Creative God Excerpt
If I asked you to close your eyes and imagine yourself sipping a mug of tea or a coffee anywhere in the world, could you do it?
If you could, would your imagination provide more than just a snapshot image of you at a round table on a busy street or a still frame of a quiet deck overlooking a peaceful lake?
Would your imagined experience include the smells, the sounds and the colors that surround you? The feel of the delicate cup or sturdy pottery mug between your fingers? The taste of the warm beverage? Would your imagination picture anyone else, or would you be alone? Would there be conversation or silence?
I wonder what the difference would be if I asked a four-year-old a similar question. If, for example, I asked a child to imagine eating an ice cream cone anywhere in the world and tell me about it, the story that would pour forth would not be short, nor would it be lacking in details – vivid details.
When I was a child, I had a vivid imagination. I loved to play house and school. Concocting elaborate back stories and teaching lessons to my imaginary students using the black chalkboard that hung in my basement was my speciality. My imaginative play sometimes involved driving my Barbie around town in her Tonka Truck, which was, of course, not made specifically for Barbie. She fit though, and it was awesome!
I even had an imaginary friend, Shika. Together, we would build blanket forts and pillow forts on the family room couch. In warmer weather, nature forts would pop up in the bushes next to my house. My mom sometimes joined in the fun, too. I remember when she took us on an amazing imaginary vacation to Hawaii, all without ever leaving the house. There was an airplane created from our dining room chairs, beautiful leis, art projects, and fresh pineapple to eat.
Fueled by the books I consumed, my imagination blossomed. I wonder, though, how old I was when my imagination started to fade. Or was my imagination just relegated to a box on the shelf, with my Nancy Drew books and the Tonka Truck?
If so, why?
Later in life, when I had children of my own, sparking their imaginations was one of my favorite jobs. I planned intricate adventures, including a fearsome bear cave under a table in the living room. We created an Olympics simulation, which involved duct taping a plastic garbage bag to the carpet to become a sock ice rink. From stacks and stacks of books, to play dough and finger-paints. From blanket forts, to treasure hunting at local antique shops. Year by year, our adventures grew and so did their imaginations.
Now they are teens, knocking on the door of adulthood. Are their imaginations starting to fade as well? Or are they being relegated to a box on the shelf with the picture books and stacks of finger painted art?
If so, why?
As I sit here at my computer, I wonder – as we age, do we stop imagining so richly because life starts to fill in the story for us? Or does imagination fall by the wayside simply because we decide there is no time for such a seemingly whimsical activity in our busy calendars?
In today’s 21st-century world, it is easy for us to fall into the trap of thinking that imagination for its own sake does not add easily quantifiable value to our lives. Tangible activities, like working extra hours to perfect that work presentation, creating the most Instagrammable dessert, or renovating one more thing in our homes – those tasks add value. They earn us cyber points, recognition from our bosses, or likes on Instagram. Creating something for its own sake, without intent to share – surely there is no value there, right? So, we neatly pack up our imaginations and relegate them to dusty shelves.
But, is it really true that there is no value in imagining? Is imagining truly a frivolous activity, a waste of time?
To find our answer, we need to pause and ask a more critical question. What about our God? The One who is the ultimate, imaginative creator. The One who created the heavens and the earth, bringing forth something from nothing. Rather than creating a purely functional, utilitarian space, He crafted turquoise seas, granite peaks, and birds with feathers all the colors of the rainbow. Vibrant hues of blue with fluffy white clouds filled His sky. Sandy beaches, fields of wildflowers, majestic trees… one breathtaking sight after another.
A dabble of the brush, a stroke, a drop of paint on the canvas. I can almost ‘imagine’ Him laughing as He added another color, another splash, to His masterpiece. Surely, there can be no doubt; our God is a creative God. He created the earth, stars, planets, and solar systems, all of which overflow with miraculous beauty and awe-inducing artistry.
As Christians, we believe that we are the Imago Dei, created in the Image of God. Therefore, within each person lies a reflection of the same imaginative creator, an image of God THE creator. Each and every one of us has this as part of our identity, from childhood to adulthood, from birth until death. Whether you are a teenager or a busy mom, a retired engineer or a first-year teacher, within you lies this same creative gift.
Science, too, supports the existence of our creative identity. Girija Kaimal, EdD, an art therapist and assistant professor at Drexel’s College of Nursing and Health Professions, conducted a study that measured blood flow in the brains of participants who were at rest versus blood flow in the brains of participants who were engaged in art-related activities. These activities ranged from doodling to free drawing. Her results found that all of the art-related activities showed increased blood flow to the medial prefrontal cortex, the brain’s reward center, with doodling producing the biggest results. The evidence from this study shows us that not only are we created to create, but our bodies actually reward us for participating in creative activities.
Have you ever been so engrossed in doing something you love that you lost track of time? Psychologist and pioneer of positive psychology, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls this phenomenon ‘flow.’ He began his study of this phenomenon by observing artists and creatives. He found that often the process of creating was more valuable to a person than the finished product. While creating, the artist, musician, or writer could tune out the world and simply be.
An average human has 60,000 thoughts a day. When we create, even for a little while, we place ourselves into this state of ‘flow,’ which allows those thoughts to slow down. Creative flow allows our bodies to regulate, to calm. In other words, by engaging in a creative activity, we reconnect to who we were created to be at our best.
Both science and our collective identity as Imago Dei remind us that we are called to create. However, how often are we putting this gift to use?
I often wonder, when on a particularly beautiful hike, what it would feel like to give the most beautiful invitation – one born of love and created with my hands – and then have it remain unopened. I ponder if that is what I am doing, when I choose not to listen to these beautiful invitations to create.
Might this way of walking through the world be the same as leaving the part of our God-given creativity, the part of our God-image identity, closed up tight in a box on the shelf? Are we viewing this gift of creativity as a waste of time, rather than who we were created to be?
However, there is another path. What if I told you that using your imagination could radically impact your life? What if I told you it could change the way you make a decision or the way that you pray? What if I told you that your imagination could change the world?
By choosing to open that box, by unlocking part of yourself, not only can you create with your hands, play, and make beauty; you can also make your life, and the lives of those around you, substantially better.
Today, right now, walk to the closet, and take out the step stool you use to get the wine glasses down from the top shelf (or is that just me?). Now reach all the way up, stretching onto your tippy toes, until you feel the edge of the box that you neatly labeled, “my imagination,” and bring it down. Dust it off. Gently take off the lid, and reach your hand inside.
Here we go…
Excerpt from Creative God: Awaken Your God-Given Imagination by Anna Bonnema. Copyright © 2022. Used with author’s permission.
Anna Bonnema is an open-armed Catholic and a lover of words and nature. Anna is a wife to a man with a contagious laugh and a mom to amazing young-adult triplets. Though she calls herself an introvert, she loves to gather around the table or the fire. Anna is a certified spiritual director and loves walking alongside women in all life stages. Anna published her first devotional last spring and it can be found HERE. Fueled by tea, lattes, and dog snuggles, Anna loves small celebrations and glitter. Fill your favorite mug and join her on Instagram @annabonnema.