Thursday, September 21, 2006

Creativity Isn't Optional

This essay originally appeared in The Santa Cruz Sentinel November 2002

My husband recently took up woodturning and received a supply catalogue last week that announced, “The woodworking season is fast approaching.” Being new to the endeavor, he hadn’t realized it was a seasonal activity. As I thought about it, it made perfect sense. How better to chase away the winter doldrums than coaxing something new and beautiful into existence with a lathe and a block of walnut?

Our creativity feeds our spirits. But, all to often we diminish our creative endeavors, saying, “They’re only hobbies,” and push them aside like half-empty paints and partially finished needlepoint to make room for real life: jobs, bills, laundry, homework, meetings, sports, Scouts and church. When we ignore our creativity, our spirits suffer. We say no to the joy and abundance our creator intended for us. In the New Testament, Jesus says, “I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly.”

We are offered this abundance and countless ways to be creative every day, if we open ourselves to it. My family is full of creative types who are passionate about their interests. My grandfather collected cacti and worked with wood, my grandmother always has a project, from gold-leafing picture frames to making birdhouses, my mother-in-law built a house, carves gourds, sketches, paints, sews, weaves pine needle baskets, my mother propagates plants, designs landscaping plans, and creates metal garden art with a plasma cutter, my step-father is a champion wood-turner, my father writes short stories, and the list goes on.

My family doesn’t see their creative acts as hobbies tacked onto life, the first thing to get dropped when there are too many demands. They make time to pursue the activities they love, and every Christmas give away their labors of love. My relatives let their light shine, allowing the work of their hands and hearts to be a blessing for others.

It was difficult to find my place surrounded by such talent. I felt compelled to find a hobby. After several instances of sewing in zippers backward, I stopped making my own clothes. When I took a drawing class and wasn’t the next Picasso at the end of eight weeks, I quit. I dabbled in beadwork, photography, and watercolor. None of it took. Then I took up cross-stitch, mainly because no one in my family did. But I had an urge, an unsettling twitch to do something more that I kept pushing into a broom closet in my mind. I was busy remodeling our house with my husband, raising two children, volunteering in their classrooms, serving on church committees and teaching Sunday school. I didn’t want to take on something else. Each December I wrote an eight-page holiday newsletter, complete with photos and top ten lists, and the twitch quieted for a while.

Then the twitch turned into a tap, God poking me in the shoulder, tugging on my ear and scolding like an irritated teacher, “Write.” “Maybe, in a few years, when I have time,” I said, which translated to no, which it turns out, wasn’t an acceptable answer. I was afraid that my abilities were too small and insignificant to make a difference, to God, or to the world. But God wouldn’t take no for an answer, and I began to write.

Realigning myself was terribly difficult. I had to bind and gag my inner critic in order for my creative self to sit at the computer and write sentimental drivel each day. I had to trust that my writing was necessary and important, even if no one else ever read a word. I made time to write; I never would have “found” it any other way. Despite my fears of doing too much, I still had time for my family and my church; in fact the time I had for them was better, because I was pursuing my passion.

For me, saying yes to writing was saying yes to God, the creative force that dwells in all of us. In her book, Seeing in the Dark, United Methodist Bishop Beverly Shamana says, “We are the offspring of a creative God whose hand print is stamped indelibly on our soul, marking us for continuing creativity in the world.” The more each of us say yes to our creative longings, the more joy and abundance we experience, not only within ourselves, but in our actions and interactions with the world.

Creativity isn’t optional; it’s a requirement for a whole and meaningful life. So, pick up a needle, a hammer, a crochet hook, a violin, or a block of walnut. The season is fast approaching.

©Cathy Warner 2002

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