Sunday, November 3, 2013

That Benevolent Stranger, Working on Our Behalf

That invisible, creative force that shakes our inner worlds and makes literary giants and geniuses out of regular human people like you and me is called by many names and nicknames. Among them are “muse” (by ancients) or "the subconscious” (by modernists), or, as writer Charles Haanel called it at the turn of the century, “a benevolent stranger, working on our behalf." 
“We don’t know what, when or how to call it – or even if we should try to call it at all. It’s a vital part of us, that subconscious force that powers our inventiveness, but we’re not sure how it works or where it comes from. We marvel at it, rejoice in it, are a little afraid of it when we sense its power at work in us. It feels like the stirring of the spirit or the whispering of the muse.” (Marshall J. Cook, Freeing Your Creativity: A Writer’s Guide, p. 1).
Although Marshall J. Cook defines this power over us beautifully in the above book, I cannot agree that we don't know what to call it or where it comes from. Quite frankly, my faith provides the answer to that question and makes me wonder, what if every artist, writer, painter, dancer, actor, comedian, film producer and everyone in the arts community understood, as solid as fact, that the elusive "muse" that breathes life into their creative work is none other than the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Holy Trinity? What if every artist realized they had an Advocate to plead on their behalf, to intercede and support and defend them in their inspiration, and that this Advocate was the Holy Spirit, was God himself? Would the world be different? 

You bet it would! It would change everything! 

Because recognizing that “All good giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (James 1:7), means that every inspiration, every creative enterprise, every invention that we have is divinely willed – in other words, it is intentional, which also means it is full of meaning and purpose. It is not a matter of mere coincidence or random atoms bumping in space that one person is more prone to receive than another. It is rather a gift from the Divine Artist himself, inviting us to share in the work of creation. It is God’s personal invitation to that certain, hand-picked individual to bring His image and beauty into the world.

Sure, sometimes those inventions or works of art get twisted in the production (we are human sinners after all!), but God intended all things to be good, and He works all things towards the good for those who love him.

In every book I read about the craft or process of writing, I find nuggets of astounding truth about the spiritual life. In the arts, there is this huge undercurrent of the spiritual, which shines brightly for all who have eyes to see it. Reading the first chapter of Cook's book reminded me of the mysterious relationship between the writer and the Holy Spirit - that power that overshadows our work, who drives our ideas, and who compels us to write or remain forever restless.
But that's not the only undercurrent of spiritual depth I found in the first chapter of this book.

In describing creativity, Cook proposes a few tentative truths about what creativity is. One of them is that “Creativity is the Great Yes.” (You know what I'm thinking!) Imagine if, two thousand years ago, a humble handmaiden had not given her fiat, her yes, when an angel announced God's intention for her to mother the savior of the world? What would have been lost if she had refused to cooperate or accept this gift from the Holy Spirit? 

The whole course of history would be drastically different if Christianity did not exist. In a similar vein, imagine the infinite possibilities of life that could be born into the world if we said yes more? According to Cook, we play devil’s advocate too often and say “no/I can’t/I shouldn’t” when we should be saying “Yes! Why not? What good might come from this?” He proposes that creativity means playing the "angel’s advocate.” Say yes and withhold judgment. You can always say no later. But when we say no to one idea, we close off the doors to other ideas that come from it, and we put a limit on the possibilities of invention. Even if some of those ideas are quite silly or even foolish, Cook says not to worry: “The most creative people I’ve ever met are often fools in the eyes of the world.” 
“Consider your own calling, brothers. Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many where of noble birth. Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God. It is due to him that you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, as well as righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Whoever boasts, should boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 25, 26-31).
So inspiration comes from God; we are meant to be open to it; and sometimes he uses silly methods to do great things. What follows is Cook's next tentative truth: “Creativity Means Getting Out of the Way”! Getting out of the way to me means to remove our own ego from the work and to just let the Holy Spirit move in us. 

Imagine being given a little snowball in your hands. You immediately put it on the ground and start packing more snow on it until it is so big you can hug it; but you decide instead to push it down the hill so it can get even bigger. The best thing to do now is to let it roll and get out of its way. 

Author and artist Frederick Franck writes, “The good drawings I do are hardly mine. Only the bad ones are mine for they are the ones where I can’t let go and am caught in the ME-cramp." 

Cook concludes with one more tentative truth (and nugget of spiritual wisdom): “Creativity Means Being All of What You Are.” “What do you have to offer to your reader if not your unique vision, expressed in your unique way?" he says. "You have yourself to offer, nothing more, nothing less. Offer it all.”

In this offering and sacrifice, writing can be a vocation. Through self-donation, the writer pours out her gifts before God and others and becomes more fully who she is meant to be.

So whether they acknowledge it or not, all artists are instruments of the Holy Spirit, the Great Muse, and one day we shall all arrive at the threshold of heaven, atheists and believers alike, and see for the first time how every good thing we were inspired to do came directly from the Holy Spirit. And I think we can all be astounded at just how much faith and trust God puts in you, oh little artist, to be His instrument in the world. Come, Holy Spirit.


  1. Beautiful, beautiful! I just want to sit back and let each word soak into my thirsty heart. I miss you, dear friend, and all of your beautiful insights. I'm glad you're back to blogging again. It had been too long. Love, your devoted fan. :)

  2. Christina, this is brilliantly fashioned, and, dare I say, inspired by the Great Muse. Wow! Thank you for taking the time to compile your thoughts alongside Cook's, pulling in Scripture and all the other thoughts that have created such an evocative piece. This one's a keeper, and deserves more readers. :)