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Filtering by Tag: Creativity

Do we often stand outside of life?

Justin Ryals


“... the only way of ‘mastering’ one’s material is to abandon the whole conception of mastery and to co-operate with it in love: whosoever will be a lord of life, let him be its servant. If he tries to wrest life out of its true nature, it will revenge itself in judgment, as the work revenges itself on the domineering artist.” (Dorothy Sayers, The Mind of the Maker, 186)

In The Mind of the Maker, Dorothy Sayers makes the intriguing point that our modern culture typically approaches life according to a scientific or analytic “problem and solution” paradigm rather than what she calls a “creative” paradigm. As she states, modern man views life “as a series of problems … which he has to solve with the means at his disposal. And he is distressed to find that the more means he can dispose of — such as machine power, rapid transport, and general civilized amenities, the more his problems grow in hardness and complexity. This is particularly disconcerting to him, because he has been frequently told that the increase of scientific knowledge would give him ‘mastery over nature’ — which ought surely to imply mastery over life” (185-6). In short, we try to take a method that’s applicable to a small subset of human experience and try to apply it to all areas of life, indeed to human life itself.

In her creative paradigm, life isn’t a problem to be solved, nor the mystery of the universe an equation to be worked out; for one thing, these imply the ability to master life. Rather, in this view (as Christine Fletcher summarizes Sayers), “life presents a series of opportunities to make something new” (The Artist and the Trinity, 96). The artist, for Sayers, doesn’t stand outside life as an engineer, but, open-endedly, within life, working with the elements of life according to their nature, in order to make something out of them in harmony with their nature, essentially in an ongoing process of being fruitful and multiplying, that is, in all the various aspects of human life and human interaction with the world. Sayers applies this creative paradigm not just to the artist in the narrower sense, but to the fabric of human nature itself, indeed suggesting that “creative mind is … the very grain of the spiritual universe” (Mind of the Maker, 185).

Thus, central to what Sayers is arguing seems to be that modern man does not want to live life (this ongoing fruitful process); he wants to master life. Modern man seeks to overcome even the deeper problems of life through, e.g., analytic or machine techniques, seeking to conform the world to human will. But the creative paradigm doesn’t seek to master nature. It works with the materials received, according to their nature, to bring forth yet new things. Therein, even “the pains and sorrows of this troublesome world can never … be wholly meaningless and useless.” The artist will seek to “make something of them” (192-3). In short, they are the materials for a new creation or a new synthesis. This, Sayers argues, is the pattern that Christian theology provides as well. And there is a striking parallel, e.g., in the Incarnation. The problem of the Fall isn’t simply “solved” in the sense that problematic elements simply disappear by force of will and reason. They become themselves part of the very elements out of which something brand new is brought forth. God enters within the context of human life as things stand and creatively engages with all the factors involved according to their nature (taking on the “likeness of sinful flesh” [Rom 8:3]). Thus all the materials of the fallen order are employed to create something new. To be sure, God “adds” new materials — the supernatural breaking into the natural — but the old materials are integrated into the new, having been transformed into something glorious through God’s creative work. One is reminded of C. S. Lewis’ analogy, in “The Grand Miracle,” of discovering the missing, central passage of a symphony or chapter of a novel, which, when plugged in, transforms and transvalues its whole meaning, making new sense of all the other parts, forming a masterpiece. Thus, though life is often, in large part, made up of tragedy we can rest in God’s promise and his creative power that he can take all of those elements — the scars, pain, loss, and all other seemingly useless material — not simply erasing them or resetting everything to zero, but creatively forming out of them a new creation of unforeseen glory (how else could a crucifixion be the creative means of glorifying the Son of God?).

Do we perhaps often stand “outside” life, seeking to engineer our lives and thereby gain mastery over it through techniques, or (similarly) get lost in imaginary scenarios that could have been but are not? If Sayers is correct, should we not rather stand “within” life, as its servant, imaginatively interacting with what is there, engaging with life in media res, seeking to create new forms and re-integrations of the good, the beautiful, the true (in all walks of life)? While also, of course, admitting to the tragedy and the brokenness and the longing of life that cannot be assuaged by human ingenuity.

(Painting by Frida Kahlo)

The Ideal Writing Spot

Stephanie Smith

Stephanie Smith It seems that most famous writers create a certain habitat for their genius, a custom-made space where their creativity can flow forth uninhibited. Virginia Woolf had A Room of One’s Own, J. K. Rowling has her European café, and Kurt Vonnegut has his hardwood floor where he worked out of his lap. So what are the basic requirements for a writing spot?

