Monday, March 06, 2006
Where Does Creativity Come From?
I wish I could play a musical instrument. It would be so cool to pick up a guitar or sit at a piano and have music flow out of me. I have a huge audio collection. I love to sing in worship on Sundays. Unfortunately those around me probably don’t have the same enthusiasm to listen to my singing. But it would be wonderful to have such skills.
Ah well. I have other talents.
One of them is art. I took a couple of years of art design and art history in college, and I grew up around it (my mother is an artist). I tried to make a living at it (read: “starving artist”).
It’s been a while since I was serious about doing art on a regular basis. I think the purpose of art comes from within. I needed something to express. I needed something to say.
A couple years ago our church took the Lenten season seriously. We dedicated a room for prayer. It was stocked with candles, a CD player, soft lighting, and interestingly, some Sharpie pens to write prayers and thoughts on the walls.
This place of prayer has been a tremendous refuge for me.
Writing on the wall was weird at first. But as others did it I felt more comfortable. We wrote passages of scripture, favorite verses, psalms and such... little prayers. Everything anonymous. It was exciting seeing how other people thought, how they prayed, what was important to them.
Slowly pictures began to appear. A broken loaf of bread with a goblet of red wine. Pictures of the cross. I reproduced a Gustave Dore’ depiction of the crucifixion in crayons.
And that is where it began. I was looking at other pictures of Dore’s and a sketch of Jesus’ face. It stayed in my mind. And one day, while in a prayer session, I went to the spot behind the door and sketched that face in pencil. The eyes were level with mine. I came back another day and sketched it in with a fine point black Sharpie.
I came back again and penciled in His body. And all the while I thought about the movie The Passion and His great sacrifice. I started writing the words of the prayers I was thinking in the folds of His clothing in various colored Sharpies, working around other prayers that had been written on the wall.
Soon I was praying there a lot of the time. Praying and writing and drawing. I bought every color of Sharpie there is and brought in many colored pencils and acrylic paints.
I did the Lord’s Prayer, twisting around the figure of Jesus and over the door and around other scriptures written on the walls. I did a grape vine climbing up the corner and twisting out, using passages about Jesus as the vine to give the bark texture. One branch was the list of Jesus' heritage. I put sparrows in the vines, flying in to settle near grapes with passages about how He loves the sparrows and how much more He loves us.
Before long a year had passed and Easter was coming again.
I was uncomfortable at how some folks would talk so much about the pictures, as if they were something of worth in themselves. They aren’t. Their only value, for me anyway, was in the prayer I was praying when they went on the walls. So as Easter approached I convinced a reluctant pastor to let me paint over the walls for Easter.
What a shock for folks.
But then I began again. This time I planned the life-size image of Jesus from the start. He is the Good Shepherd, a lamb across his shoulders. He is wearing a crown of thorns, but there are no holes in His hands. He is looking purposefully outward, and a careful eye may notice that a shadow in the shape of a cross is falling across him. He has begun his final mortal walk, carrying His sheep, and resolutely moving onward. The entire thing is done in fine point colored sharpies, the lettering so small in places for shadow that I could not see the letter myself, I just knew the shape I had made formed them.
I did another version of the Lord’s Prayer. A large circle: a never ending prayer.
I painted a golden sword on one wall in acrylics, a reminder of a dream I had received when things had gotten a little rough this past year (post:November 12, 2005).
The prayer room is a place for prayers, and that is all that these are.
And in a couple of weeks it will get painted over again.
There are folks who are dismayed that it is going to get painted. I’m glad they will be gone. They were done for the moment, not for anything else.
I suppose some people see art where all I see is a time of meditation and prayer that marked a passage for me. I will be glad for new canvas.
But I have an idea. If folks want these images so much (some have even talked about cutting out the sheet rock to preserve them), I have a plan.
This year I will do most of my prayers on canvas and wood and hang those on the walls (I'm excited about redoing the Lord's Prayer!). Then the following Easter we can have a silent auction and folks who want them can have them. The money can go to the fund the rebuilding of our church from the fire.
I’ve said all this for two reasons. First, I would like to promote the idea of churches having a place where people can go to pray; let them express themselves in anyway that seems fit to them at the time they are praying.
The second reason is a little trickier to articulate.
It is the idea of creative prayer. I’m not sure what to say about it, but when I approach a creative project something organic happens. I’m not exactly sure what is coming when I start, I am simply a tool for Him to use.
Have you prayed earnestly and for a long period of time and have felt the prayer take over? It becomes something outside of yourself.
I did a writing experiment once where I let a character in a short story begin to respond to what I was writing as I wrote it. I soon found myself arguing with a character I was making up as I went along. It was unsettling, especially since he got in the last word.
Art can be like that. Last Christmas morning I stepped up to a blank canvas on the stage of our church while the congregation sat to hear our pastor speak.
This is what I was thinking:
“Uh oh! I don’t know what I am doing!!! What color should I use?! Everyone is watching! I better get started... Now. NOW!! NOW!!! Uhhhh... what color? What color? Uh, WHAT COLOR?!!! Come on... pick a color!!!! OK.... Uh.... BLUE!!!!!!”
I didn't know what I was going to do. I had set myself up to let the Lord lead me at the last possible moment.
"If you know exactly what you are going to do, then what is the point of doing it?"
-- Pablo Picasso
Then I stopped and thought about Tim’s sermon. It was on Mary’s song. the Magnificat.
Here is a woman, no one special, a girl really, and of all the people on the Earth, among all the mighty cities, this girl in a tiny town was going to be the tool the Lord used to step into mortal existence. She sang a song of praise.
So I painted a picture of a tiny figure among enormous buildings, bathed in the light of grace and love and divine selection.
Suddenly I find myself drawing and painting. And with each stroke of the pen, or brush of acrylic paint, or rubbing of chalk, I think about the prayer in my heart that is finding expression outside of myself.
And there is so much going on in my heart. I ache to be nearer my Lord, whispering prayers that are spontaneous and liturgical, rote and creative.
That is the second point I wish to make, aside from encouraging others to create prayer rooms. I want to encourage others to find new ways to communicate with our Lord. If He has given you a talent, can you use it to express a prayer? Can you write? Can you sing or play an instrument?
We fill our lives with nonsense: TV, movies, silly human politics. I believe we too often overlook the things within all of us that are divine; where else could creativity come from than from The Creator?