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Creating Space

There is no getting around it. Creativity requires spaciousness. In a culture that demands we hurry up and do, produce, move faster and higher up the ladder, become breathless, worship speed and efficiency, finding space can be a real challenge. And yet, for me, here is where the spiritual life and the creative life converge—in the profound need and longing to make space to listen to the divine presence who, as the mystics tell us, dwells within us. Space to notice the stirrings of our souls, and to honor the newness budding there. In fact, we don’t just “find space,” instead we have to be intentional about creating the space in our lives.

I am convinced that as a culture we have become paralyzed by our own busyness. We live in a time that is desperately hungry for new ideas and visions, new possibilities in a world gone awry with war and ecological destruction. Yet, everything about our culture encourages us to keep busy, to not slow down enough to really contemplate these things and listen to the ways we are being called to live in response. The news gives us 30-second sound bytes that render us feeling helpless rather than helping to empower us to action.

Recently I have made two commitments that opened up more creative space in my life. First was a re-thinking of the physical space I live in. My husband and I live in a condo in Capitol Hill (Seattle). We love where we live—walking distance from my husband’s job, the video store that welcomes our dog Duke with biscuits (in fact, we call it the “cookie store”), little restaurants. We even have a second bedroom that serves well as an office and spiritual direction space. The first commitment involved re-thinking our home. We replaced our carpets with laminate flooring, especially welcome since we own a dog in Seattle. In the process of moving our stuff to accomplish this, we were intentional about asking how each item makes space for nurturing regular creative expression in our lives. I sold our big TV cabinet and replaced it with a lovely dresser I had in storage with many drawers to hold art supplies, especially the mosaic tiles I used to love to play with and now have easy access to again. We sold and gave away several other things that didn’t serve us anymore.

The other commitment has been to carve out time for creative retreat. In January, I rented a house on Salt Spring Island in the Southern Gulf Islands (off the coast of Vancouver and Victoria). I brought my dog and for a week I simply followed my own process and intuition. I wrote when I wanted to, made collages when the impulse led me, went on hikes when I needed to, took naps when the desire struck. It was simply amazing to spend a whole week living solely by my own creative rhythms and practicing the discipline of listening carefully to what was emerging within me next and then honoring that desire. Tomorrow I leave again for another few days of retreat, because I find retreating to solitude and silence helps slow my soul down when I return, and I come home renewed and inspired. I have already blocked off time in my calendar for the upcoming year for more retreat time.

So this week, I invite you to consider how you might make just a little more space in your life. Perhaps it will be trying a new recipe, or playing with paint, or giving away three things that drain your energy or clutter your space, or just saying “no” to one more commitment and using that time to just be and breathe. Or maybe you can take it just a little further and schedule a day or weekend away at a retreat center. Or maybe you cancel meetings for a day, turn off the phone and computer (what my friend Maria calls “going dark”), stay at home and allow yourself to listen to what your soul is craving.

Do it to nurture your own creativity. But also do it because we so deeply need people in the world who are intentional about making space for their creativity. People who are willing to listen to the Holy One who speaks deep within us, right at this very moment, and always invites us to something new.

What new things might God be doing within you right now? How will you create space to listen?

~Christine Valters Paintner

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2 Responses

  1. Hi Lew,
    Thanks for posting your comment! I have also benefitted greatly from The Artist’s Way and still practice a form of morning pages and artist dates and find myself often returning to her principles. I love the quote you gave from L’Engle and believe that becoming “teachers of being” (an image from a midlife workshop by Carol Scott Kassner) is a very counter-cultural but absolutely necessary act if we are ever to break free of the self-imposed bonds of our own busyness.
    Blessings, Christine

  2. As I was reading this very refreshing entry, a number of things you said resonated with me. I find myself thinking about three very distinct, but deeply related life-projects in your words.

    First, Julia Cameron’s THE ARTIST’S WAY. In that tremendous book, she asks her readers to acquire two healthy habits to nurture creativity. The first is an artist’s date – a single hour each week where you can do anything creative for any reason at all just to refresh and rejuvenate your creativity. She calls it play. Secondly, she strongly encourages all artists to write what she calls morning notes EVERYDAY. This clears the mind and heart of internal clutter which often blocks creativity (it works too!). I’m getting better at both!

    Secondly, I am again drawn to the words and wisdom of Madelaine L’Engle in her landmark work, WALKING ON WATER:Reflections on Faith & Art. On page 12 she says, ” I’ve long since stopped feeling guilty about taking “being-time” [my quotes]…”. Perhaps in the folly of our worship of busy-ness, (another L’Englesque word) we’re burdened by guilt to the point of deliberately ignoring our need. Been there – done that.

    And third, I was thinking about my very long struggle to demand simplicity in my life – not backwards living, but simple, uncluttered living. It’s difficult in a family of five where each one wants different things. But I’ve made some progress. I turned off TV and the news in general years ago. Like you, I deliberately get rid of what’s not in use and then literally celebrate in the space that’s been made – both physical, and spiritual.

    I will keep going in all three.
    It’s very well worth it.