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The practice of creating

A few years ago, when I found myself creatively stuck, my writing coach encouraged me to visit the art gallery on the college campus where I served as chaplain. Happy for an excuse to procrastinate on the sermon I was struggling to write, I set out on my coach’s assignment. The college’s art gallery was housed on the top floor of our library, tucked in a corner. I’d always known it was there and the art in that gallery enticed me, but I never made much time to visit. I always had more serious work to consider, more tasks on my to-do list that couldn’t be put off by creative whimsy. My writing coach’s assignment gave me permission to play.

Entering that space where bright prints, collages, photographs and intricate sculptures were on display felt like I’d turned the key to a locked door and entered a party crowded with color. I paused by the entrance to scan through a binder with the words of the artists whose work was exhibited. The art of a friend and colleague, Stephanie Baugh, was on display. In her artist statement, Stephanie wrote: “I am interested in the felt experience of small and quiet aspects of life. I am curious about how we can lay meaning and import over activities that are often seen as mundane or merely practical. I regularly spend time in reflection about my experiences or about states of mind in which I find myself. I give these reflective thoughts form as artworks. The process of creating the artworks extends my examination of the conditions of my consciousness and how I encounter the world.”

I appreciate my friendship with Stephanie more than she knows. In our mutual book club, Stephanie doesn’t just read the words of a book, she examines its printed font, and the width of the margins, and the image on the cover. For one book, she highlighted how each chapter began with an African symbol, something I had completely missed listening to the story on Audible.

I appreciate Stephanie’s desire to pay attention to “the small and quiet aspects of life” as well as the meaning she discovers as she creates. As an aspiring writer, I’ve always appreciated Flannery O’Conner’s quote: “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” The practice of creating is mystical, spiritual and evolutionary as we surrender to the muse to follow where she leads. Through this creative process we can come to know ourselves, our relationships and our world in a more profound and intimate way. Stephanie concludes her statement by saying, “It is not only that I am making art; the art is also making me.”

In this issue you’ll discover people writing about how art, poetry and even the creative use of social media helps them connect to God, to the world and in relationships with each other. It’s an issue that I hope gives you permission to contemplate your creative side and permission to delve into our understanding of God as creator, as the potter at the wheel, as the painter of stars in the night sky. What does this understanding of God give us permission to do, to create, to understand, to become? What gallery does God want us to set aside our to-do list to go visit?

I left the college’s gallery abuzz with energy — my mind playing with all sorts of new images and ideas. It was a beautiful, fall, Midwestern day. The perfect day to walk a college campus. The sun shone warm and bright. The trees whispered in the Illinois wind. The grass appeared exceptionally green. The white cement of the sidewalk beneath my feet reminded me of stone-colored seashells. Everything appeared more beautiful.

It was as if God had been inspired, even as God was inspiring me.