Recently, I was the WholeheARTed Guest at A Sanctified Art, where I answered questions from Lisle Gwinn Garrity that inspired contemplation of my creative process. Thanks, Lisle, for thinking of me! Check out the resources being created by A Sanctified Art here.
SA: When did you first consider yourself a creative person?
MS: From the time I was a little girl, I loved thinking up stories. I would draw (very bad) pictures of the children I hoped to have and invent names and identities for them. I retold myths and adapted adventures of favorite characters from literature. I especially loved Bible stories and would “tell” them on the flannel board I stored under the high old-fashioned bed in my childhood home. A wonderful Sunday School teacher at the Old Presbyterian Meeting House in Alexandria, Virginia, gave me permission to expand my storytelling when she developed curriculum for 5th and 6th-graders that taught the Old Testament through drama and the New Testament using puppets. We learned stories, wrote scripts, and acted or performed the stories.
SA: Tell us about how you express yourself creatively?
MS: I experimented with many forms of writing both in school and personally, but I never found a form that suited all my interests until I started writing for church—plays, sermons, and liturgies all felt like lively and faithful ways to use my gifts. Even when I write about my life, as I began doing in blog form in 2004, the most meaningful storytelling happens in dialogue with scripture. I now write prayers especially for pastors. My newest favorite thing is combining words and images using Canva, Prisma, and Instagram.
SA: What is your creative process like?
MS: My creative process almost always starts with a text I will be talking to, and I wish I could say that inevitably means I study and pray, but often it means I read the text and go for a walk, or have to run an errand, or find myself waiting at a child’s choir practice or watching a Little League game, and something flashes through my mind. Ten years ago I would rifle through my purse for a tiny notebook, but today I open the Notes app on my iPhone and one-finger type or dictate the thought before I lose it. It happens that way because I cultivate openness and privilege originality.
December 2Writing. What do you do each day that doesn’t contribute to your writing — and can you eliminate it? (Author: Leo Babauta)
Aside from working and sleeping?
Well, I'm kidding.
For me, in recent years, writing mostly took the form of blogging. And the thing that has gotten in the way of it is a combination of recognizing the audience has declined and having things to write about that felt quite legitimately unbloggable. How personal do we want to get, if we're a pastor, and people from the church(es) we serve read this stuff? I set a rule for myself that the blog material ought not be anything I wouldn't say in a sermon, with the understanding that not everything I write here would be interesting in a sermon.
Really what I was saying is I would present my life to the world in a certain way.
Which leads me to confess to the first thing I do each day that doesn't contribute to my writing:
My wish to present my life to *myself* in a certain way.
The more my life diverged from the picture I wanted to present, the less I wrote.
Which leads me to the other thing I do that doesn't contribute to my writing:
I got used to an audience. And the combination of not wanting to put things in front of an audience (including myself) and the decline in blogging in general and my entire investment in doing my writing in the forum of blogging all combined to less writing by me.
In August, I started using 750Words for daily writing, and I actually met the September challenge to write every day, but I didn't maintain it after that. I liked the place to purge emotions, but it felt lonely. I missed having feedback.
Which leads me to one more thing that daily gets in the way:
The Twitter. I love Twitter because there is almost always someone to talk to, in those 140 character snippets, someone to give feedback, or if nothing else, someone linking to something interesting.
I'm not obsessed. I'm not there every single day reading every tweet by everyone I follow. But I would be less than honest if I didn't admit I like the contact, of a sort, that has moved from blogs to Facebook and Twitter.
But the truth is the more I write, the better I write, no matter where I'm writing or what I'm writing about, and I need it not just to fuel sermons but for myself. I've called it my spiritual practice, and it's true that without it I feel less connected to my authenticity (which may sound weird given the way I approached blogging). The interesting thing about writing on 750Words so faithfully is that it came during a time of great upheaval, and I felt extremely close to God despite seeing the structures of my life as I understood it in a state of some collapse. So maybe I was getting feedback. It just wasn't as measurable as @ responses on Twitter or Facebook "likes" or blog comments. That's the tricky thing about the inner life, isn't it?
