I’ve never been a great sleeper. I’ve blogged about this in other posts over the years. I have an active brain that spins and mulls on all sorts of things in life at all times. So, after a couple of hours of REM sleep I will regularly wake and begin thinking about all sorts of things. At that point, getting back to sleep is out of the question. It is frustrating, and it has its ill-favored consequences.
I will admit, however, that along the journey I’ve come to recognize that my insomnia is not without it’s benefits. It will often happen in the nights before I’m scheduled to teach a class or give a Sunday morning message. In those watches of the night when every thing is quiet and my brain spins in the no man’s land between deep sleep and clear consciousness, I often find the words, themes and illustrations coming to me. Solutions to perplexing questions strike me. New creative ways of looking at things are revealed.
Throughout time great inventors, thinkers, and creatives have kept paper and pencil near their bed to capture thoughts, dreams, and revelations that come to them in the night. It is a fascinating and mysterious thing which I believe God can and does use if we learn to tap into it. In fact, my most fruitful period of spiritual growth came when I applied a disciplined approach to writing my early morning thoughts. My local gathering of Jesus followers is exploring the idea of hearing the voice of God, and this Sunday morning (1/25/2015) I’m going to be sharing the morning message about my lessons and experiences with early morning journaling.
Which likely means I’ll have a sleepless night or two later this week.
David also said to Solomon his son, “Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you until all the work for the service of the temple of the Lord is finished. 1 Chronicles 28:20 (NIV)
Pablo Picasso created more schlocky crap than any artist in history. Picasso, however, was always at work. His life was a non-stop stream of artistic output. His home and studio were packed to the gils with his work. It was his manic output, it can be argued, that took him in directions no one imagined. Amidst the steady stream of creative work, a masterpiece would occasionally emerge that would forever change the direction of art and history.
Most artists I know (whether it be visual artists, writers, musicians, craftsman, artisans, or playwrights) are afraid to do the work. Afraid of criticism, afraid of producing bad art, afraid of the voices in their head, afraid of revealing their heart, afraid of what the parents will say, afraid of being successful, afraid of being a failure, etc., etc., and etc.
“Inspiration will come,” Picasso said, “but it must find you working.”
Several years ago I memorized the above verse from this morning’s chapter. One of the things that I love about God’s Message is that I will occasionally find layers of personal meaning unintended in the original context. David, the warrior, poet, and song writer, was encouraging his son Solomon, the young philosopher, poet, and song writer, to be diligent in accomplishing the work of building the temple. Solomon’s temple, built from his father’s inspiration, plans, blueprints, would become one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
In my writing, acting, and artistic output, I desire to follow Picasso’s example: fearlessly cranking out the work so that inspiration (literally meaning “Spirit breathing into”) will find me at work and will once in a while produce through me something worthwhile. Yet I am susceptible to fear, anxiety, timidity and sloth like almost every other child of the Creator I know. I need encouragement. And so, years ago, I memorized and internalized David’s message to Solomon. By repeating it in my head, my heart hears my Creator, Father God speaking directly to me:
“Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you until all the work for the service of the Lord is finished.”
These are the men David put in charge of the music in the house of the Lord after the ark came to rest there.They ministered with music before the tabernacle, the tent of meeting, until Solomon built the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem. They performed their duties according to the regulations laid down for them. 1 Chronicles 6:31-32 (NIV)
I have studied and taught on the subject of creativity for many years. I’m a huge fan of the arts across the entire of breadth of ways people choose to express themselves. God’s Message says that through Jesus all things were made, and that we were made in the image of the creator. To create and express oneself creatively is to be Christ-like.
I have explored a host of creative mediums over the years. I like trying new things when they strike my fancy. Acting, singing, song writing, play writing, fiction writing, poetry, painting, pottery, writing, guitar, bass, piano, and drums just to name a few. I may not be particularly gifted or good at most of them, but I find it interesting how each one works and how one medium of creative expression differs from other mediums.
I do find it interesting, however, that music clearly holds a special place in God’s heart. Today as we read through the family tree of the tribe of Levi, who were responsible for the temple and worship, we find that there is an entire branch of that tribe whose sole responsibility was music in temple worship.
Music has a special way of affecting our thoughts, our moods, and our emotions. When King Saul was having some sort of mental health episode, it was David and his harp that had a medicinal effect. My iTunes and Spotify playlists are largely broken down by the types of music for different situations and moods. I have quiet music for my morning conversations with God. I have hard driving, intense music for working out. I have feel good music for lifting my spirit in the drab hours of the afternoon. I have cool jazz for rainy days. I have baroque music for when I need to concentrate at work or study. I have hours of easy listening music for the background of dinner conversations.
