On March 14, 2011

The Creative Genius

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.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=71005368 Jamey Walters

    Great post, Storment. Once while in school at ACU, I was really struggling with how to organize a paper. I had all the material, I just couldn’t figure out what to do with it. After several hours of fighting it, I decided to just take a nap. And during that nap, I actually dreamed about the paper and came up with the organization for the project in my dream. I know that sounds insane, but it was like I just needed to turn off the rational part of my brain and let the creative subconscious take over.

    Nota bene: I do not recommend relying on dreams to write papers for you. And if you happen to come up with what seems to be a great idea in your dreams, it’s probably best to run it by someone else just in case :)

  • http://spirituallyautistic.blogspot.com/ Gretchen Etheredge

    Hmmmm…me thinks I allow the rumblings to pass all to often, and for what? sleep? a sit com? When I think about it, the only times I feel like my activity was worth allowing the rumbling to pass is when I am living the poem. At times I breathe the poem and it never makes it to the paper. The moments when I fully embrace my son’s infectious laughter or my daughter’s bursting through the fog of autism to look me in the eyes and say “Mommy, I love you”. There really are moments words just cannot wrap around.

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Gretchen! Good to hear from you on here. I love your phrase “living the poem”! There’s a book called the War of Art that explains what you are talking about really well. It’s as if there is also external forces that war against the creativity of something new and fresh. The author just named these terms the force of resistance. It was exactly what you were talking about.

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Jamey! So good to hear from you on here. I have had dreams like that before too, but mostly mine turn out to be ones about unicorns. It’s so odd, the way that creative processes work. I’ve talked to a lot of preachers, artists, and musicians about this, and none of them have matching processes. I just thought this was a really interesting way to frame what creating actually was. Hope all is well with you brother!

  • Eric Brown

    As a fellow preacher I appreciated your comments. One thing I have been practicing lately is unplugging from my car radio as well as technology (i.e. iphone) for periods of time for the purpose of allowing mental space for those creative insights. I was telling my staff two weeks ago that I feel I have lost my creativity in developing sermons and questioned out loud if it was due to the fact that I’m much more “plugged in” now then i was five years ago. So now when i’m waiting in line, instead of picking up the iphone to check facebook…..i just wait.

  • http://djiverson.com dj

    As a longtime fan, I have to say this is by far my favorite post.

    You’ve put into words something that has been on my heart for years. I hear so many people say they wish they were the ‘creative type’. It hurts my a heart a little because I have such a difficult time explaining that everyone is creative. Creation is a unique part of our Godly design.

    Part of the problem is that we try and harness creativity into neat little categories so that we can measure it in terms of success. We think of creativity in terms of being able to use a paintbrush, or write a story etc. It starts when we are young with pictures where kids are supposed to color in the lines and grows from there.

    I think you nailed it with the idea that God’s intention was to rule and a care and co-create together.

    I love to paint, but have a tough time doing so during the day. It’s often my late night sessions that produce my favorite creations. It’s a time when there are minimal distractions and maximum silence. It’s no surprise that they are often the times when I feel the closest to God as well.

    It’s tough to explain that type of worship to others, so I’m appreciative of your great words here.

    May we all tap into the creative Spirit of our Lord, wether it means picking up a brush, writing a sermon, making sandwiches for the kids before school, fixing a computer or simply coloring outside the lines.

  • Lauren Cunningham

    I really appreciate this post, Jonathan. I consider myself an artist as well, just with my favorite medium–words. I love that words hold untold amounts of power and that they release whatever intent exists in the environment in which they are created. It absolutely blows my mind to contemplate the immeasurable things that God can accomplish when we, as writers, are empowered and catapulted by the anointing of the Holy Spirit along with our God-given gifts!

  • http://kingdomseeking.wordpress.com/ K. Rex Butts

    I too write (create) my sermons out as a manuscript first, even though I rarely take it with me to preach from. One reason I do this is for the sake of wisdom. I want to be intentional and thoughtful about what I say rather than saying something off the cuff which I’ll regret an hour later. Wisdom is a part of the creative event.