Readings: Psalm 148, Divine Providence 3:2
See also on Youtube
Photo credit: Aaron Burden from Pexels
Welcome to the sixth installment of our sermon series The Seven Types of Rest. I’ve drawn these seven types from the work of Saundra Dalton-Smith M.D. in her book Sacred Rest, and I invite you to check that out if you have any interest. Today, we will be talking about Creative Rest.
In the psalms especially, like in our text of Psalm 148 today, there is a lot of imagery devoted to the beauty of the earth, and praising God for creating it. From prehistoric cave paintings to ancient texts, art, craftsmanship, we can gather that human beings have always had the capacity to appreciate and participate in the beauty that surrounds them. There is something very fundamental, elemental, sacred that is evoked when engaging in….
Dr. Dalton-Smith defines creative rest as “the rest one finds when immersed in creative beauty.” (1) But she warns that creative rest should not be relegated to something “just for creative people, or [something] that will result in a work of creativity, like art or music.” Instead, creative rest, or to use another phrase, creative renewal, is a practice that feeds our “basic need for wonder.” (97). For many, this basic need goes hand in hand with some artistic endeavor, but that is not the case for everyone. The basic need for wonder can be fulfilled in a multitude of ways. The important part is accepting the invitation to see beauty, and to let it affect us and change us.
Sometimes, we let our personal hang-ups get in the way pursuing creative rest in the ways that will fulfill us the most.
Bronwen Mayer Henry, currently a working artist in high demand, in her book Radioactive Painting, relates the unconscious narrative that she adopted in high school art class:
“I loved the class. It was challenging and fulfilling. But it was in this class—sitting alongside so many stunning artists—that I formed an identity as a second-class artist. Each week when we had critiques, to my surprise, I did fine. Yet looking around the room, I knew I wasn’t the best. Some people had raw talent of breathtaking proportions…that clear knowing led to a second, more debilitating conclusion: I wasn’t the best and therefore I shouldn’t continue…
Today, when people describe to me their “not good enough” feelings, I look them in the eye and say, “Who cares if you are the best? Does it make your heart soar? If so, by all means do it!” (2)
The author Elizabeth Gilbert, in her book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, continues this line of permission-giving:
“If you’re alive, you’re a creative person. You and I and everyone you know are descended from tens of thousands of years of makers. Decorators, tinkerers, story tellers, dancers, explorers, fiddlers, drummers, builders, growers, problem-solvers, and embellishers—these are our common ancestors.
The guardians of high culture will try to convince you that the arts belong on to a chosen few, but they are wrong and they are also annoying. We are all the chosen few. We are all makers by design…Your creativity is way older than you are, way older than any of us. Your very body and your very being are perfectly designed to live in collaboration with inspiration, and inspiration is still trying to find you—the same way it hunted down your ancestors. All of which is to say: You do not need a permission slip from the principal’s office to live a creative life. Or if you do worry that you need a permission slip—there, I just gave it to you. I just wrote it on the back of an old shopping list. Consider yourself fully accredited. Now go make something.” (3)
Yes! So, let’s make something. And, that something might be something outside of yourself, like a cake or a poem or a painting. But also, just as important, when we interact with beauty we are additionally given the opportunity to create something inside of us. When wonder arises within us, no matter where or how we found it, this is a creative act also. Wonder is an emotion that is inherently creative because what it does is it creates space within us. When we wonder, we are opening up, making space for feeling and thinking and seeing new things. Wonder is a suspended space, in which anything could happen, in which we are impressionable, malleable, we are God-facing instead of self-facing. And so because of that state of openness, In the practice of creative renewal, *we* are what is being made anew. Whether we accompany that being-made-new with a traditionally artistic practice, or we accompany it with a walk in the woods, or listening to music, or something else, it doesn’t really matter. Creative renewal both rebuilds the parts of us that have been broken down, and engineers the building of parts of us that we didn’t even know we needed. Wonder is a sacred and necessary force.
