Creativity – like the icing on a cake
I sat down on my stool in front of the wedding cake, bag of frosting in my hand. As I brought the tip of the bag toward the cake I thought, “How can I do this?”
After a long period of not decorating, suddenly I was being asked to decorate a large wedding cake while my boss was out of the office. I wanted to show her I could do a good job, and I also felt tremendous pressure to do well, considering someone’s very expensive wedding cake hung in the balance! Nervous and a little shaky, I began to pipe the frosting.
It didn’t start off well. Nothing seemed to be working right for me. After a few mistakes in a row, I just stopped and took a moment to think. I knew from my study of Christian Science that every situation could be helped by a better understanding of God and of myself as God’s reflection. Quietly, I asked God for help. Almost immediately, a phrase from a popular anonymous poem came to mind, “If I will be relaxed and free, God will carry out his plan through me.”
At once I remembered that this cake, this design work, was God’s expression, not mine! It came to me so clearly that I felt myself instantly relax. Armed with this knowledge, I went back to piping, reminding myself periodically that God was the creative force behind both the design and the execution. After that, each movement seemed so directed that at times I almost felt like I was watching someone else do the work! Add a dot there, another loop there. It looks like it needs another swirl here. Not once did I feel fear or pressure. I went on to decorate three wedding cakes that day, two of them with designs that I had never before practiced, and each of them was a beautiful success.
How often when faced with a creative task, do we begin to feel pressure and stress? Pressure to impress, pressure to live up to expectations, exterior or interior, the stress of a large responsibility and a deadline. Creativity, which outwardly seems so effortless, can feel inwardly like a heavy burden or an impossible feat. In my own study and practice of Christian Science, I’ve found that a deeper understanding of the divine source of creativity restores the ease and freedom that come with God-inspired innovation.
For me, I’ve learned that any sense of pressure in creative endeavors is the first clue that I’m approaching things from the wrong standpoint. It’s usually just pride or ego in disguise: pride in previous accomplishments, pride in an idea or personal ability. It’s not that you shouldn’t feel confident, but it’s important to give credit where credit is due.
Christian Science has helped me understand that every person is a spiritual idea of God, or God’s child. Therefore every quality that we express comes directly from God and was never really “ours” to begin with. Acknowledging the divine source of all our good frees us from the feeling we can ever lose it. Creativity is no exception to this rule. Mary Baker Eddy addresses the divine source of creativity in this definition of Soul: “Soul is synonymous with Spirit, God, the creative, governing, infinite Principle outside of finite form, which forms only reflect” (Science and Health, p. 71). God is the creative Principle, not man! What a relief. This frees us from any sense of pressure with the knowledge that because we never owned creativity in the first place, we can never lose it. Creativity is expressed through us by God; it’s not a human quality that we either have or don’t have.
So how does this deeper understanding work in action? When the paintbrush is in your hand, when the cake is on the table, how can we honestly say that God is the source of creativity? It certainly seems like God doesn’t have to create this painting or frost this cake—we do! Intuition is the key. We hear this term often, sometimes referring to a vague sense that may not be totally trustworthy. But for me, intuition holds a concrete meaning. Intuition is synonymous with the “still small voice” (see I Kings 19:12); it is how God speaks to me. Over the years I’ve had to learn to listen for that still, small, intuitive thought for many decisions—and believe me it’s not always easy. The louder, more blaring thoughts of self-justification, human reasoning, and pride all try to elbow their way in. But particularly in creative activities, letting go of personal will and listening for this intuitive voice is essential.
When the paintbrush is in your hand, when the cake is on the table, how is God the source of creativity?
In her Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896, Mrs. Eddy writes, “Into His haven of Soul there enters no element of earth to cast out angels, to silence the right intuition which guides you safely home” (p. 152). We all exist right now in this same haven of divine Soul. It can’t be seen with the material senses, but as God’s children that’s where we are. It is interesting to note that in this passage Mrs. Eddy addressed how intuition can’t be silenced. This implies that intuition is a constant steady stream of good thoughts and purposeful, divine direction. Intuition doesn’t need to be created or found—it’s already there! We just need to make sure that we’re listening for that quiet voice instead of being distracted by the loud voices of human will and pride.
Let me give you an example of how I put this into practice. In my senior year in college, I was planning to choreograph a dance for the school’s annual dance production. Having only danced for a few years, I was very nervous about my abilities as a choreographer and started right away, working hard to come up with something. It was a lot harder than I’d expected! I spent the first few weeks fruitlessly wavering between different moves, feeling frustrated that nothing seemed to work together, and, above all, feeling that I had to keep coming up with something regardless. It was turning out to be a disaster, and I felt as though all my natural creativity had left me. I knew that I needed to let God lead, but it didn’t seem like a practical solution. How could I hear God’s voice telling me what to do?
The answer came after reading a passage from the Bible, “I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end” (Jer. 29:11). This gave me some specifics to look for as I listened: peaceful thoughts, good thoughts, calm thoughts. From then on I started every practice by sitting and listening for God’s calm thoughts to guide me in creating this dance. Once I felt a sense of humility and peace, I stood up and began to work on the dance. In that way several important elements came together in ways I couldn’t have predicted. A section that I had struggled over fell into place, and elements from other areas of the dance provided the inspiration for its completion. In my practice of listening for God’s guidance I discovered something as well: What I had always assumed were my own creative thoughts were, in fact, divine inspiration.
So what would I say if someone asked me to define creativity? I’d say it’s a divine expression, not a human quality. And that cultivating humility and listening for divine direction frees us from any pressure or stress in creative tasks. It really can be that easy!