We Were Made for This (the Spiritual Practice of Creativity)

We stood before the painting, side by side, admiring the larger-than-life flowers in a vase on the stool. My husband and I were on a day date while our kids were in school; usually we would grab a bite to eat between errands on a free day, but we were feeling fancy. Other museum guests milled around us, but we were transfixed by this flower painting in the contemporary art exhibit.

Suddenly, we weren’t alone: a docent had sidled up beside us.

“What draws you to this painting?” he asked.

My husband and I froze for half a beat. This felt like a pop quiz, which was intimidating to two people with no background in art history who were used to having all the answers. I searched for the truest answer I could give: 

“I really like the colors.”

Photo by the author, from the San Diego Museum of Art

This seemed to me a ridiculous answer but the docent, a white-haired gentleman, pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose and nodded.

“Interior designers have been using the works of Matisse for years to set their color schemes.” 

He went on to tell us more about Henri Matisse, and I listened, fascinated, as he shared about the last few years of his life. After undergoing surgery for his abdominal cancer, complications left him mostly bedridden. This meant that painting and sculpting became nearly impossible for him. But instead of giving up or retreating into himself, he got creative.

With the help of his assistants, he cut pre-painted sheets of paper into shapes of varying sizes and colors, and arranged them onto canvas. These cut-outs started out small but eventually became murals. Not quite painting, not quite sculpting, he spent the last decade of his life perfecting this art form, and his cut-out works of art are on display in various museums even today.

The docent finished telling us this story and we moved on to other works of art, but my thoughts kept wandering back to Matisse. What is it about the human spirit that is compelled to create? Is it some special gene or personality trait of artists or are we all makers in our own way?

Made in the image of a creative God

I think about my boys as toddlers and preschoolers, how they loved creating with Play-doh, with building blocks grasped in their chubby hands, with large strokes of washable paint, with colored shaving cream in the bathtub. They engaged in the act of creation not for the end product, but for the sheer joy of the process. And as they have grown older, they still create, but with a purpose in mind, following complex directions from their Lego sets, experimenting with paper airplane folds to see which will fly the farthest, painting tote bags as a gift for grandma.

Visual artist Makoto Fujimura put it this way in his book Art and Faith:

“To be human is to be creative.” He goes on to quote the writer Dorothy Sayers who said: “The characteristic common to God and man is apparently…the desire and the ability to make things.”

the spiritual practice of creativity

Each of us is made in the image of God—God, who for the sheer delight of it created our world in all of its fabulous diversity. So we too, as his image bearers, are makers and creatives whether we do it for a living or we do it as a hobby or we do it out of necessity. As we tinker with a new recipe in the kitchen, or we build a bike jump for our kids, or we design a lesson plan, or we decorate the walls of our house, we might not be thinking of ourselves as artists or creatives, but consider Seth Godin’s definition:

“Art is when we do work that matters, in a creative way, in a way that touches [people] and changes them for the better.”

If this is the case, we are all artists. And as artists who want to follow Jesus, we also seek to honor and glorify God with what we make.

Makoto Fujimura writes that he is “drawn into prayer” as he paints. What would happen if we viewed our creative pursuits as a way for our soul to connect to the God who made us? Would we spend more time creating? Would we play more often, take more risks, engage in the delight of the process without worrying about the product?

Even those of us who are not professional artists can treat our creative endeavors as a way to honor our Creator, as a way to enter into conversation with God, and as a love offering to others.

What will you make today?

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*Feature Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

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Sarah K. Butterfield is an author, speaker, and ministry leader who has a heart for empowering women to grow in their faith and be intentional with their time. She and her husband and two boys live in San Diego, where she writes about pursuing a deeper relationship with God in the midst of motherhood.

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