Feeling God's Pleasure · Pleasure of Creating · Spiritual Places · Uncategorized

The Root Of Creativity

“When we say that someone is a deep person, we mean they have achieved a quiet, dependable mind by being rooted in something spiritual and permanent.” (David Brooks, “The Deepest Self,” The New York Times, March 14, 2014.)

Practicing creativity through doing your art or other kinds of creative acts is one way of rooting yourself in that spiritual, permanent place Brooks describes. But sometimes, we catch ourselves not quite achieving that “quiet, dependable mind.”  We still feel unsettled, not “rooted.”

An accomplished artist once recognized a missing element as she went about doing her creative work.  “I’m missing something valuable that would guide me deeper into creativity.” Though she doesn’t profess a specific faith, she prays and believes God answers. But she wants to know what that “something” is and how to get it.

Part of the Sistine Chapel, Michelango
Part of the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo

I think Christians are similar to this artist, in that we want more from creativity but we don’t know what “it” is or how to get “it.” We engage in creative pursuits and intuitively sense there’s something “missing.” We want to know God more deeply, but don’t know how creativity will move us toward that goal. We keep our creative lives separate from our spiritual lives.

Once an editor of a Christian publishing house asked me, “Why is it that nonChristian artists describe creating art as a spiritual experience and Christians don’t?”

What if our longing to be creative and doing it is seeking the kingdom of God? That desire may just be God inside of us wanting expression, from His “spiritual and permanent” place in our hearts.  I need to honor Him by allowing Him to work.

Feeling God's Pleasure · Pleasure of Creating · Spiritual Places

Flash Mobs: Surprised By Joy

I love the Flash Mobs who surprise by joy, often with spontaneous (or planned) explosions of public music and dance.

There are lots of variations. “Flash mobs” share (at least in the videos I’ve seen) in train stations, hospital lobbies, outdoor parks, or shopping malls. One performer arrives, sets up, and begins to play, sing, or dance. Bit-by-bit, they are joined by other artists (or interested parties) who enter into the work. Dancers move to prerecorded music by the supergroup ABBA or Rodgers and Hammerstein. Vocalists sing Handel’s Messiah; musicians play Ravel or Tchaikovsky. (Check the links for examples.) A videographer catches the faces of the spectators, whose looks range from wariness, to pleasant surprise, to total engrossment and pleasure, even outbursts of joy.

But I want to reflect on what I see in the musicians and dancers in Flash Mobs:

Flash Mob Adam Kliczek/Wikipedia, CC-BY-SA-3.0
Flash Mob
Adam Kliczek/Wikipedia, CC-BY-SA-3.0

1)  For the most part they betray no self-consciousness, seemingly losing themselves in the moment. They’re focused on the transcendent goal of joining together for the love of their art and audience. Or they are just enjoying a spontaneous moment of fun with friends or strangers.

2)  The element of surprise is an important part of the moment. The performers have the joy of creating it and the audience of receiving it. Or perhaps the participants have surprised themselves by a new breath of courage.

3) The artists embrace newness. The musicians must get used to a new venue and acoustics that demand a different focus. The dancers must dance on dirt or dust, not on a real floor. All accept and go with it, incorporating it into the moment.

Flash Mobs: Seems to be much I can absorb for a new day.

What do you see?


Art and Knowing · Feeling God's Pleasure · Spiritual Places · Uncategorized

The Decision: “All In”

Photo taken at Fresh Grounds Coffeehouse, Greenville, PA
Photo taken at Fresh Grounds Coffeehouse, Greenville, PA

An artist friend told me recently that he is quitting his job and devoting himself to his art—painting–full time. “I’m all in,” he said, “I don’t want to come to the end of my life having never done it. The time is now.”

This artist has worked hard for years and has the talent to achieve his dream. Will he? He doesn’t know. But he has to try.

His words witnessed with my spirit. I shared how I have recently come to understand my call and how I’m pursuing it. I love teaching, but have devoted myself to discovering the intersection of faith and creativity through writing.  I’m not quitting my day job, as this artist is, at least for now. But I am “all in.”

For me, “all in” means distinguishing between choices and making decisions, what I do and not do, where I go and not go, who I spend time with and who I don’t, based on their relationship to my call. I measure my life each day by that standard. It really is that simple, though following through often isn’t.

“God has given me a great gift,” I told the artist. “I have to find out if I’m worthy of it.”

Like my artist friend, I don’t know if I will “succeed” or not.  I don’t know what else this gift will  demand of me.  But I don’t want to reach the end of my life, however long or short it is, not having pursued God’s highest purposes.

I’m “all in.”

Art and Knowing · Creativity of Language · Spiritual Places · Uncategorized

a Kempis, Critical Thinking, and Spiritual Knowing

I teach the language and skills of critical thinking to my first year college students, emphasizing it is their job “what” they think, mine “how” they think it.  I use the “cognitive domain” defined in Bloom’s Taxonomy, which focuses on the “verbs” of learning: know, comprehend, apply, analyze, synthesize, and evaluate, with dozens, even hundreds of synonyms.  Many images, from the simple chart, to a pyramid, to a flower within a circle visualize these abstract ideas.