And this is one of the reasons I love the Swedenborg reading for today, in which the Swedenborg the scientist is sincerely nerding out over the beauty, the intricacies, the design of the natural world. “Collect your wits” he says “and look through a good microscope and you will see incredible things,” like some over-enthusiastic high school science teacher, and I am 100% there for it. Because he is right. There are so many opportunities for wonder in our amazing world; taking the time to notice this fact is a powerful spiritual practice. But what he says next is even more powerful. He invites us to consider the source. Beyond the wow factor of how pretty or majestic something is, he invites us to consider that God’s divine love and wisdom is written into the design of everything, and that because God is an engaged rather than distant God, that this love and wisdom continues to pour into the world even now. He writes:
This is not just something that happened at its creation; it is something that has been happening constantly ever since. Maintenance is constant creation, just as enduring is a constant coming into being.
Which brings us back around to wonder and the fact that wonder re-creates us. When we intentionally engage in beauty and creative renewal, when we experience wonder, we are engaged in the constant creation of our own selfhood, and this enfolds us ever more fully into the ways that God is constantly creating the whole of the world, the whole of existence. When we behold the beauty of existence, when we open to the wonder that results from this beholding, we fall into the slipstream of constant creation and we become an inexorable part of it. We are enfolded into the beauty and take our place within it.
Many of the other types of rest we have talked about—physical, mental, emotional, sensory—these are focused on restoring “what already is.” They work to renew something that we already have by blessed design, and we just need to be sure that we are refilling the cup, paying attention, doing the work needed so we can be whole and thriving. Creative renewal starts out in “what already is,” in terms of the fact that we already have the capacity for creativity and wonder, but it doesn’t stay there. It is a jumping off point for “what could be.” Creative rest is rest because in a moment of wonder, we don’t have to keep our grasp on what we think we are, we can let go. We can surrender our agendas and our striving and just let God be God. We can praise: 2 Praise God, all you angels; praise God, all the heavenly host. 3 Praise God, sun and moon; praise God, all you shining stars. 4 Praise God, you highest heavens and you waters above the skies. 5 Let them praise the name of the LORD.
1 Praise the LORD. Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise him in the heights above. 2 Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his heavenly hosts. 3 Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars. 4 Praise him, you highest heavens and you waters above the skies. 5 Let them praise the name of the LORD, for at his command they were created, 6 and he established them for ever and ever— he issued a decree that will never pass away. 7 Praise the LORD from the earth, you great sea creatures and all ocean depths, 8 lightning and hail, snow and clouds, stormy winds that do his bidding, 9 you mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars, 10 wild animals and all cattle, small creatures and flying birds, 11 kings of the earth and all nations, you princes and all rulers on earth, 12 young men and women, old men and children. 13 Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his splendor is above the earth and the heavens. 14 And he has raised up for his people a horn, the praise of all his faithful servants, of Israel, the people close to his heart. Praise the LORD.
Divine Providence #3
3. 1. The universe as a whole and in every detail was created out of divine love, by means of divine wisdom.
 Everything that meets our eyes in this world can serve to convince us that the universe and absolutely everything in it was created out of divine love by means of divine wisdom. Take any particular thing and look at it with some wisdom, and this will be clear. Look at a tree--or its seed, its fruit, its flower, or its leaf. Collect your wits and look through a good microscope and you will see incredible things; and the deeper things that you cannot see are even more incredible. Look at the design of the sequence by which a tree grows from its seed all the way to a new seed, and ask yourself, "In this whole process, is there not a constant effort toward ongoing self-propagation?" The goal it is headed for is a seed that has a new power to reproduce. If you are willing to think spiritually (and you can if you want to), surely you see wisdom in this. Then too, if you are willing to press your spiritual thinking further, surely you see that this power does not come from the seed or from our world's sun, which is nothing but fire, but that it was put into the seed by a creator God who has infinite wisdom. This is not just something that happened at its creation; it is something that has been happening constantly ever since. Maintenance is constant creation, just as enduring is a constant coming into being.