A desk, of course, is essential (except, apparently, if you’re Vonnegut). Preferably, a mahogany, stylishly-distressed desk that just looks like classics have been written all over it. A desk in the tradition of Tolkien’s and C. S. Lewis’, which you can actually see on display (including the wardrobe that inspired Narnia) at the Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton College. Extra points if your desk has a secret compartment.

Next, coffee. Every writer needs an energy boost now and then. And if you’re self-employed, your caffeine addiction might even count as a tax deduction (don’t quote me on that…)! But don’t try to outdo French novelist Balzac, who was known to drink 50-300 cups of coffee per day.

Your writing space should also host somewhat of a cozy mess. Creative minds aren’t known for their organizational skills, you know.

Surround yourself with inspirational literary quotes. These will remind you not only how much you love, live, and breath writing, but how fun it is! Motivational catchphrases such as, “My stories run up and bite me on the leg” –Ray Bradbury, and, “Writing is…like a long bout of some painful illness." -George Orwell, should get you off to a good start!

You should also have something to fidget with as you wrestle your brilliant ideas down onto paper. Stress balls, those cool moldable erasers, etc. Now is the perfect time to develop a bad habit such as cracking your knuckles or chewing your hair. All for the sake of art, of course.

A muse: whether it’s a picture of your sweetheart, your cat, or your Edgar Allan Poe bobble-head, you should have something to attribute your strokes of genius to. And someone to take your frustration out on when writer’s block hits.

What’s your writing environment? Where do you hammer out your thoughts, poems, and stories?

Stephanie S. Smith graduated from Moody Bible Institute with a degree in Communications and Women’s Ministry, which she now puts to work freelancing as a book publicist and writer through her business, (In)dialogue Communications, at After living in Chicago for four years, traveling to Amsterdam for a spell, and then moving back home to Baltimore to plan a wedding, she now lives with her husband in Upstate New York where they make novice attempts at home renovation in their 1930s bungalow. She is a member of the Young Professionals of the Southern Tier and blogs for Moody Publishers at


Michelle Metcalf

1983: In the third grade, my religion teacher, Mrs. Brandstetter, tells me a story during Tuesday night CCD class about a  woman in Mexico whose taco meat, after falling out of her tortilla at lunch, miraculously formed itself into a silhouette of the Virgin Mary. The image my young mind instantly created: small individual crumbly rounds of ground beef mysteriously and reverently moving themselves across a piece of Mexican hand-painted ceramic ware, one grainy chunk of meat at a time coalescing into feet, a robe, veil, nose and eyes. On the side table by the couch in the living room of my childhood, a small, engraved photo album. On the first page, a photograph of oil-stained window panels on an office building in Clearwater , Florida, that looked remarkably like a profile of the Blessed Virgin. A miracle on display wasn’t at all strange to my devoutly Catholic and generally superstitious family—why shouldn’t heaven and earth somewhere converge?

Once a year, we made it a family pilgrimage to gather with hundreds of people at the Holy Spirit Center just off the Norwood lateral about twenty minutes from our house to say the Rosary from lawn chairs on a hill while waiting for Our Lady of Light to make her midnight appearance.

Skeptic’s Dictionary: Apophenia (n): the experience of seeing patterns or connections in random or meaningless data, the "unmotivated seeing of connections" accompanied by a "specific experience of an abnormal meaningfulness." May be linked to psychosis or creativity.

2005: Hundreds gather at the Fullerton Avenue underpass on the Kennedy Expressway in Chicago. They’ve come to see the Virgin Mary in the salt run-off. That same year, a pregnant couple sees the face of Jesus during their ultrasound at a hospital in Toledo. A concession clerk sees him in a nacho pan. He also appeared on the tinted windows at a hardware store in Rio Grande Valley, Texas, and, shortly before that, in a pecan tree to a Louisiana man who was barbecuing in his backyard.

We are programmed, Carl Sagan says, born with a propensity to identify the human face. It’s for evolution’s sake, so that we can make out faces from a distance using only minimal details. This is why we can recognize faces before putting in our contacts in the morning.

At the stroke of twelve, church bells rang, cameras flashed, we waited and waited.

But I saw nothing.

Type I Psychological error: (false positive, false alarm, caused by an excess in sensitivity): Often used as an explanation of some paranormal and religious claims, and can also be used to explain the tendency of humans to believe pseudoscience.

I saw nothing but the moon.

I saw nothing but the moon hanging heavy in the sky, so full that it made a glow behind the backs of the pine trees on the horizon.

*          *          *

Michelle Metcalf does believe in miracles, especially moonlight illuminating the trees. She lives in Cincinnati, OH and sometimes still prays Hail Marys out of habit, even though she is no longer a practicing Catholic.