Bloom's Taxonomy visual
Visual “wheel” –Bloom’s Taxonomy

But the idea of different ways of “knowing” predates even our contemporary educational researchers.  A prayer of Thomas à Kempis, the 15th century German theologian, strikes me as a petition for learning how and what to “know,” but in the spiritual sense:

Grant me, O Lord

                To know what is worth knowing

                To love what is worth loving

                To praise what delights you most

                To value what is precious in your sight

                To hate what is offensive to you.

                (May I) search out and do what pleases You, through Jesus Christ our Lord.*                                     

Many centuries before Bloom, à Kempis recognizes different ways of spiritual “knowing.”  His “verbs” are simple and few:  know, love, praise, value, hate, search, do. He offers no lists of synonyms, pie charts, or colored graphs. We could spend our whole lives focusing on and living out his verbs.

Thomas a Kempis
Thomas a Kempis

Rather than critical thinking as a goal, à Kempis points to Wisdom Himself as the measure and end of all knowing.  As an educator I value critical thinking; but as a Christian I value even more spiritual knowing, of Jesus Himself.

*From Prayers for Today A Yearlong Journey Of Contemplative Prayer by Kurt Bjorklund  (Moody)

Feeling God's Pleasure · Spiritual Places · Uncategorized

Circling the Olympic Rings

USA Olympic Committee Logo
USA Olympic Committee Logo

I admire the dedication of the marvelous athletes competing in the 2014 Olympic Games. They freely undergo the rigors of training and the sacrifices it demands with no promise of reward.

The most meaningful commercials during the games show the athletes competing now, then growing younger, always involved with their sport. The sliders began sliding in their backyards. The skaters began as tiny children on roller skates. The tag line reminds us how every big moment is preceded by many little moments. Decisions made daily, for years, directing lives toward a goal.

I turn to Evelyn Underhill for a spiritual connection. In The Spiritual Life she says we must give time and attention to our spiritual lives, “a deliberate drawing in from the circumference to the center, ‘that setting of life in order’ as St. Thomas Aquinas prayed.”

These athletes have drawn in to the center and have “set their lives in order” to pursue their goals. I am humbled by their devotion to earthly glory. How much more do I need to be passionately devoted to spiritual things? I spend too much time on the circumference of spiritual Olympic Rings, skirting the responsibilities and demands of pursuing my calling. I circle, circle, circle, but don’t “draw in.”

In a week or so, the 2014 Winter Olympics will be over. The athletes will return to their more or less “normal” lives, which for many means training for the next Winter Games. So, what exactly, will I do with my “normal” life?

Spiritual Places · Uncategorized

Tuning A Guitar and Spiritual Symphonies

Today at church I discovered the guitar I would use for worship was out of tune. So I sat at the piano, plunking keys and tightening or loosening each string. A young fellow from the sound booth approached and offered to tune it for me; he had an electronic tuner. I gave him the guitar and watched.

As it turned out, the tuner didn’t work properly. So I thanked him and took the guitar back to the piano to finish tuning.

But this blog is not about how we use technology. I have (obviously!) not kept up with my electronic skills in music; I need to learn.


I do think I will always enjoy tuning to the old technology of the piano. I have to listen, and listen closely, carefully calibrating each string to the other. Listening tunes my ear to the symphony of strings.

Evelyn Underhill talked about “spiritual symphonies” in The Spiritual Life. She described how many Christians attend a symphony, read the program, praise the music’s quality, but only really hear a phrase or two.  They have no idea “of the mighty symphony which fills the universe, to which our lives are destined to make their tiny contribution…the self expression of the Eternal God.”

Tuning a guitar won’t tune me into the “symphonic self expression of God.” But tuning my heart will. I have to listen and listen closely. Perhaps then I will be able to make my tiny contribution.

Spiritual Places · Uncategorized

Retreat Reflections From the Monastery

  • Monastic life, for the short time I shared it, has its own rhythms of service, solitude, fellowship, and prayer.  To enter those rhythms as a welcomed fellow pilgrim is rejuvenating.  Makes me want to create rhythm in my own life.
  • It took commitment to get to your “hermitage.” (The sisters call these cabins “herms.”) I packed my gear on a sled and hauled it across two wooden bridges, up a long hill and through the silent woods in a driving snowstorm.  The snow was lovely, dark, and deep, and it felt like a mile long slog from the “herm” to the monastery for prayers and meals and then back. Don’t forget your flashlight for the trek after dinner.

