I'm preaching on Sunday! Yahoo!
Now, before my heathen readers get all panicky, let's get something straight. No, I haven't suddenly taken holy orders or signed up for divinity school. I'm part of a liberal Unitarian Universalist community, and I was invited to be a summer speaker while the minister's away. That's why this blog has been so darn quiet lately; instead of writing blog posts, I've been writing a sermon. My topic is "Creativity as a Spiritual Practice," and at my church, sermonizing isn't just about writing a speech. Because everyone involved in UU ministry is overworked and overcommitted, the powers that be hand the guest speakers some basic instructions, and then they get out of your way. Yes, you heard it right here. Guest speakers at my church can GO MAD WITH POWER! For a writer geek like me, saying I have creative license for a whole church service is like saying I get to make a movie, and I get to have it all my way; I get to write the script, cast the film, pick out the costumes, select the soundtrack, and call every shot! Woohoo! THEY LOVE ME; THEY REALLY LOVE ME!
Wait. Back up. My sermon isn't about any of that. My sermon is about letting yourself become an instrument of creativity, and the first step is to brave the wilds of your own heart and establish a sense of safety. More on that later.
Because this blog has been the sole outlet for my creativity this year, and I've figured out how to get the juices flowing by typing my thoughts into the "New Post" window on Blogger, I'm going to write my sermon here. I'm going to give the whole order of service from start to finish, complete with the cues my daughter needs to run sound and A/V equipment. A skeleton version of this post has already been sent to the church to be printed and handed out on Sunday. I'll post a link to the podcast once it becomes available. As the podcast only includes the sermon itself, and not the rest of the service, I will insert YouTube videos and other embedded audio/visual linky-dinks that you can follow in order to get an approximation of the whole experience. In no small part, I'm doing this so my family (spread across the country and overseas) can be with me on the 31st of July. This will be way better than videotaping me standing in the pulpit; I promise.
Unless otherwise specified, I am the speaker.
31 July 2011
First Universalist Society of Salem
"Creativity as a Spiritual Practice"
Centering Chime (The deacon, who is the speaker's assistant for the service, rings a chime to start the service.)
Prelude ("The Way I Am," Ingrid Michaelson - Original audio played for the service, cover by Ryan and Jenni Beatty via YouTube provided in this post.)
Welcome (The deacon welcomes the congregation to the service.)
Introduction of Guest Speaker (The deacon introduces me.)
An editor by trade, but a writer by vocation, Joy spends most of her free time going places, doing cool things, eating strange food, and taking pictures of weird and wonderful stuff that she can write about later. Joy writes speculative fiction and poetry under the name Joy Marchand, and a bibliography of her published creative work is available on her website. Joy has been attending services at the First Universalist Society of Salem for two years, and is grateful to have been invited to speak today.
Opening Words (from Julia Cameron, The Artist's Way - If this quote is longer than allowed by fair use, I will take it down.)
I have worked artist-to-artist with potters, photographers, poets, screenwriters, dancers, novelists, actors, directors--and with those who knew only what they dreamed to be or who only dreamed of being somehow more creative. I have seen blocked painters paint, broken poets speak in tongues, halt and lame and maimed writers racing through final drafts. I have come to not only believe but to know: No matter what your age or your life path, whether making art is your career or your hobby or your dream, it is not too late or too egotistical or too selfish or too silly to work on your creativity.
*Opening Hymn ("Blowin' in the Wind," sung by the congregation for the service, and performed by "watermanbrad" via YouTube for this post.)
Chalice Lighting (The deacon leads the congregation in the Salem UU chalice-lighting hokey-pokey.)
Story for All Ages (Where the Wild things Are, by Maurice Sendak is read aloud by one of my family members to the kids and adults.)
Special Music ("Londonderry Air," is performed by my daughter on the clarinet for the service, and Alex Hutchinson via YouTube for this post.)
Affirmation of Faith (the deacon leads the congregation in the recitation of the Affirmation of Faith)
Reading (From Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones - If this quote is longer than allowed by fair use, I will take it down.)
Excerpt from "The Power of Detail"Prayer and Silent Meditation (This prayer was written by and read aloud by another family member.)
I am in Costa's Chocolate Shop is Owatonna, Minnesota. My friend is opposite me. We've just finished Greek salads, and are writing in our notebooks for a half hour among glasses of water, a half-sipped Coke, and a cup of coffee with milk. The booths are orange, and near the front counter are lines of cream candies dipped in chocolate.
