Two experiences have led me to reflect on God’s gifts of creativity, and how they might relate to the spiritual life. Briefly: the first was some 20 years ago, when travelling back to Cannes in the sunshine from one of the small offshore islands. I felt God’s presence embracing me and after that experience I felt I had a deeper insight and a better understanding of the people who came to me as a counsellor. More recently following surgery I had a near death experience, which I interpret as indicating that after death, in the world of light, our senses are more fully available to us. They will not then be limited by our physical humanity but rather they will expand infinitely, giving the ability to fully sense and grasp things that we see only partly in this present life, as the apostle Paul described it. As I reflect on the experience I find it gave a glimpse of the spiritual world which awaits us when this life is completed, but which we may access now in different measure.
These experiences appear similar to the Ignatian understanding of a ‘formative experience’, when one is open to God in a particular way. They lead to a profound stillness and silence. Genesis suggests God’s creative word came out of the void or silence to bring our world into being. After these events I felt challenged to develop my practice of the arts in a more disciplined way knowing that my own creativity can best come from a deliberate silence.
I’ve tried to understand how the process of abstract painting works; it means allowing time to be led as I choose the colours and forms and make each mark. Looking at a rusty breakwater post on the beach at Wells-next-the-Sea I saw the amazing range of colours, and how the shapes linked together.
The resulting painting captures some of this, although the B&W reproduction only gives a glimpse of it. It is a reminder to always ask: have I allowed the Spirit to work in and through me as I sit and look and discover more about what is in front of me. In the early weeks of lockdown I was limited to looking at photographs but the light, and colours and shapes could still emerge in new ways.
Finding God in the creative experience can be profound: painters for example can be ‘taken over’ and cannot think of anything else. We use the imagination and access parts of ourselves which we are often too busy to use. We discover how creativity and spirituality interconnect: the need for pauses, time to reflect, enjoyment of the process, not knowing what the end result will be. Something of this process was at work as I painted, largely from my imagination, this image of the Brecon Beacons landscape.
Kandinsky wrote ‘Concerning the Spiritual in Art’ in 1910. When I discovered this on my creative arts course at Norwich City College it affirmed much of what I was working out.
‘The inner voice of the soul tells [the artist] what form he needs, whether inside or outside nature. Every artist knows, who works with feeling, how suddenly the right form flashes upon him, and a true work of art must be like an inspiration.’
Encouragement to be creative also comes from modern quantum physics, which I think suggests that the mind is the fundamental stuff of the universe, and matter is shaped by mind. Quaker Universalists have not been afraid to go deeper into this. For me it suggests matter only comes into being when consciousness brings it into being, it’s not that an individual alone can bring something into being but rather it is consciousness as a unitive force in the universe. We can choose to be reflective and proactive rather than reactive and doing the things that others expect.
During this strange time of lockdown we can make our own lives more creative, looking forward to new opportunities and perhaps changed priorities in the time that is still ahead of us.
Peter Varney, member of Norwich Local Meeting and a retired Church of England priest.