Feeling God's Pleasure · Losing Your Mind · Pleasure of Creating · Spiritual Places · Touching Transcendence

A Retreat For Christian Creatives

As a Christian artist/writer, I often don’t give myself time to pursue what feeds and restores my spirit. It’s tough to justify the total focus my latest project demands when other, seemingly more pressing issues, demand my attention.

But when I’m creative, I feel God’s pleasure. Why do I have to justify (even to myself) the time I spend in His presence?

During my last prayer retreat at the Benedictine Monastery, God spoke to me to begin a retreat for Christians who practice creative expression. You can be an artist or crafter, jewelry maker or woodworker, composer or a dancer, in other words, anyone who feels the need to make time to create.

Paper Roses from old hymnal pages
Paper Roses from old hymnal pages

He gave me the name: BlueWind Retreats. “Blue” to represent creative work, and “Wind” for the Holy Spirit who glorifies Jesus and breathes life into our expression.

I will offer workshops on imagination and creativity, including a Scriptural basis for our creative gifts. My friend Ben Beck, a fellow artist passionate about Christians in the arts and director of SansMOCO Art Gallery in Greenville, PA, will help host and teach a workshop. There will be time to work on your art or craft and share if you like.

Our focus will always be, not on the artist within, but on The Artist Within: Jesus, in Whom and through Whom all things are created.

If you are interested, I talk about this more on my website.  Here’s a link for more information and a downloadable brochure. My first retreat is in April 2015.

I covet your prayer for this new venture. I believe God is in it. It’s time for God’s people to have confidence in their creative gifts and in His power to use them.

Art and Knowing · Touching Transcendence · Uncategorized

But Still I Write

I met a publisher at a conference and pitched her my book idea about how engaging in imagination and creativity strengthens our relationship with Jesus. She asked for a proposal. Her evaluation: “You’ve hit a felt need about the divine origins of creativity. But I don’t know how to sell it.”

I pitched an agent at another conference. He said, “I absolutely love your idea. But nobody will buy it.” I found out this agent was so impressed he used it as an example during his class—of a great idea that wouldn’t sell.

Another agent has expressed an interest, but no commitments. That’s how the “biz” works. You can spend years of your life writing, end up with a hard drive full of work, and that’s where it stays.

Window, Mount St. Benedict Monastery Chapel, Erie, PA
Window, Mount St. Benedict Monastery Chapel, Erie, PA

I’ve been working on this for a year and a half. I have good friends who write fiction and talk of writing thousands of words in a week. I have spent an afternoon on one page. I’m not only cranking out a philosophy and theology of the nature of artistic creation, I’m also on a personal journey to figure out how it works for me. If I can’t articulate that for myself, then I won’t be able to reach an audience.

I won’t say I haven’t gotten discouraged, because I have. But that nagging Voice says, “Write it. Write it.” If I go a while without facing that blank page, or the pages waiting for revision, I get restless. I have to write. Then I pace around the house, make another pot of coffee, check my e mail for the umpteenth time, all to avoid facing my fear. Maybe I am delusional. Who am I to think this is God? The professionals, whose judgment I trust, say (so far) it’s a non starter.

But still I write.

Pleasure of Creating

God’s Perfect First Draft

I create heeding Anne Lamott’s advice, but maybe I should also write and live according to Evelyn Underhill’s vision. She compares the artistic process to God’s creative activity in us.

Creation is the activity of the artist possessed by the vision of perfection; who, by means of the raw material with which he works, tries to give more and more perfect expression to his idea, his inspiration, or his love. 

I don’t know about you, but when I sit down to create art (in my case, write) I’m not usually possessed by a vision of perfection and I’m much less able to express it. I appreciate Underhill’s lofty goals, but I’m usually possessed by earthly (or earthy) thoughts and it’s a struggle to get them on paper.

Painting by Adolf Holzer 19th century
Painting by Adolf Holzer 19th century

My writing, at least in its early stages, is less like Underhill and more like Anne Lamott’s s***** first draft.  I’m often tempted to stop there because I’ll never attain the “perfection” of Underhill.  It’s not worth the struggle, the hours, or the effort.

But wait, there’s more from Underhill.

From this point of view, each human spirit is an unfinished product, on which the Creative Spirit is always at work.

What an amazing idea: God changes us not to revise a lousy “first draft,” but to craft in us—an unfinished product–his vision of love.  He is the Artist possessed by the vision of who we can be.

Lamott encourages writers to write and not worry about “perfection.” That’s what revision is for.

But I’m glad to know that no matter what we have done, God doesn’t look at us like an imperfect first draft that He needs to revise.  His creative work is to express his vision—of perfection–in us.


The Dead Fish Float

It occurred to me on my kayaking excursion tonight that dead fish don’t float the same way.

The typical Dead Fish floats side up, not belly up, in a rather graceful curve, with tail and head ends down.  Some float straight for easier identification.  Not being a Dead Fish expert, perhaps their floating positions indicate various states of decay.

But tonight I saw a new form of Dead Fish.  They weren’t floating.  At first I thought they were white plastic bags in the water where I launch.   I was grumbling about yet more garbage to pick up when I saw a dead head attached to the milky white.  It was a walleye.  There must have been a dozen of them, rather filleted, littering the lake floor.   Their origin is a mystery; perhaps a fisherman lost his catch.

I’m always harping at my students for specific details.  But when I considered a name for this blog, the Dead Walleye (Non)Float didn’t have the same ring to it.  No rhythm.  The Dead Carp Float (also spotted) has other issues.  It’s too hard to follow a “p” with an “f” linguistically.  You have to slow down or slur your consonants together.  But your lips and tongue are in perfect position for the double “f” with a “sh” in between.  (Dr. LeVan, my linguistics prof, would be proud.) The alliteration is fun to say, quickly moving the phrase along.

And no, it’s not a meeting of the Grateful Dead and Phish, unfortunately.  But it would make a great name for a band, wouldn’t it?  The Dead Fish Float.  Or maybe a dance.  It would be the next YouTube sensation.

Art and Storytelling · Uncategorized

The Gift of Story

An important gift we writers can give another person is renewed confidence in their ability to tell their stories.  Once I collaborated with a South African painter friend to teach the arts in a mental health program.  Clari van Niekerk was showing adult students how to paint scenes and objects from their lives and I was to help them write poetry about their work.

I tried to chat them up while admiring their paintings, but soon realized my task would be difficult.  The students could visualize with a paint brush, but “seeing” in language and getting it on paper was a whole “nother” thing.

I sat down with one lady, and to buy time, made small talk.  Then I had a flash.  “Lucy, (not her name), talk to me about your painting, I’ll write down what you say, and we’ll get a poem.”  Each painter told me the story of their work and I shaped their words into a poem, keeping the freshness of our conversation while adding line breaks to emphasize certain ideas.  The poems were mounted beside the paintings in a gallery and read to an appreciative audience.

Jesus calls us to a life of giving.  Maybe sometimes our call as artists and writers is to give someone the gift of trust in their own artistic abilities and make a way for their expression.  Clari helped each student visualize their life story through painting.  Then a writer helped them articulate their internal musings for a new audience in a new way.  I got jazzed creating life stories with these artists and finding internal resources (both theirs and mine) that had been buried or forgotten.  What have you discovered about giving through writing and the arts?