(A few years and several churches ago, I dramatized the Parable of the Lost Sheep to be used on Children's Sunday. It's part of the lectionary texts tomorrow, and I'm going to read the version below as a story for the Children's Word. I'm happy to share this if it's helpful, just shoot me an email. Two suggestions: don't actually read the gospel verses, I have them here for reference purposes; and have a sign to hold up so the children and/or congregation can "Baaa!!!" along with you.)
all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the
Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes
sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable: “Which one of you,
having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine
in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he
has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home,
he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me,
for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be
more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous
persons who need no repentance.(Luke 15:1-7, NRSV)
A long time
ago, in a pasture far, far away, three sheep met under a shady tree. Their
names were Cottonball, Whitey and Baab. They greeted each other and commented
on the weather, and then Whitey asked an important question:
“I was just
wondering what happened to Shep? He’s always around, but I don’t see him
anywhere! Have you seen him, Baab?
Baab, who was a
very young lamb, said, “BAAAAAA!!!!!!”
who usually knew everything going on in the flock answered, “I heard he went out
looking for Blackbonnet.”
Whitey sighed. “That
Blackbonnet, always wandering off. She is such a silly little lamb.”
wondered why her mother didn’t take better care of her and teach her to behave
like a decent little lamb.
Whitey said, “Lambs
should be seen and not heard.”
Cottonball nodded, emphatically. “And I hate to mention it, but what if some dangerous animal should come by and
try to eat us! It’s Shep’s job to take care of ALL of us!”
Whitey agreed. “There
must be 99 of us, and only one little lamb who wandered off. What does one
little lamb matter?”
an idea. “I think we need to call a meeting. SHEEP!!! SHEEP!!!” She gathered
all the sheep together near the shady tree. “I’ve called you all here today to
discuss the current situation involving Blackbonnet. As you know, that silly
little lamb has wandered off. And instead of taking care of us good, obedient
sheep, Shep has gone to look for her!! I say this has to stop!! Do you agree?”
All the sheep
answered with a resounding “BAAAAA!!!! BAAAAA!!!!”
on, saying, “When Shep gets back, I’m going to give him a piece of my mind!!
Imagine caring more about one little runaway than the rest of us?!???!!! It’s
All the sheep
agreed, and they said it even louder: “BAAAAA!!!! BAAAAA!!!!”
Just then, they
saw Shep coming. “Hello, my friends!!” he called. “Look, it’s Blackbonnet!!!
Baab was the
first to say, “BAAAA!!!!”
Then all the
other sheep joined in, saying “BAAAA!!!! BAAAA!!!!”
up. “Shep, I want to have a word with you.”
“What is it,
Cottonball?” he asked kindly.
“You were gone
a long time looking for Blackbonnet.”
whispered to the other sheep, “That’s right, he was.” All the sheep agreed, “BAAAA!!!!
“It took a long time to find her. You see, she saw some pretty flowers and
wandered off, and she couldn’t find her way home by herself.”
snickered and said, “I believe that!”
with him. “BAH!!!”
just getting warmed up. “That’s just the point, Shep. Here we all were, 99 of
us sheep and lambs, quietly minding our own business, behaving as nicely as
anyone could want. And you went off and left us here!!! You left us all
did!!!” said Whitey, louder this time.
Baab said, “BAAAA!!!!”
And all the
sheep said, “BAAAA!!!! BAAAA!!!!”
Shep spoke to
her softly, “Now, Cottonball, were you really alone?”
Shep looked her right in the eye.
to admit it. “Well, no, I wasn’t really alone, not exactly. But who was going
to keep us safe with you gone, Shep?”
Shep smiled. “I
can’t always be with you, Cottonball. Sometimes you have to take care of each
Then Whitey piped
up and asked, “But why do you care more about one bad lamb than you care about
the rest of us?”
“When lambs get
lost, that’s when they need me most, Whitey. Don’t you remember the time Baab
got separated from the flock?”
perked up. “BAAAA!!!! I remember!!! You helped me!!!!”
Shep patted his
head. “That’s right. I went looking for you just the way I went looking for
Blackbonnet today. I care about all the sheep, the young ones and the old, the
mothers and the fathers, the black sheep and the white sheep. I love all of
you, but sometimes one of you needs me more than the others do. And if I can
find one lost sheep, isn’t that good news for all of us?”
And all the
sheep agreed: “BAAAA!!!! BAAAA!!!!”
All the sheep
began to celebrate little Blackbonnet’s return. Now they understood that the
shepherd loves all the sheep, just the way Jesus loves all people. And *that*
is the Good News today, for all of us. Amen.