A few months ago I posted several articles on creativity and imagination so when I was asked to contribute to the synchroblog on Creativity and Christianity. These immediately came to mind and I cheated a little by drawing heavily on these posts here. One person commented on one of these previous posts:
I was reminded as I read your post of “The Mind of the Maker” by Dorothy Sayers. Ironically, the introduction is by Madeleine L’Engle and in it she quotes Berdyaev saying “God created the world by imagination.” She also talks about seeing ourselves as “co-creators” with God! I believe seeing these aspects are the beginning of the discovery and the the realization of the creative freedom we have with God!
I love that thought – God created the world by imagination. Actually it was all I could think of this morning as I looked out my office window at the beautiful Olympic mountains adorned with fresh snow and glowing in the pale pink light of a winter dawn. I am even more aware of it as I walk through the garden and explore the myriad of creative shapes, sizes, colours and textures that I encounter. God must have incredible imagination to create a world that is ever changing and ever fresh with something new and awe inspiring to discover each day. Yet somehow in the practice of our faith we have learned to deaden our imaginations and stifle our creativity.
I have a friend who recently became her granddaughter’s guardian. It is like rediscovering the world all over again, she told me. For my granddaughter everything is filled with awe and wonder. She is constantly looking, listening and discovering. Her life is all about questioning and learning. Her eyes and ears are constantly open to the beauty of God’s world. It isn’t hard for her to believe in God because she senses God’s presence in the song of birds and the whisper of the wind ruffling the leaves. Watching a ladybug on a leaf is an exciting adventure in which she discovers new facets of God’s love and breathtaking beauty.
Childhood is filled with creativity and imagination, a place of mystery and wonder in which kids discover themselves, the world and the God who created it. For a child every moment is filled with looking, listening and learning. The good life for a child is about being rather than doing. It is learning to enjoy friends, family and the world in which we live. It is about seeing colours adults never notice and conversing with creatures adults think don’t exist.
Unfortunately, when we go to school we are educated in the world’s institutions and for the world’s purposes. Our education takes us away from the creativity and Godly awe of childhood to a place of head knowledge and information gathering.
In her book Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art, Madeleine L’Engle tells us that all children are born artists endowed with rich unfettered imaginations, their senses touched by compassion and love. She contends that in the world’s education system we are all corrupted by the “dirty devices of the secular world” where myth and fairy tale must be discarded. Schools and universities squelch creativity and imagination forcing kids to live in a world of science and technology where we convince then that flowers are made of molecules and rainbows are caused by the refraction of light. Childhood’s vivid purple clouds and yellow skies give way to the real world where clouds are always white and skies are always blue. In this world of head knowledge compassion gives way to competition and life, we teach them, revolves around buying goods we don’t need and holding jobs we don’t enjoy. God, if he exists at all, fits into a tiny box we open on Sunday or for a few moments each morning.
To be educated as God wants us to be and so gain God’s perspective of life where love and justice embrace in compassion and caring, we must once more learn to see as children see and believe as children believe. Madeleine comments: “We write, we make music, we draw pictures because we are listening for meaning, feeling for healing And during the writing of the story, or the painting, or the composing or singing or playing, we are returned to that open creativity which was ours when we were children. We cannot be mature artists if we have lost the ability to believe which we had as children. An artist at work is in a condition of complete and total faith.”
In God’s world all of us are created artists and as we grow and mature as Christians we become aware that it is not just our maturity as artists that is compromised by the ways the world educates us. It is our Christian development too. Learning to live into God’s world of justice and freedom means breaking away from the dirty devices of the secular world and recognizing that Christian discipleship is not about educating us to do something in the world or even about encouraging us to think differently. Christian discipleship is about encouraging followers of Christ to be different, to live our lives with a different purpose at the centre.
Nicholas Wolterstorff in his book Educating for Shalom, describes this purpose as: to pray and struggle for shalom, celebrating its presence and mourning its absence. He goes on to explain that in order to move towards the ideal shalom community there are four ways basic places in which we need to engage. First, we are called to engage in the endeavor and struggle to bring shalom – modelling it where possible and being instruments of shalom where we see it lacking. In other words we are called to both act justly ourselves and work against injustice. Second, we are called to pray for shalom recognizing that God’s reign of peace and justice is in many ways in God’s hands not ours. Third, we are invited to savour, to enjoy, and to celebrate shalom wherever we see it breaking into our world. Listening and looking for and then celebrating where God’s kingdom is breaking into our world gives us hope that a new work is possible. And lastly we are invited to mourn the shortfalls of shalom in our world.
My own pain makes me aware that others suffer far more than I will ever suffer. When I disconnect from my own pain and from the pain others suffer, when I live a life of convenience and comfort rather than engaging in the creative productivity God intends me to, I am disconnecting from God’s dream for shalom.
Educating for shalom is about dreaming of and living into a world in which creation is restored, justice does indeed come for the poor and and the marginalized and we all once more live in harmony with God, each other and God’s good creation.
This kind of learning doesn’t come from books. It comes, as does the learning of childhood from looking, listening and imagining, rediscovering the purple in a white cloud and the rainbow colours of God’s seemingly impossible dreams and promises for the future. It means using God’s shalom dream to shape our own lives and purpose embracing a different way of life that the world thinks is foolish.
Surely this is part of what Jesus means in Matthew 18: 2-4:
“I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
What would happen if we all saw life with the imagination and creativity of a child, discovering that each day is an adventure of looking, listening and learning? What would happen if we turned away from the boxes of conformity our culture has imposed on us and allowed our imaginations to break free into the creative reality of God’s new world? What would happen if we rethought what we are on the planet for with the compassionate dreams of God at the centre?