“Jesus answered Nicodemus, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.’” ~~ John 3:3
The new year is still young, fresh and full of promises, but already one of my Facebook friends has posted her first Wednesday status as “Take names & Kick butt.” I commented she needed to add, “Take no prisoners.” Sometimes my wickedly dry humor puts a bad day into perspective—if she didn’t feel like killing anyone, it wasn’t really all that terrible a day. We can always enjoy a worse time.
This is what stress feels like to us. Our inner warrior is ready to break forth and do some serious damage or we just want to run away to a desert island and escape the whole crazy business of STRESS—our jobs, our families, our politics, our health problems, our economy. Recently I’ve talked with folks who would give anything to change careers because they are so burnt out from the emotional drain of caring for wounded people or they are tired of being unappreciated for their loyalty and their service by their bosses. Then there are those who aren’t employed and they’re stressed trying to pay the bills and find a job that that is meaningful and pays enough to keep their family afloat. Some just want a living wage! I also think of my friends who love their ministries and pour their heart, soul, mind, and bodies into serving God and neighbor, but don’t have the support of their church members or the people in their communities. These end up being physically ill or not working at peak performance because they are worn down not only by the stress of leadership, but also by working until they collapse.
We can’t see the kingdom of God unless we are “born from above” or “born again,” as the phrase is sometimes translated. Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews, asked Jesus, “How can anyone be born after having grown old?” (John 3:4). We get set in our ways, both in our spiritual habits and in our creative endeavors. It’s hard to break old habits, for we’ve been doing the same routines so often that it feels comfortable, like a well broken in old pair of shoes. Changing our golf swing feels wrong, but if the pros will do it to make more money and win more tournaments, what keeps us duffers from making the change? We aren’t focused on the reward or we think the reward is too distant or unobtainable.
In the studio, as in life, stress kills creativity. Put a time limit on the product, put a committee together to produce it, or put a non-art person in charge of the artist and the creative expression will plummet. Something “OK” will come forth, but not something great. Most of us settle for OK, and don’t seek the great in our spiritual or our creative lives. I think we are afraid to break away from the comfort of the group and the security of sameness. Great art, however, stands outside of the ordinary, just as the saints are recognized as being persons who bear extraordinary evidence of God’s Spirit working in their lives.
Yet we are all meant for greatness, for that is our spiritual goal, the recovery of the image of God in which we were first created. By being born again by the Spirit, we have a divine helper who works within us to bring us closer to God. Our desire to be closer to God increases as we practice our spiritual disciplines of prayer, worship, Christian community, fasting, and Holy Communion. It grows when we also practice our works of mercy—feeding the hungry, visiting the sick and the prisoners, clothing the naked and caring for the widows, orphans and strangers among us. These inner and outer works bring us closer to God and neighbor until our hearts are so full of love that nothing else exists. Then we will see the kingdom of God, if not in this world by God’s grace, then in the next, as the Spirit fulfills the promise God gave us.
In our creative lives we want to be “born again.” Picasso was famous for reinventing himself—his blue, rose, and African periods; cubism; and neo-expressionism. He worked in many media, even painting his own furniture and pottery. Jesus told Nicodemus, “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (3:8).
For us, the Spirit of creativity blows into our hearts and minds like a fresh breeze in the spring, bringing along the promise of new life and new hope. Ideas may lie buried under the soil, but the warm breeze will awaken them and soon they will poke through. A cold snow may quickly bury them again, but they have arrived and they will not be denied! New life and new hope have broken through—the old has passed away and the new has sprung forth!
If your heart and mind feel like a walled garden into which no breeze can blow, it may be because you are too stressed. Take a “fasting break” for a week—turn off the TV, the computer, and the radio at home. Listen to the quiet. If this is “too loud” for you, put the TV or Pandora on a “tranquility station” that doesn’t require the mind to follow a tune or pay attention. Cook a real meal and eat at the table, even if you have to clean it off! Read a book, put your thoughts in a journal or a spiral notebook. Take a walk around the block after dinner or before. Cut back on caffeine. Give a space for the gate to open up, and let the breeze of the Spirit refresh your lives!