Our lives are at once ordinary and mythical. We live and die, age beautifully or full of wrinkles. We wake in the morning, buy yellow cheese, and hope we have enough money to pay for it. At the same instant, we have these magnificent hearts that pump through all sorrow and all winters we are alive on the earth. We are important and our lives are important, magnificent, really, and their details are worthy to be recorded. This is how writers must think, this is how we must sit down with pen in hand. We were here; we are human beings; this is how we lived. Let it be known, the earth passed before us. Our details are important. Otherwise, if they are not, we can drop a bomb and it doesn't matter.
Yad Vashem, a memorial for the Holocaust, is in Jerusalem. It has a whole library that catalogues the names of the six million martyrs. Not only did the library have their names, it also had where they lived, were born, anything that could be found out about them. These people existed and they mattered. Yad Vashem, as a matter of fact, actually means "memorial to the name." It was not nameless masses that were slaughtered; they were human beings.
It is important to say the names of who we are, the names of the places we have lived, and to write the details of our lives. We have lived; our moments are important. This is what it is to be a writer: to be the carrier of details that make up history, to care about the orange booths in the coffee shop in Owatonna.
Recording the details of our lives is a stance against bombs with their mass ability to kill, against too much speed and efficiency. A writer must say yes to life, to all of life; the water glasses, the Kemp's half-and-half, the ketchup on the counter. Our task is to say a holy yes to the real things our life as they exists--the real truth of who we are: several pounds overweight, the gray, cold street outside, the Christmas tinsel in the showcase, the Jewish writer in the orange booth across from her blond friend who has black children. We must become writers who accept things as they are, come to love the details, and step forward with a yes on our lips so there can be no more noes in the world, noes that invalidate life and stop these details from continuing.
Spirit of life and love, each of us contains a creative spark, an expression of the divine that inspires us to bring new light into the world. Each of us expresses this spark in our own unique way, in music or art; in keeping a home, a garden, or a room; in raising children; in our daily work; or in our spiritual life here. May each of us have the courage to fan that spark into a flame, to express our true, creative selves freely and openly. May those who have hidden their spark because of pain, criticism or fear find aid in letting it show. May we encourage our loved ones and our friends in this spiritual community in the expression of this divine spark, and may all of us find the strength to combat the inner censor that says we are not good enough, creative enough, skilled enough or brilliant enough to live our lives as art. Please join me in a moment of silence to recognize the power of our own inner artists, to open our hearts to that spark of creativity and let it shine, and to express our own creative freedom.
Offertory (The ushers hustle the congregation for much-needed cash to keep the community running. No, I didn't play the Pink Floyd song at the service. The language is inappropriate, even for UUs. We UU's sing the "Old 100th," which sounds like this at Westminster Abbey, but not at my church, where there are usually about thirty people in the pews, and we sing a capella.)
Special Presentation ("Believe," K's Choice)
Excerpt from "Why Do I Write?"
"Why do I write?" It's a good question. Ask it of yourself every once in a while. No answer will make you stop writing, and over time you will find that you have given every response:
1. Because I'm a jerk.
2. Because I want the boys to be impressed.
3. So my mother will like me.
4. So my father will hate me.
5. No one listens to me when I speak.
6. So I can start a revolution.
7. In order to write the Great American Novel and make a million dollars.
8. Because I'm neurotic.
9. Because I'm the reincarnation of William Shakespeare.
10. Because I have something to say.
11. Because I have nothing to say.
Why do I write? I write because I kept my mouth shut all my life and the secret ego truth is I want to live eternally and I want my people to live forever. I hurt at our impermanence, at the passing of time. At the edge of all my joy is the creeping agony that this will pass--this Croissant Express at the corner of Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis, a great midwestern city in mythical America, will someday stop serving me hot chocolate. I will move on to New Mexico where no one knows how it feels to be here with the sudden light of afternoon, the silver of the ceiling, the half-smell of croissants baking in the oven.
I write because I am alone and move through the world alone. No one will know what has passed through me, and even more amazing, I don't know. Now that it's spring I can't remember what it felt like to be in forty below. Even with the heat on, you could feel mortality screaming through the thin walls of your house.
I write because I am crazy, schizophrenic, and I know it and accept it and I have to do something with it other than go to the loony bin.
I write because there are stories that people have forgotten to tell, because I am a woman trying to stand up in life. I write because to form a word with your lips and tongue or think a thing and then dare to write it down so you can never take it back is the most powerful thing I know. I am trying to come alive, to find the distances in my own recesses and bring them forward and give them color and form.
I write out of total incomprehension that even love isn't enough and that finally writing might be all I have and that it isn't enough. I can never get it all down, and besides, there are times when I have to step away from the table, the notebook, and turn to face my own life. Then there are times when it's only coming to the notebook that I truly do face my own life.