Today, I’m simply thankful for music and appreciative of our Creator for this gift of expression that is such an integral part of both life and worship.
And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. Revelation 14:3 (NIV)
One of the cooler things my local church does is a semi-annual event called Original Works Night (O.W.N.). The idea is rather simple. Creative types are encouraged to bring their original songs, dance, poems, scripts, paintings, photographs and etc. Our church’s auditorium is transformed into a relaxing coffeehouse atmosphere complete with free food and drink. People gather and for a couple of hours to take in the artistic expressions.
O.W.N. happened to be this past Saturday night. While the artists were all over the map in terms of their own personal faith journeys, there were two themes that emerged. First, there those who, upon placing their faith in Jesus and experiencing salvation, felt compelled to write songs to express their gratitude and wonder. Second, like many of the psalms we’ve read together in recent months, there was a lot of creative expression that came out of pain.
Earlier in John’s vision, we encountered angels and creatures who continually utter the same praise over and over and over again. I found it fascinating that in today’s chapter there is a new song brought into heaven’s throne room. As it happens, it is sung only by those 144,000 who had experienced the pain of the great tribulation and were saved from it by the blood of the Lamb.
I am jazzed by being made in the likeness of the Creator of all things. I love to see and hear the creation of others as they express themselves, their thoughts, emotions, and experiences in artistic ways. I love that in a vision of the end times, we find Creator God in heaven’s throne room having His very own Original Works Night.
When teaching my course on creativity I have discovered an almost universal truth: My students all have an intense desire to create and express themselves through their chosen art medium(s) but they almost all don’t do it. As we journey through the course we attempt to excavate the reasons for their artistic timidity, and without fail I discover that most are plagued fear.
Fear of doing it wrong
Fear of not being good enough
Fear of failing at it
Fear of what’s deep inside of me, fear it might come out
Fear of looking silly
Fear of what my parents would say
Fear of what my friends might think
Fear that it will be bad
Throughout the course, as I talk about expressing yourself creatively or artistically, I incessantly quote jazz great Miles Davis:
“There are no wrong notes.”
I was reminded of this yesterday in a Wall Street Journal interview I read with another jazz great, Herbie Hancock, who recently gave a lecture about the wisdom of Miles Davis at Harvard:
Mr. Hancock recounted, for example, one extraordinary moment in Stockholm in 1967, during a performance by the [Miles Davis] quintet. “This night was magical,” he remembered. “We were communicating almost telepathically, playing ‘So What'”—one of the group’s signature pieces. “Wayne [Shorter] had taken his solo. Miles was playing and building and building, and then I played the wrong chord. It was so, so wrong. In an instant, time stood still and I felt totally shattered. Miles took a breath. And then he played this phrase that made my chord right. It didn’t seem possible. I still don’t know how he did it. But Miles hadn’t heard it as a wrong chord—he took it as an unexpected chord. He didn’t judge what I played. To use a Buddhist turn of phrase, he turned poison into medicine.”
Wendy and I talked about this story over breakfast and she reminded me that Davis was simply applying to music a concept that she and I know well from the stage. It’s the concept of “Yes And.” Like a song, a stage performance is usually meticulously orchestrated. Lines and movement are carefully prescribed to deliver the intended effect to the audience. Sometimes, however, something happens on stage which you didn’t expect:
An actor moves to a different place on stage than was rehearsed
An actor completely blanks and can’t remember his or her lines
In the moment of performance when you stand on that stage with the audience watching you can’t stop the performance to shout “No, but wait! That’s wrong. Let’s go back and try it again.” When the unexpected happens, actors are taught to say “Yes, and I’ll go along with it. I will respond to what just happened so as to make it work into the scene. The concept of “Yes And” is particularly critical for actors who learn improvisational theatre in which there is no script or blocking to follow. You must say “Yes And” to whatever the other person on stage is doing and respond.
When Herbie Hancock played the “wrong” chord Miles Davis said “Yes, and I’m going to change the notes I’m playing to envelope that chord and redeem it. I’m going to make it right. There are no wrong notes.”
I have learned that the concept of “Yes And” goes much deeper than jazz and stage. God, the master artist and Creator, has exemplified “Yes And” in my entire life journey. When I have totally screwed up time and time again God has responded with “Yes, and I’m going to let you learn the hard lessons that come from your choices.” When I have wandered from the path into dark places God has responded with “Yes, and I’m going to ultimately use your experiences to teach you wisdom.” When I make foolish choices God has responded “Yes, and you will find maturity in the dissonance your decisions create.”
“Yes And” applies to the art of daily life. When the fourteen year old says, out of the blue, “I want to go to Thailand next summer” I don’t say “No!” I say, “Yes, and I’m going to help you figure out if you’re really supposed to go.” When friends, spouses, children, or co-workers do the unexpected, there is wisdom in learning to say “Yes, and I’m going to give up my misguided notion that I can somehow control you, make you do my will, or know God’s prescribed path for your life.”
