Pursuing the Process
“God is so immense that if he were 'too visible,' people would give forced compliance
without expressing their heart. So God made it possible, in enormous love,
for us to live as if he were not there.”
–John Ortberg, The Me I Want to Be
It’s always fascinated me that Julia Cameron’s seminal book on creativity, The Artist’s Way, is framed as a “recovery of your creative self.”
Recovery. Like those who’ve lost something. Like addicts or alcoholics.
We pursue creativity to recover. Beauty. Faith. Childhood. Wholeness. God.
As working artists we share what others can't and won’t. A legacy rests on our shoulders that we endeavor to understand and respect—like so many who sought to share what they found. Like those before us, we abandon lesser lives for the pursuit of faith in the Giver of Life, for a heightened sensitivity to a call we feel heavily, mightily, yet never quite fully possess. The rarest of seekers developing a stronger sense of the evidence we can’t deny, can’t get free of, yet also can’t help but strive to express.
When you lose the drive, consider that our lives may become proof of the voice of God. We may be one who continually pulls others to reconsider what they're holding back from him. Those who ask, as we once did, "Am I being selfish to pursue the work he’s provided of writing and editing, largely alone and largely underpaid and unappreciated?"
I read this week of Judson Van De Venter (1855-1939), a schoolteacher whose enduring love was art. Teaching was his living but painting was his life. For five years he resisted going into full-time evangelism, dividing his time between teaching, painting, and preaching. He later wrote, “At last the pivotal hour of my life came and I surrendered all.” A few years after obeying God’s decisive call, he wrote, “All to Jesus I surrender, all to him I freely give. I will ever love and trust him, in his presence daily live...
All to Jesus I surrender,
humbly at his feet I bow.
Worldly pleasures all forsaken,
take me, Jesus, take me now.”
In giving up all, he made his most enduring mark.
Why do we believe fighting God can work? We fight the provider instead of fighting the resistance to him, to his purposes, fighting the critic who says we're not loving and serving enough with what we write. There is a fight that's vital, the fighting that could keep us writing and connecting the dots of our lives, the fight that may slow the degenerative blindness and reveal his “Pro-vidance” to us—that could finally cause us to find him at the center of our everything, in our unreserved response to his unspeakable love.
Recovery may mean getting free of the other demands on your life—all the urgency convincing you there’s something else to do that’s more “useful,” somewhere more important to invest your talents. When it’s not about God’s plan, it’s about “my life.”
My motive. My heart. We believe they are what matter.
But what then, when I know I don’t possess even those?
Relinquishing all claims, all “mines” is at the core of recovering. It’s about embracing a higher ownership, a truer identity. The only pursuit that’s not obvious to anyone but him and me.
Recovery is so hard. That's why it's worth it.
Millions struggle to pursue this. Many want the rewards but not the process. Most haven’t read much about it—and some who have begun the search have given up, been waylaid, and opposed. How can so many people who sense their need to recover desire it and yet not pursue it?
“Be very careful to safeguard your newly recovering artist," Cameron says in The Artist's Way. "Often, creativity is blocked by our falling in with other people’s plans for us...be particularly alert to any suggestion that you have become selfish or different...Blocked creatives are easily manipulated by guilt...blocked friends may find your recovery disturbing.” (p 43). Many books teach on becoming the best version of yourself. Some are for creatives: Art and Soul, and The Creative Call are among my favorites.
If you sense this need for recovery, you must pursue it. Necessarily, it will be a pursuit of God. He will help you recover, and not you yourself. I'd recommend reading the accounts of those who’ve pursued him, especially the creatives and contemplatives, Merton, Nouwen, O’Connor, Brother Lawrence, and the many Christian thinkers, memoirists and writers who have become conscious of the inescapable power of God’s presence in their daily experience.
You will find as you become more God-centered in your search that he will provide your recovery. He will give you back yourself. Cameron says, “Creativity flourishes when we have a sense of safety and self-acceptance.” And Merton knew, I am happy with myself because I am finding God, who is always with me, is happy with me.
We have to pursue it individually, to choose to recover our awareness of him and make him known in our heads and in our hands and in our hearts. For just like our lives, our words can be empty of him, or full.
“We tend to be preoccupied by our problems when we have a heightened sense of vulnerability and a diminished sense of power," Ortberg says. But we may choose to "see each problem as an invitation to prayer.”
And remember what the writer of The Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka said: “Writing is prayer.”
“When we make something it's an act of faith,” says Cameron. “When we are willing to be creative, we throw a switch and a kind of spiritual current of electricity moves through us. Artists throughout the centuries have always said the source of their work is divine. So I don't think that all artists would talk about it in spiritual terms—we use expressions like ‘the muse’—but all artists experience creativity in spiritual terms.”
“The goal of prayer is to live all of my life and speak all of my words in the joyful awareness of the presence of God. Prayer becomes real when we grasp the reality and goodness of God's constant presence with 'the real me.' Jesus lived his everyday life in conscious awareness of his Father.”
Accept the process. Pursue today the recovery of your awareness of God's provision and glory.
“In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.”
- Proverbs 3:6