And I write out of hurt and how to make hurt okay; how to make myself strong and come home, and it may be the only real home I'll ever have.
When the old nag in you comes around with "Why are you wasting your time? Why do you write?," just dive onto the page, be full of answers, but don't try to justify yourself. You do it because you do it. You do it because you want to improve your handwriting, because you're an idiot, because you're mad for the smell of paper.
Sermon: “Creativity as a Spiritual Path”
The topic of today's service, "Creativity as a Spiritual Practice," comes from a book called The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. The books says that everyone carries the divine spark of creative potential - but some of us are creatively blocked and need help getting unblocked. After hearing those song lyrics earlier, ("Take me the way I am," "I believe in me") and seeing all those happy photos of me, you might think I've read The Artist's Way a hundred times, processed and accepted its message, and been miraculously unblocked. Honestly, I think if that were true, I'd be home finishing a novel.
I've read The Artist's Way twice, and I'm not unblocked. Reading this book is not magic. There is no button at the end labeled "Press now for automatic conversion!" I've read parts of the Bible, the Qu'ran, the Bhaghavad Gita, and a half dozen books by the Dalai Lama, and I'm not a Christo-Muslim-Hindu-Buddha-tarian either. Just as reading The Joy of Cooking has made me a hungrier person, not a better cook, reading The Artist's Way has made me a hungrier artist, not a better writer. The readings and songs I have presented to you today are not my personal accomplishments; they are my hopes and dreams, for myself, and for you.
I believe creativity makes our lives richer, more beautiful, and more meaningful.
Now, I work with a bunch of scientists. A lot of them hear the word "creativity" or "team-building" and they want to jump out the window. Their jobs rely on data and results. When forced to take vacation, they sit in gondolas in Venice glued to their Blackberries. I'm exaggerating. Most people at work are creative. Their Blackberries and laptops have pandas and turtles on them. They have kitty-cat screen savers and dog wallpaper, and drawings their kids made taped to their doors. One woman showed us photographs from her wedding in India, where celebrations last for days, with flowers and silk saris and beautiful food and henna tattoos and jewelry and music everywhere. Creativity isn't just about making a statue of a giant naked guy, or slopping paint on a canvas. Creativity is everywhere. Creativity is about putting a leaf of parsley on a dinner plate, or a flower behind your ear. One doctor I know has a pair of cufflinks made from tiny, functional hourglasses, which is extra super creative, but he's an outlier; everybody knows anesthesiologists are all kind of "out there".
I don't think the word "creativity" is going to make any of you jump out the window. I've seen some of our craft circle people knitting prayer shawls during services. This place is usually alive with music, much of it played and sung live. There is artwork constantly pouring out of the RE classrooms; the Peeps art shows was one of my favorite things so far. I think a lot of people in this congregation have already embraced art as part of their spiritual practice. Creativity is a gift of ourselves to ourselves, a gift to our families, a gift to our community, a gift to the world. Personally, sometimes I think art has saved my life. It reminds me that I'm not alone, that I'm not the only one who suffers. It reminds me there is too much beauty in the world to give up on it. I have Declan and Ronan's artwork on the fridge to give me hope for a bright future. I have Maya Lin's Vietnam Memorial and the other monuments on the Capital Mall to give me the resolve to vote. I have the artwork produced by the marketing folks at work that inspires me to come in each day, to keep helping find the next breakthrough cure. I have the photography of Diane Arbus and Annie Liebovitz to give me inspiration to carry a camera everywhere I go. I have my daughter's wonderful alternative music recommendations to keep my imagination lively and curious.
Art is a powerful language, and a powerful gift.
You're sold, right? Hopefully, you picked up some art supplies before the service and you're just waiting for the sermon to end so you can spring into action and make some art! Maybe we could make a friendship quilt for the Transylvania church, and put witches on it for us and vampires for them. They'd never expect that! But if you're like me, this sermon isn't enough to get you unblocked. If you're like me, the flow of creativity gets walled up sometimes, and we have to break through those walls if we're to get it started again. I've read The Artist's Way twice, and I'm stuck on Chapter 1, which is called "Recovering a Sense of Safety".
