On the 21st October London Diocese, in partnership with The Haven+London, hosted a conference on Spiritually Healthy Creativity at St. Mellitus College. This event on the Creative Arts was aimed at helping both the artist and the Church to flourish. This was the first creative conference of its kind as part of London’s Capital Vision 2020. Mandy Carr went along to find out more.
After a friendly and relaxed welcome, the day started with two keynote speakers, Murray Watts, (Founder and Director of The Wayfarer Trust, playwright and screenwriter and co-founder of Riding Lights Theatre Company) and Karen Covell, (a Producer in Hollywood and Founding Director of The Hollywood Prayer Network.)
Murray Watts spoke about how to flourish as a Creative. Taking the image from Psalm 1 about a tree planted by streams of water, we were encouraged to consider if our roots were in the river and how we could better nurture our inner life that enables our creativity to flow. He drew out a number of disciplines that help in the process such as cultivating quietness and stillness that counteracts the ‘hurry sickness’ and busyness that can be the enemy of our souls. He also spoke about worship, wonder, praise and delight in little things, taking time to enjoy the sacrament of the present moment and learning to listen. He described the practice of reading as being like scuba-diving, being submerged into the deep to look and explore slowly, rather than skimming on the surface of life without reflecting.
He outlined a number of potential blocks to our development – the first being narcissism. We have been told we can be or do anything we want to and this can lead us to chase the wrong dreams. It can also make us particularly vulnerable to a fear of failure. Murray encouraged us to learn to dream in a more focused way because it was not about believing in ourselves but in believing in the God who believes in us.
Another block was cultivating unfavourable comparisons with others. We should be asking ourselves ‘what have I got to offer?’ The great enemy of art is perfectionism. Failure is part of the creative process and the great paradox is that when we stop trying to control everything and let go, that’s when it all happens. We know this when we learn to swim or cycle; it’s the same with allowing the Holy Spirit room, accepting the ‘radical unknowing’ and engaging the whole person.
Our humanity was vital in our creativity. He said ‘Jesus did not come to make us Christians. He came to make us human’. Rather than being concerned with the adjective ‘Christian’ for our creativity, we should just learn to fall in love with God again, which wouldn’t be difficult if we knew how much God loved us. His advice to all creatives was fall in love and stay in love because what we are in love with is really influential.
Karen Covell spoke about how to support the creative mind as a Church. She encouraged us to be outside of the box. Pursuing the life as an artist in the Church can be brutal. It takes a tough person to do it. We need to be able to handle rejection and cope with financial insecurity and to be smart enough to recognise we need to do it with God.
Karen spoke about how God loves creating beautiful things. Art is ‘unnecessary’ which is what makes it beautiful. We are called to create beauty. There is an inner hunger for beauty which is intangible. Art is made for the soul. What we create is prophetic and we have a choice to prophesy the light or the darkness. We need stories because when we are telling stories we are opening up hearts and shaping culture. It’s very powerful. We have to ask ‘what am I offering the world?’ We can be radical in our faith and radical in our art.
Karen encouraged Christians not to be afraid to be engaged with the world and the difference we find. One way to do this is always to be reading one book whose author we don’t agree with. Being engaged is letting the light invade the darkness. Artists are marketplace missionaries and this is particularly important in places like Hollywood as it is the world’s most influential mission field. There is the potential to touch people, even in ways we don’t know. Staying engaged is crucial because things get bad when the Church withdraws. Being the salt of the earth not only gives flavour, it stops things from rotting.
She quoted C.S.Lewis in saying ‘we don’t need more Christian writers, we need more writers who are Christian.’ Although Hollywood is a closed people group, relationships are primary. We need to know other people’s stories and be prepared to tell them God’s story. Our confidence is in Him.
Karen talked about the work of the Hollywood Prayer Network and the importance for artists to have a base camp. The Church has been a Patron of the Arts in the past so who is the Church supporting now? The prayer life of artists is non-negotiable, it opens doors and builds community. She encouraged all the delegates to have a theory about our art that connects to belief, to do it because it brings us joy and to celebrate and give thanks for it. She finished with a quote from Van Gogh that is ‘there’s nothing more artistic than to love others‘ and reminded us that when we pray we change the world.
In the afternoon there was a choice of two workshops: –
- Renewing Your Mind: Reimagining the Spiritual Disciplines in a Digital Age – Sara Schumacher
- Signs of Faith in Contemporary Art – Alastair Gordon
- Creative and Spiritual Freedom – Murray Watts
- The Importance of Personal Prayer for the Artist – Karen Covell
- Living with the Creative Temperament – Peterson Feital
from top to bottom: Sarah Schumacher, Alastair Gordon, Peterson Feital
After a break, and a Q&A session with the keynote speakers, we enjoyed a Jazz Eucharist together as a closing act of worship led by the Archdeacon of Hackney, Liz Adekunle.
It was an excellent and inspiring day. We had been given a lot to reflect on. The performance pieces that accompanied Murray’s talk were entertaining and the music for the Eucharist was varied and interesting. The workshops provided a helpful mix of the academic and the practical, and the balance of the schedule meant that we had a number of opportunities to network with people in a relaxed, friendly and encouraging environment.
There was almost a collective sigh as we realised we weren’t alone; there were others with similar passions wanting to bring their whole selves to their craft. There was a desire to see our spirituality represented more in the Arts, and the Arts represented more in our spirituality. This connection and oneness in purpose was, for me, the highlight of the day.
The conference challenged us to think outside the box and not to be caught up with using the adjective ‘Christian’ to describe our Art. If we create from our humanity and that humanity is immersed in a relationship with God then God’s story will flow out. We have a place to speak truth to a world desperately in need. The renewal of the creative mind gives us the opportunity to expose and disrupt the cultural narratives that dehumanise and separate us from our Creator. The intangibles of faith and hope, expressed with love in beauty, will draw people to discover the God who has loved them from the beginning. We need to take the risk and give the time to develop our craft. We also need to find our safe places where we are supported in our own vulnerability, always connected to what nourishes us and gives us joy. The mission field is all around us – just waiting….
The Haven+London is an independent charity founded by the Church of England. It exists to support the emotional, spiritual and mental wellbeing of the creative community in London. The core vision is that The Haven +London will be a safe, non-judgemental and nurturing space. This Haven is where those working in the arts and creative industries, facing emotional, mental and spiritual challenges , can come and receive the support and help they need to thrive and realise their potential.
For more information http://thehavenlondon.com/
The day was organised with the assistance of the Creatives Network organising team.
For more details on the Creatives Network www.london.anglican.org/engage-creative