Toorak Uniting Church

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Living the New Creation

Psalm 80: 7 – 15   Philippians 3: 14 – 21
Rev. Dr Christopher Page
2 October 2011

It was Julia Cameron the American author who said, "Creativity, like human life itself, begins in darkness." Julia Cameron wrote a book some years ago called the Artist’s Way, in which she encourages people to write three pages of free flowing verse/prose each day, as a way of activating their creativity. She is also famous because see was once married to Martin Scorsese, the film director.
I have from time to time followed her advice and it is helpful to sort of listen to one’s inner voice and pay attention to that stream of consciousness that emerges during those times of writing. And I think she is right that the source of creativity is found in the dark places; it is found in the stillness and quietness of the inner life. Of course that inner world is not always that quiet. There can be a lot of competing voices within us, pulling us this way, or that way in many different directions. But when we do still our inner world, there can be a real burst of creativity and new life coming up from within us.

The New Creation Comes from Within
For the last few years I have found it very helpful to think of my/our inner spiritual life as expressed in two ways. So within me I have a sense of both the Soul and also a sense of the Spirit. Now these are metaphors or ways of framing our thoughts about our spiritual life. There is not a literal place in me or you where your soul exists. No twenty-one grams of weight that leaves your body when you die. No! It’s better to understand this idea by talking about, say a "soulful life," which means a grounded or deeper life or a life that has been touched and formed by sadness.

The soul is that place where we do our deep and inner work. The psychologist Carl Jung said in his book Modern Man in Search of a Soul, that

The great decisions of human life have as a rule far more to do with the instincts, [the soul] and other mysterious unconscious factors than with conscious will and well-meaning reasonableness.

I see this reflected in the words of the Psalms:

"I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made…you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb…Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place"

That’s the place of the soul; that’s soulfulness; birth in the midst of darkness. If you want a practical example of "soulful creativity" you can’t go past the activity of gardening. You have all the components of a deeply creative and soulful life, when you are elbow deep in the soil.

Digging in the dirt
Planting and nurturing and nourishing
Patience in watching the plant grow (out of darkness)
And then after the soul has done its work:
Harvesting the fruit
Collecting the seeds
Eating the produce

I think there is not better analogy of the spiritual life than gardening because it begins in darkness in the earthiness of life. Or as someone once said, "If you want to be a saint, don’t get too far from the earth!"

It doesn’t take much to see the parallel with the Christian life that creativity new life, new possibilities and new creations begin when he are broken open, not when we are broken down but when we are brought in touch with the earth. I may not like it! And I may wish it wasn’t so, but life tells every day that that’s the way it is.

The theologian Matthew Fox says that "when your heart breaks, the universe can pour through". When we are broken open that allows new life to flow forth through us and within us. "Unless a seed falls into the ground and dies, it cannot burst forth into new life."

The New Creation is Spirit-Work
But the creative spiritual life is not only soul-work; it’s not only darkness; it’s not only being bruised and battered. It also has to do with the spirit, with that bird like part of our being and the being of God. That part of us that can soar and can rise above the mundane and even the ordinary.
The spirit in creativity is seen when I/we come alive; when life blossoms; when there is a lightness of being. Let’s be clear, first comes the toil, the discipline, the turn of the soil; but then follows the fruit, the blossom, and the life-filled moment. It starts with:

Inspiration –the idea, the thought, so how buried in darkness then Perspiration – the work, the discipline the preparation, and finally that which is produced, the result, the fruit of one’s labours.

In think it is interesting that the Psalms can give us some inspiration here. Often we don’t realize that the Psalms are in fact poems. We can read them as if they are moral directives or Christian imperatives and that get us in to some interpretative trouble. No, they are deep soulful reflections on life and God. You can group them into several categories. I’d suggest that they can also follow this sense of soul and spirit. There are some very, very dark Psalms where the writer explores aloneness, abandonment, the hiddenness of the divine. The psalmist has written about his humiliation, he feeling of being brought to the ground. "Do not take your spirit from me…"

And then there are the Psalms that fly. Psalm 95 Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song.

Life is both down and up; both soul and spirit; dark and light; both …. You add the words.

Living the new creation and being creative is not just something we do, it is also something we are. It is the "image of God" the creator that marks us. It is the very nature of who we are. We are not just "human beings" but "creative beings." Matthew Fox in his book, Creativity: Where the Divine & Human Meet, points out that, because we are made in the image of God, it is of our very nature to create. Creativity for God is a cosmic habit; it is the very nature of God. However, we call God creator as if he did everything at the beginning of time and now God is something else.

But no, it’s the very spirit and force of creativity that is God. And that force of life is all-around us and we are all invited to participate in it - to be co-creators with that energy we name God. Fox says, "We need to dance with the rhythms of creativity, rather than sit on sidelines or seek to control it."

What is the obstacle to YOUR Creativity?
If we are co-creators with God and if the image of God in us is creativity, then being creative should be a central focus for our lives; for every part of our lives. Whether in church, at home, at work or with friends we are called to reshape the ordinary into the extraordinary. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about creating great "works of art" that we hang on the walls of galleries. No! It’s about seeing life itself as an act of creation.

Creativity can be unlocked in all of us. Yes, there are things that get in the way. Let me suggest a few. I suggest one of the big ones is,

What Aids Creativity?
David Lynch is one of the most creative movie directors around. Like or loath his films, he has a unique vision of life. He talked recently about the importance of meditation in the creative process. It is that stillness and contemplation that allows the deeper consciousness to rise up to the surface of our lives into our everyday consciousness.

There is a story from the ancient Tao’s tradition that illustrates this creative process:

The Story of the Woodcarver

Khing, the master carver, made a bell stand
Of precious wood. When it was finished,
All who saw it were astounded. They said it must be
The work of spirits.
The Prince of Lu said to the master carver:
"What is your secret?"

Khing replied: "I am only a workman:
I have no secret. There is only this:
When I began to think about the work you commanded
I guarded my spirit, did not expend it
On trifles, that were not to the point.
I fasted in order to set
My heart at rest.
After three days fasting,
I had forgotten gain and success.
After five days
I had forgotten praise or criticism.
After seven days
I had forgotten my body
With all its limbs.

"By this time all thought of your Highness
And of the court had faded away.
All that might distract me from the work
Had vanished.
I was collected in the single thought
Of the bell stand.

"Then I went to the forest
To see the trees in their own natural state.
When the right tree appeared before my eyes,
The bell stand also appeared in it, clearly, beyond doubt.
All I had to do was to put forth my hand and begin.

"If I had not met this particular tree
There would have been
No bell stand at all.

"What happened?
My own collected thought
Encountered the hidden potential in the wood;
From this live encounter came the work
Which you ascribe to the spirits."

from The Way of Chuang Tzu by Thomas Merton

That’s the work before the work that Parker Palmer refers to.

The habit of being quiet; of preparing a place and time; of contemplation and meditation; of responding to the still small voice is so crucial to living a creative life. It is important to realign ourselves, all of our lives, with the creative force in the universe and that is the work of the Spirit; that’s listening to the Spirit through prayer, contemplation and meditation.

It also means being creativity in our relationships, in opening our lives to joy and to appreciate what’s all around us in this wonderful world and Universe and opening ourselves to the earth, sky, water, mountains, animals and the individuals that cross your path.

That’s being a co-creator with God and recognizing that the creation is not complete but being reborn every moment of everyday as we live the new Creation.


© Rev. Dr Christopher Page, 2011

Comments or suggestions on this page appreciated by email, Thanks.