Explaining how to recover a sense of safety is going to be hard. I certainly don't feel safe up here; it's high, and scary, and I feel exposed and vulnerable. I've managed to hide so far: Most of what you've heard in this service so far was written by other people: Julia Cameron, Natalie Goldberg, Ingrid Michaelson, Bob Dylan, Maurice Sendak, Sarah Bettens, and Scott. If anything, I've been a collage artist today. I wrote up a project plan, and made an assemblage of other people's work. The only pieces of my own work I've shown you were the photographs in the slideshow, and in this sermon. I'm going to talk about each of those things to show you what we're up against, and what can help us recover our lost sense of safety. It's going to be a little scary. I'm going to fire walk, and I hope you'll keep a bucket of water handy.
Julia Cameron says that our core negative beliefs present a clear and present threat to our sense of safety. She says that we all have something called the "enemy within." My "enemy within," those destructive voices inside my head that keep my creativity blocked sound like this: (deep voice) WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? WHO'S GOING TO WANT TO SEE THAT STUPID SLIDESHOW? PEOPLE MAKE FUN OF PEOPLE WHO SHOW SLIDESHOWS! A SLIDESHOW ISN'T ART. THAT'S LAME! YOU'RE NOT ANNIE LIEBOVITZ. YOU'RE NOT DIANE ARBUS. AND YOU CALL THIS BORING TALK A SERMON? GET IT OVER WITH SO THE PEOPLE CAN HAVE THEIR COFFEE, ALREADY. WHY SHOULD THEY LISTEN TO YOU? YOU HAVEN'T WRITTEN A STORY IN 3 YEARS; YOU'LL NEVER WRITE A NOVEL, AND IF YOU DO, YOU WON'T BE ABLE TO SELL IT. EVERYONE WILL BE MAD AT YOU FOR WRITING ABOUT THEIR SECRETS, NEGLECTING THEM, AND NOT SAYING ENOUGH NICE THINGS ABOUT THEM ON THE ACKNOWLEDGMENTS PAGE. IF YOU WRITE, THEY'LL ABANDON YOU, YOU'LL BE BROKE, AND IT WON'T HAVE BEEN WORTH IT. YOU'RE STUPID, ARROGANT, NARCISSISTIC, DULL, UNORIGINAL, AND YOU CAN'T SPELL!!!
(Deep breath.) Ok, time for my "enemy within" to shut up. It's so mean. I think I need that bucket of water.
You might not have an enemy within. If you don't, I'm glad for you. If you do, maybe yours isn't as mean as mine, or maybe it's meaner. It's not easy putting yourself out there, and taking risks. If you do have an enemy within, at some point in your life, you were probably hurt. Maybe you were teased, bullied, ridiculed, put-down for being weird or different, or ignored, abused, abandoned, or disregarded. Did you know the enemy within was created to protect you from pain? It says, Don't stand out. If you speak up, stand out, sing, draw, paint, wear funny ties, make funny noises, or eat weird food, you'll get singled out. You'll be destroyed. It's better to hide. Better to blend in. Better to be invisible. Depending on how badly you were hurt, you might feel sheepish buying a pair of funny socks, or you might need to put on sixteen suits of plate mail armor just to buy a kiwi fruit at the grocery store. WHAT KIND OF WEIRDO EATS KIWI FRUITS? I myself eat kiwi fruits, thank you very much. And sweetbreads, and frog's legs, and liver, and eggplants, and plantains, and pickled broccoli, and stinky cheese, and bacon-flavored chocolate, and vinegar pie, and raw fish, and fish eggs, AND BUMPY BULBOUS SMELLY THINGS WITH EYES AND FANGS!
It's hard to recover a sense of safety with this ferocious, protective enemy bearing down on you from the inside. It's as if you've left the other 299 Spartans back home and you're standing in the gap at the battle of Thermopylae, facing a quarter of a million Persians, armed with nothing but a slingshot and a bucket of feathers. I see three options here: you can run away as fast as you can, and stay creatively blocked; you can stay and fight with fear in your heart, which is potentially disastrous; or you can accept the fear, make peace with it, and manage your demons with a quiet heart. I'd like to work toward acceptance, myself. I'd like to be more creative, give more of myself to myself, and to others. So what do I do? How do I manage the demons?
The non-magical text suggests that we manage our demons by developing an "inner ally," and here's where things take a spiritual left turn in this sermon, and I REALLY freak out. It seems like good news, that there's something we can do to be more creative. That sounds like a win, right? And yet, talking about the "inner ally" is almost as difficult as talking about the "inner enemy." I'm going to talk about affirmations. Maybe some of you cringed just now. If you did, you're not alone. There are a lot of us who hear the word "affirmations" and want to jump out the window. However, Julia Cameron says:
Affirmations help achieve a sense of safety and hope. When we first start working with affirmations, they may feel dumb. Hokey. Embarrassing. Isn't this interesting? We can easily, and without embarrassment, bludgeon ourselves with negative affirmations: "I'm not gifted enough/not clever enough/not original enough/not young enough..." But saying nice things about ourselves is notoriously hard to do. It feels pretty awful at first. Try these and see if they don't sound hopelessly syrupy: "I deserve love." "I deserve fair pay." "I deserve a rewarding creative life." "I am a brilliant and successful artist." "I have rich creative talents." "I am competent and confident in my creative work."
