One thing that has stuck in my head since I was a child I learned from my mother who was a nurse. She came home from a continuing education class when I was about 12 years old with a tidbit that astounded me then and still astounds me today. The instructor communicated that researchers had discovered the frontal lobe of the brain, responsible for our creativity and imagination, is also activated when we pray.
Since learning that, I have always believed that there must be a profound connection between prayer and creativity. It also makes sense to me since prayer is the doorway to communicating with the Creator — me communicating with God and God communicating with me. One of the connections I have made is that being creative is a form of prayer. And that when I pray I am engaging in the height of creativity because in some mysterious way, both physically and spiritually, I am united with Creativity itself.
Mediators for the Divine
Creativity in the Greek culture was also understood in this way. The legendary Greek muses were thought to be goddesses and were considered to be the spring of all poetry, art and inspiration. They interacted with humanity by presenting before the mind of a chosen individual the poetry, the song, the music, the dance, the words, the images that they had created. In this way, the human author was simply an instrument — a mediator — between the divine and the human worlds. Other artists have also attested that their creative experience is one in which they are making external something that already exists, something created by someone else. Their work has been inspired. At the heart of this is the sense that human creativity is a participation in a world that we cannot see.
I can definitely attest to such a divine connection in relationship with my creativity. Recently, my “baby” brother and his wife were expecting their second child. Since I like to make gifts for my family, I was wondering what to make for their child. In this case, I had no clue as to the baby’s gender. As I searched through my crafts, something inside of me told me to make a nativity scene. When my nephew was born, my brother and sister-in-law chose to name him Joseph, a name that hadn’t previously been on their radar screen. Hmm … Somehow it was on mine, and I know exactly who put it there.
Another time I remember standing in Barnes & Noble in front of a shelf containing books about hobbies. I wanted to get a gift for my brother Paul, a professional framer. After saying a prayer that the book that was meant for my brother would manifest itself to me, I chose a book on woodworking. Due to that book, my brother heard his own creative desire. His creativity has resulted not only in entertainment units and bookshelves, but he recently finished an altar and ambo for a monastery.
Since my hobbies are a part of my prayer life, I usually take a project with me when I make my spiritual exercises. While I was working on an original cross-stitch piece for a sister who was preparing to becoming a missionary to Germany, I received a powerful insight. The piece consisted of the words of a poem that I had written. These words were illegible until I outlined them. In an instant I realized that it was the outlining stitches that provided the definition that the rest of the stitches needed. Without that definition, the other stitches were unintelligible. All of a sudden I realized that God alone is the one who has the authority to “define” who I am and that idolatry is giving to other persons, situations, fads, etc., the power to define who I am. I realized that my life in so many ways had become unintelligible to me because I had allowed so many other realities to define me. That insight was God’s way of communicating to me the source of my vulnerability.
The moments when I’m making things with my hands are precious to me. I have discovered that crocheting, embroidering, folding napkins and writing poetry are forms of prayer for me. Rather than me communicating with God as I do when I engage in a ritual, pray traditional prayers or actively seek God’s presence through Scripture or meditation, creativity is the path through which God often communicates to me. I experience an openness to God that I don’t experience at other prayerful moments. I receive insights almost effortlessly. It is as though God seeks me through the doorway of creativity. And when that happens, I participate in God’s creativity, adding a bit of happiness and beauty to the world around me.