Part of my job is to write. It’s not my favorite part, I like preaching more, but writing is certainly up there for me. And here’s why: Long before a sermon ever climbs up into the pulpit with me, it’s hammered out on my office IMac. It’s there that I preach it for the first time, and what I’ve found true for a lot of preachers that I know, is that this writing time is really when we first preach the sermon.
It’s a creative process, of dreaming and wrestling and questioning. Sometimes it takes days, sometimes hours. And sometimes…minutes.
There have been times that I was doing something else, driving along, having a conversation, sharing a meal, when suddenly it was as if an idea externally came into me. I remember my favorite sermon ending of all time was like that. I was pulling into my driveway at home, and suddenly it was all there. One minute I was thinking about butterfly’s, and the next I knew exactly how I wanted to start and end, down to the letter.
Now that’s not to romanticize the creative process, more often than not, it’s laborious, it involves wrestling with God and words. But every now and then something like this happens, almost as if to remind me that I’m not doing this alone.
I heard a talk by Elizabeth Gilbert over the weekend. She’s the author of the book Eat, Pray, Love. And she had some fascinating things to say about the creative process. For a lot of people, the idea of creating is a life-exhausting endeavor. Think about the metaphors that we use to discuss creating. Wrestling, suffering, tortured artists etc…
But that is because we have started talking about creating as if it was all about the artist.
In Ancient Rome, genius was thought of very different. People were not said to be geniuses, they were said to have geniuses. It was kind of like a spirit that lived outside of the artist. And this, Gilbert says had it’s advantages. Because if a project succeeded or failed, the artist fate and identity was not completely tied to it.
But in our individualistic culture, this is not the way we think of creating. We tend to think of artists as alone in the process. But how does the Christian story speak into that way of Creating?
Central to the way the Scriptures start off is that God creates. It is, after all, the fifth word in the English Bible. God is a creative God. But Genesis doesn’t just leave us with this flat description of creativity The first two chapters are written as a creative poem. It’s as if Genesis is refusing to just tell us what a creative God is like, but making sure we get a glimpse of that.
And as the poem goes…This creative God asks humans to partner with him in Creating. They name, they tend, they plant, they divide. They rule and care and co-create with the Ultimate Creator.
What if that is still God’s intention?
One of the more fascinating stories from Elizabeth Gilbert’s talk was about the American Poet, Ruth Stone.Gilbert got a chance to talk to her later in Stone’s life. She was in her 90’s, and her take on what it meant to create was fascinating. She said that when she was a little girl working in the fields of Virginia, she said she would hear a poem coming. It was like a thunderous train of air. She said the ground seemed to shake under her, and all she knew was that she had to get to a pen and paper before she missed it. And some of the time she wouldn’t get there in time, and in her words, it would continue on…looking for another poet.
And here’s the rub, Elizabeth Gilbert tells this story and gives this talk about the Creative process at the TED conference. Where some of society’s greatest minds gather to talk about cutting edge ideas.
But Elizabeth’s idea is as old as time itself.
So take heart preachers and poets, teachers and artists, singers and sculptors. You were created to create. You are harnessing the Divine Power that created and sustains everything.You failures and your successes aren’t solely your responsibility. You are tapping into a the greatest Creative Genius ever the world has ever known, because it was the one that first knew the world. So you are free to risk boldly and create brilliantly.
But you are not doing it alone.