I am new to writing, to me it is like holding a baby. Tiny and unpredictable, endearing and with lots of needs. But still I remind myself that babies of all species have their part to play.
I am used to what I am good at not being seen much at all. Chaplaincy is a very personal encounter. Writing however it is a lot more public. This scares me. But as I have spoken with my spiritual director and done some soul thinking, I able to see how I am enriched and given injection of hope, life, comfort and vitality through the brave expression of someone else’s creativity. I can see how I love to celebrate others who have gifts which they have chosen not to keep hidden, but to share. And so, I took a deep breath and have begun.
And it feels like beginning, like holding something delicate and saying to the person next to me – would you like to hold this a while? And they might pause and with a sigh say, ‘that feels better’, and they might think of someone to pass it on to, whose hands need to hold something like this. For a bit. For now. And that is all that is asked of me. I wrote this ‘note to self’ to remind me of that.
As I look about me at those who create through music, poetry, painting, dance, sculpture, writing, I see the life of artists who do not know what they will create next. Creating something grounds you in this present moment, this next note, next brush stroke, next phrase. In that moment all else suspends, like time is hovering behind you, and from that vacuum comes life and gift. Expression which is an unstoppable force. G.K. Chesterton talks about this, ‘at the back of our brains, so to speak, there was a forgotten blaze or burst of astonishment at our own existence. The object of the artistic and spiritual life was to dig for this submerged sunrise of wonder’. In digging for this wonder, before us lie projects and creations we cannot foresee. When I watch the unfolding of anothers’ life it strikes me how one event seemed like the pinnacle, and then later on, there was something else just as wonderful. It is not inconsequential that in between there continue to be tedious tasks and trying relationships to navigate. There will continue to be waste because we cannot create without mess. Artists of all kinds do not opt out of life. Instead, they illuminate, comment on and draw attention to the unseen dimensions of our shared humanity on this good earth. Changing the world with one splash of paint, or guitar strum at a time.
In many ways it does not matter what others think, for reviews and opinions will be both over and under generous. Rudyard Kipling knew this, he reminds us to ‘meet with Triumph and Disaster, and treat those two impostors just the same’.
Poet Wendell Berry spoke about this in a different way:
‘stay away from anything than obscures the place it is in’.
This is wisdom indeed.
For me it helps to remind myself that I am happiest not when words I have written are being read, but when I am absorbed in writing them. Nature is like this, the tiny delicate flower, the wind, the sun setting. Each are exactly themselves. The sun will be beautiful whether or not I stop to notice it, but when I do, I hope I will be thankful enough to invite others to take a look too.
Creativity seems to be incongruent with control. Control has its place, but I often question what ‘being in control’ actually offers and gives that is of benefit. All we can really do, given that we generally overestimate our powers, is to do the next right thing. I read once in a Celtic Prayer book, a quote from George MacDonald saying, that whatever I am doing now, if I do it as best I can, that is the best possible preparation for what I will be asked to do next.
Creative and artistic expression can only be possible when I am authentic to all of myself. I can’t nip and tuck myself, or photoshop me into a better me than I can attain or maintain. Those who I see who are most glorious, are unashamedly themselves. The causes they fight for, they do so because it is woven into their very being. Their art and their passion unite and so it is no wonder it makes our hearts burn within us to be exposed to this.
John O Donohue describes it like this, ‘It takes an awful lot of living with the powerless to really understand what it is like to be powerless, to have your voice, thoughts, ideas and concerns count for very little. We, who have been given much, whose voices can be heard, have a great duty and responsibility to make our voices heard with absolute integrity for those who are powerless’. There are lots of unheard voices, many who are powerless. The greatest artists I have come across make their art form count, they create for far beyond themselves. I will need to remind myself of this, because it is highly likely that one day someone will tell me (and it will not be the first time) of how I am inadequate. I must remind myself that words are powerful tools and I have set out with the intention to offer words of consolation. May I never, therefore, respond to desolation with desolation. For writing and life are a creative process which no one understands but, as Susan Howatch puts it, in the end with both writing and life, ‘nothing is wasted, nothing is without significance and nothing ceases to be precious to me‘ (see Rob Bell’s book/DVD ‘Drops Like Stars’).