    Mount S. Benedict Hermitage
    Mount St. Benedict hermitage
  • My “hermitage” really began when I realized I needed to get the mind of God.  A contemplative reading described the “hunger” I felt as God’s hunger for me.  I’m still reflecting on that.
  • I appreciate the friends and acquaintances who shared encouraging words about my retreat.  (One even sent cd’s of Kathleen Norris reading her book Acedia and Me.)  I listened to each voice as the voice of God.
  • I took two books: my Bible and Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship. This Queen of Multitasking didn’t.  I really can take two days to shut up, sit, listen, and pray.
  • Journaling has a purpose, as I write to know what I think. But this time my thoughts weren’t important.  I only jotted down what God thought.

Next time I’ll share about praying with the sisters and more about the monastery.  Next year I’ll pack my snowshoes!

Spiritual Places · Uncategorized

The Benedictines and Me

One of my favorite Christian authors, Kathleen Norris, became a Benedictine oblate and immersed herself for a time in the liturgical world.  I love her reflection on that life in The Cloister Walk (Riverhead Books) for its meditative tone and sharing of spiritual experiences that inform my own walk.

I’m not becoming an oblate, but I am going to the monastery on New Year’s Eve for a couple of days.  The Erie (PA) Benedictines offer small cottages (“hermitages”) located in the woods near the monastery for folks who want a secluded time away.  A Catholic friend and I once shared a weekend there, together and apart, listening to God.  We spent time in prayer in a beautiful chapel and joined the Sisters for meals and Mass.  (Like I said, they welcome anyone of any faith!)

Mount S. Benedict Hermitage
Mount St. Benedict hermitage

The issue of “having time” is not on the radar.  This is a priority.  No major crises–my kids are great, so is my family, I am pursuing new opportunities in my teaching and writing career.   But I’ve run into roadblocks that are making me reconsider my “little life.”  You’d think by now, at my age, that I’d know what I want to be and do when I grow up.  Well, I do, kinda.  So what about these obstacles?  There’s the rub.

And for all of the surface “obstacles,” I suspect the real ones are within me.

So, I am going to meet with God in a spiritual place.  He can get around, or walk through, any obstacle, including mine.  I trust him for that.  So can you.

Losing Your Mind · Spiritual Places · Uncategorized

The Art Of Losing

Acclaimed poet, Elizabeth Bishop, class of 1934
Acclaimed poet, Elizabeth Bishop, class of 1934 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The art of losing isn’t hard to master…  Elizabeth Bishop, from her poem, “One Art.”

You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One who is most dear to you. – from Sermons on the Beatitudes, by Gregory of Nyssa, paraphrased by Michael Glerup.

Gregory of Nyssa (fresco in Chora Church)
Gregory of Nyssa (fresco in Chora Church) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Blame it on “change of life.”

Blame it on the challenge of balancing several part time jobs and adding yet more important projects.

I have been quite distressed lately by how many things I’ve lost.  The JCPenney receipt?  I returned it to the bag, didn’t I?  Poetry book for my class?  Wasn’t it in my satchel?  A pair of favorite earrings? Found one in a pocket (I never put earrings there) and one in the car.  Huh?  Combined with misplacing class materials that I find later, or forgetting that I had to be somewhere, I am struggling.  I have been so stressed about it the last loss put me in tears.

Bishop says how I can “practice losing farther, losing faster.”  I doubt that’s a goal for anyone.   Not on my bucket list.  Yes, I need to practice losing so I get better at feeling panicked and sad.  Let’s see, what can I lose now?  Let’s get to it.

So, Elizabeth Bishop, even with her wonderful poem, isn’t helping me.  Maybe I should try Gregory of Nyssa.   He offers a different perspective, one that deserves a longer, closer look.  Until next time….

Spiritual Places · Uncategorized

Going Back In Our Time Machines

“I’m going back in the time machine;/ I’ll be right back,” my daughter hollers/from the backyard when it’s time/ to set the table. I let her go…in the oblivion/ of imagination I once knew…  (“H.G. Who?”)

We can identify with poet Marjorie Maddox’s lines from her new book Local News From Someplace Else. We wish we could get lost in the “oblivion” of our imaginations again.  It feels like an indulgence, doesn’t it, something we really don’t have time for.

We “boomers” do get lost in our imaginations.  The name of our time machine is “Nostalgia.”  But the daughter in the poem isn’t reliving old memories, she’s moving forward to new adventures.  As Maddox recounts, she is “off to visit the moon/or that strange new solar system/ calling to be discovered.”

The Time Machine
The Time Machine

When my kids were small their rocket to the moon was a large cardboard box with holes for air and entry.  I don’t know what solar systems they discovered, but they spent enough time in the box to find quite a few.  I would listen to them banging around in it while I cooked dinner.  Maddox watches her daughter and also returns to “pot roast and green beans.”

Maybe it’s time for me to point my imagination forward instead of backward.  I’ll put dinner in a crockpot and join my (future) grandkids in their box.  Or better yet, I’ll create my own space and go off to find new planets.  (I’ll be sure to tell you about them.)  Why should kids have all the fun?*

*From my article “Five Ways To Cultivate Creativity and Imagination in Everyday Life” in todayschristianwoman.com.