiny object to another
And at the end of the day when I am exhausted by the work of the day
When I lay down upon my bed and close my eyes
The child continues to run untiringly in the playground of my mind
Reveling in the mystery of the subconscious
And dancing through my dreams with his muddy footprints

Neil White, 2013

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In The Beginning Was The Sentence

Creation by Selfish Eden (deviantart.com)

Creation by Selfish Eden (deviantart.com)

Human beings have an incredible sense of perseverance when you think about it. We will take complex tasks, think them through, experiment, learn and then try to be prepared for the next time we use things. Now, on the one hand, this can lead to some unhealthy behaviors of hoarding or becoming pack rats but, at the same time, we don’t discard a tool that has become useful like animals will do. A chimpanzee may realize that it works well, for example, to use a stick to poke into an ant mound but they don’t store sticks for this use, when the chimpanzee comes upon the need he finds a stick and the same way with other tool using animals. Humans are unique in their ability to predict a future need based upon a past need and within language this also is a crucial development. (Bronowski, 1978, p. 32f.)

Now it is possible that there have been breakthroughs in animal communication that I am unaware of, but the way Bronowski illustrates this breakthrough is the concept that animals communicate not in words but sentences or ideas. For example a chipmunk may has a different signal based on danger from a snake, danger from the air, or danger from a large ground animal, but you can’t deconstruct and recombine these signals into components of danger and the type of animal-they are one unit. They paint in a way a limited verbal picture of their environment and the immediate need they need to respond to. Yet human language is different, and the way our language is structured relying on words and not sentences as the building block of communication allows for the sharing of knowledge and imagination in ways not possible otherwise. For example “Jack loves Jill” and “Jill loves Jack” even though they share the same components do not mean the same thing. Language becomes an incredibly powerful tool for conveying and sharing images, thoughts and even worldviews, a picture may be worth a thousand words but only if it is done well and the person viewing the picture can understand what it is. It is not a coincidence that early languages began with characters that represented pictorially the ideas they were trying to express, but as ideas became more and more complex and the communication of thoughts and ideas contained more and more words language evolved to use letters to create words reflecting the sound of the word. For a word either read or heard to be transformed into a visual image is an act of imagination and it may evoke different images for different readers/hearers. For example if I say “bird” someone may think of a sparrow or an eagle or an ostrich, or perhaps even an obscene gesture, words on their own begin to paint the picture and then when combined within a sentence with actions and descriptions we refine the picture.

Imagination and creativity may help with survival and with creating new tools and ideas that help an individual, but if they are going to make any lasting impression they need to be able to be communicated. The evolution of language, first spoken and later written, has made it possible to pass on and build upon the ideas of others. But there is always a process of taking the information we receive in terms of letters and sounds and reconstituting them in our mind in terms of images (and these images are often moving images-videos if you will) as we translate representations into a mental vision.

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The Spirit of Creativity-A Poem

holy-spirit-fire3

At play in the depths of chaos before time began
Dancing in the dangerous depths of the waters of creation
Playfully forming light and darkness, earth and sky
Throughout the ages bringing form to the formless
Giving substance to the wisdom and words of God
Delighting in bringing new and unusual forms of life
Shaping and creating with the molecules and elements of dust and the air
Over the eons you listened and danced and played
Giving birth to the world you delighted in
And it was good

From the smallest creature to the wisest person
Your breath fills our lungs and animates our bodies
You knit us together in our mother’s womb
Forming us each as unique masterworks enduring for a moment
Some of us have recognized the brushstrokes of your work
Others endure unaware of your wind blowing through the world
A few have breathed in deeply allowing you to possess them
While others have been brushed by your fingertips in a moment of inspiration
In the midst of it all you dance and play throughout time
Renewing life in the world you delighted in
And it was good

Never there to be controlled by any priest or king
Instead sometimes you would possess and prophesy
And young men would dream dreams and old men would see visions
The great and the small could all be caught up in the ecstacy of your movement
Never tamed for you are the breath of creation
The Spirit who can play with Leviathan and dance with the Behemoth
Yet sometimes you were content to rest in this dust and clay
Opening eyes, revealing truth and love and beauty
Giving gifts for service and building up the community
Dancing on the edges of dreams and playing with the prophets
Dreaming of the vision of a world renewed
Pointing to the life you dream for the world you delighted in
That it would be good

You came down to the world you created like a descending dove
Like a rushing wind, like tongues of fire, in visions and dreams
Always present yet never grasped and defying words to describe
Yet you move the mountains and shatter the power of fear
You are there pulling the wary disciples of all ages beyond their comfort
Beyond their homes to the ends of the earth and beyond
Interceding in words to deep for sighs and moaning in the brokenness
The wounded creation and a fearful people
Revealing the children of God, opening eyes and dreaming dreams
Moaning in the birth pangs of the new creation
Giving birth to that which is good

Breathe in us breath of God and renew our lives
As you playfully created throughout the eons
Now continue to mold and shape us to be the children of God
The world is longing for as it waits for redemption
In the midst of our own sighing may we hear your voice
And in the midst of brokenness may we hear the music you are dancing to
As you dream and sing a new creation in the midst of the old
Renewing and revitalizing, refreshing and recreating
Dancing and playing and singing and dreaming
For your delight is what enervates the dawning of the new age
And it is good

Neil White, 2013

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A Love Song for My Muse- A Poem

Gustav Moreau, Hesiod and the Muse (1891)

Gustav Moreau, Hesiod and the Muse (1891)

She dances at the edges of my dreams
Singing her songs, delighting in the bright corners of imagination
Celebrating the springtime of the mind and shining brightly
She laughs as I reach out for her, knowing once again
I’ll hear her diaphanous voice haunting me
But she’ll not be held or confined
She’ll not come when beckoned
She heeds no time but her own
But she can be enticed
For she loves beauty and laughter
And sometimes in the midst of loss and despair
Her compassionate hand is felt upon my shoulder
Making sense of the sadness and miracle from madness
And sometimes she’ll abide for a time
While pen and paper record the embrace
Of her creativity and my words
Ah, she is an evanescent sprite, but I adore her
She is the playful counterpart to my own diligence
And so to the muse, that spirit of my inspiration
I send out a love song, I read her poetry
I search for beauty and I dwell in the darkness
Waiting again to celebrate her dance, her laugh, her voice
The angel in my mind holding the keys to creativity
And lighting up the corners of my mind’s eye with her smile

Composed Neil White, 2013

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