Did your inner enemies perk their nasty little ears up? Your inner enemies loathe anything that sounds like real self-worth. They immediately start up with the imposter routine: "Who do you think you are?" It's as though our entire collective unconscious sat up late nights watching Walt Disney's One Hundred and One Dalmations, practicing Cruella DeVille's delivery for scathing indictments.
I don't like doing affirmations. For an example of the "inner enemy," I could give you a bunch of them off the top of my head. But for affirmations, I had to look those up in a book. I'm not naturally good at math either, so with math and affirmations, I have to work really hard to get the knowledge to stick. Here are some affirmations from The Artist's Way that might help you fight the evil inner enemy. Even if they make you feel awkward at first, try them. Say affirmations often enough, and something might stick. You might to start to believe in your own intrinsic worth as a creative being, and something wonderful might happen to you:
1. My creativity heals myself and others.
2. I am allowed to nurture my artistic self.
3. My creativity always leads me to truth and love.
4. My creativity leads me to forgiveness and self-forgiveness.
5. Creativity is a wonderful, loving use of your time.
6. Creativity is a gift you give to yourself and others.
7. I can help build community with my creativity.
8. I can spread joy with my creativity.
9. I am a creative being.
10. Creativity helps me get in touch with my joyful self.
I've tried to achieve a balance in this sermon, between inspirational concepts and practical suggestions. I'd like to return to the practical for a moment. The Artist's Way has twelve chapters (modeled loosely on a 12-step program), and each chapter title is "Recovering a Sense" of something: safety, identity, power, integrity, possibility, abundance, connection, strength, compassion, self-protection, autonomy, faith. Cameron has two primary tools for unblocking creativity: the first is something called "morning pages," which are three, longhand pages of stream-of-consciousness thought written right when you wake up. The second is something called "the artist's date," which is a once weekly commitment you make to yourself to go out into the world and do something that sparks your creativity, like going window shopping at an antique store, or taking pictures down on Derby Wharf. Neither of these things needs to take a great deal of time, but both are intended to be meditative, nourishing, and spiritually liberating.
The Artist's Way is only one of many, many books I have on creativity. I've brought you this book today, because it's message is so clearly spiritual, and that's what I wanted to talk about. But the keys to unblocking creativity are the same in each book on writing and creativity that I have on my shelves at home. Each one says: look inside yourself, accept that, allow yourself to be that, expose yourself to art and creativity, ask it of yourself, invite it into you.
Ultimately, after you have accepted yourself, and accepted what you have to give, art is about relinquishing the self to the rest of creation Cameron says:
Over the years, I have learned that there is a flow of ideas that we as artists can tap into. The flow of creativity is constant. We are the ones who are fickle or fearful. I have learned that my creative condition and my spiritual condition are one and the same. Making art is an act of faith, a movement toward expansion. When I am stymied in my work, I am stymied in my spiritual condition. When I am self-conscious as an artist, I am spiritually constricted. I need to pray to lose my self-centered fears. I need to ask for selflessness, to be a conduit, a channel for ideas to move through. At a time like this, I post a sign at my writing station, "Okay, God, you take care of the quality. I will take care of the quantity." In other words, it is time to resign as the self-conscious author. It is time to let Something or Somebody write through me. How the ego hates this humbling proposition! And yet, great art is born of great humility." The grace to be an acolyte, a servant of the art, is the best prayer that an artist can offer.
*Hymn ("Blue Boat Home" sung by the congregation, arranged by Scott McNeil and presented via YouTube for this post.)
Announcements (this is the part where someone from the Board of Trustees reads the announcements, which includes an invitation to coffee hour, which, as they say, is the primary reason Unitarian Universalists get out of bed on Sunday morning.)
*Extinguish the Chalice (The deacon leads the congregation in a short unison reading and extinguishes the chalice.)
*Closing Words (The deacon reads some closing words.)
Our time in worship has come to an end,
so I bid you to go in peace,
Speak your truth in love and give thanks each day.
Live simply and approach life with an open heart and mind.
Let your faith not your fear be your guide.
Postlude ("Don't Stop Me Now," Queen - Original audio played for the service, video provided via YouTube for this post.)