Please don’t read what I’m not writing. Obviously, parents have responsibility to teach our young children well and to protect them with appropriate rules and boundaries. Relationships, like the flow of music or the blocking of a scene, require a give and take between those involved. I have found, however, that when it comes to relationships we are often tempted to eat of the forbidden fruit. We are deceived into thinking that we are the god of our children, our spouses, our friends, and our co-workers.
“No, but I AM the only one who knows what’s best for her.”
“No, but I AM the one who will choose the path for him.”
“No, but I AM the one who has judged correctly.”
“No, but I AM to be obeyed.”
“No, but I AM right.”
I love Herbie Hancock’s story and the wisdom of Miles Davis. When we are raised and enmeshed in the rigidity of a black and white “No But” world we quickly learn to stuff the creative impulses that Creator God knit into our souls when He sculpted us in His own image. We learn to fear the “No, but” which we have been taught will inevitably follow when we play “wrong” notes, paint the “wrong” way, draw outside the lines, or miss an entrance.
When I was younger I thought that the sad result of the Garden of Eden was that we all choose to do “wrong” and “bad” things. The further I get in the journey, the more I’ve come to realize that the true tragedy of The Fall is not the bad things that we do, but our failure to fully realize all that is good and pure and powerful and possible as children of the Creator who said “Yes and let us make man and woman in our image, in our likeness.”
My heart, O God, is steadfast; I will sing and make music with all my soul. Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn. I will praise you, Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples. For great is your love, higher than the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth. Psalm 108:1-5 (NIV)
[and Psalm 57:7-11 (NIV)]
Wise King Solomon said, “There is nothing new under the sun.” We are always taking what has been and repurposing it, recycling it, or building on it anew. It’s part of the creative process God bred into us when He, the master Creator, molded us in His own image. For example, consider Shakespeare’s famous romance Romeo and Juliet. One does not have to search far to find countless adaptations of the Bard’s timeless story:
Adaptations and regurgitations aren’t inherently wrong or bad (though some of them are certainly poor reflection of the original). The truth is that some things bear repeating. As children we hear our parents repeat the same things over, and over, and over. As parents we repeat the same things to our children over, and over, and over. It often takes us hearing the same message repeated ad nauseam before it finally sinks in and gets applied. As an actor, I repeat the same lines over and over and over again as part of the memorization and rehearsal process. It never ceases to amaze me how often I will say a particular line countless times, but find new depth of understanding and meaning after hundreds of repetitions.
When reading through the collective lyrics of the Psalms, it’s easy to feel like we’re reading the same thing over and over. That’s because, in some cases, we are. The opening verse of Psalm 108 is an almost word-for-word repeat of the last verse of Psalm 57. Likewise, the third verse of Psalm 108 is a repeat of last verse of Psalm 60.
Some things bear repeating, and some do not. Wisdom is knowing the difference.
Give your complete attention to these matters. Throw yourself into your tasks so that everyone will see your progress. 1 Timothy 4:15 (NLT)
It has be an interesting week of reading deprivation which was part of the assignment for a creativity class I’m teaching. The idea of the assignment is to break out of normal routines, to do other things with your time, to be less distracted in order to focus on pursuing new paths of action. For me the lesson was in how much of a routine Wendy and I have in certain parts of our day, especially mornings, and how disruptive it can be to disturb those routines.
The class last night discussed the fact that we all feel called to be creative in our own pursuits whether it’s writing, music, artwork, crafts, and etc. We talk about the idea of being creative, but the actual creative work seems never to start. The canvas remains blank and sitting in the corner. The piano gathers dust. The play does not get revised as needed. For this we have a million excuses:
Too busy this week.
Can’t think of anything to write/draw/play.
I’ll get to it tomorrow.
I’m waiting for inspiration.
Yesterday, in preparation for class, I was investigating Pablo Picasso who was notorious for cranking out artwork in steady, flowing streams of creativity. He was constantly painting, sculpting, crafting, and drawing. An art professor of mine once commented that the vast majority of the work Picasso created was “crap” but he made so much of it that his work was constantly evolving and once in a while he would have a breakthrough of pure genius. But, he never would have had the breakthrough of genius if he hadn’t been willing to produce all the crap.
“Inspiration exists,” Picasso once said, “but it has to find us working.”
I thought of my classmates and of Picasso this morning when I read Paul’s encouragement to his protégé, Timothy. Give attention to your calling, your talents, and your gifts. Throw yourself into the action of pursuing and developing them. Only then will you make progress.
“Give me a museum, and I will fill it,” Picasso said.