Christianity And The Arts:

Imagination Redeemed to Impact the World

A Dialogue with Luci Shaw

Interviewed by Stephanie Kirtland

Copyright © 1995 Mars Hill Review 2 May 1995 · Issue No. 2: pgs 106-118.

Luci Shaw, co-founder and senior editor of Harold Shaw Publishers, is the critically acclaimed author of several collections of poetry, including Listen to the Green, Horizons, and Polishing the Petoskey Stone. Her most recent collection is Writing the River. She is writer-in-residence at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia, and a frequent speaker on topics such as the creative process and journal keeping for personal growth. She lives with her husband John Hoyte in Menlo Park, California, where they hold a monthly L'Abri Discussion Group for those interested in the Arts, Sciences, and Christianity.

Mars Hill: You were raised in a Christian home by well-read parents and found your affinity for poetry early, even winning the poetry contest in high school each year. What milestones on your journey as an artist and poet stand out in your development?

LS: Oh, scores! One of the milestones that sticks out in my memory is the first poem that was accepted for publication by InterVarsity's His Magazine. While I was at Wheaton, I had had a number of my poems published in the student magazine, but what counts is when you move into the larger society and are judged on the merits of your poems themselves, rather than on who you are. His was one of the few Christian magazines that accepted poetry at that time. When the call came, I just about went through the ceiling, I was so excited about it. I was a young married woman with a baby and I really thought I was doing good poetry; but to have it accepted and acknowledged like that was a real moment of affirmation. It was like God saying, "Yes, this is something I want you to continue to develop as a gift."

Mars Hill: So you weren't really sure of your poetry until then?

LS: I was sure, but until your work is tested beyond your own circle of acquaintances, you can be self-deceived. I know a great many people who believe in their own writing; then I, as their editor, have to deal with that writing. The common thing is for people to say, "Well, the Holy Spirit gave me this last night, and He also told me that you're going to publish it." But when I read the work I really blush for the reputation of the Holy Spirit! As far as that poem is concerned, the Holy Spirit doesn't seem to have much critical judgment. So I know how easy it is to fall in love with your own words and your own ideas. When someone else responds to them and says, "Yes, I see what you're seeing; I hear what you're hearing"--that is a moment of validation for any artist. If you're giving a reading and people really respond to the poetry you've read, that's a similar encouragement.

Another milestone was in the early '70s, when we were having a number of problems with our oldest daughter. There were also financial struggles. So we were crying out to God for help on every front--except for my poetry. I really liked my poetry the way it was and I didn't want God to meddle with it. So I was asking for input from God in every other aspect of my life but in my poetry. I think I was afraid that God would ask me to make the poetry more holy or pious or devotional, and less earthy, less me. That was very myopic of me; I have learned since that God is much larger than any poetry that I could write and that his freedom and his wildness far exceed any human innovations. I've learned to let go and let God be part of the process for me.

Mars Hill: How then did He come in and allow you to do that during that time?

LS: God was always ready to do that--what was needed was more a decision on my part to let go and follow the leading of my "muse," the Holy Spirit. It wasn't one particular event; I think the process went on much as it had, but I was then aware that I wasn't alone in it.

I think every poet, or any artist, has a sense of the Muse. It's unpredictable; no matter how much personal discipline you have, you can't just sit down and write a poem when you want to. You have to wait for the images and the ideas to be presented and then be alert enough to catch them when they come, and record them. It's a very unpredictable thing; you can't anticipate when a poem will come. Sometimes, like a baby being born, a poem will arrive in the middle of the night; or it'll arrive while I'm preparing dinner for eight. And you have to pay attention; you can't just say, "Later, later." You really have to pay attention at that moment. Because it's so central--there's a sense that this is what my life is really all about and the other things become more peripheral.

Most poets often have the fear or panic that they've written their last poem and no more poems will ever be born. I've been through many a dry period, and have gone months and months without a poem. At this point I don't worry about it anymore, because I know that it always does come back. Perhaps that's a little bit like the spiritual life; there are ups and downs and dry periods in which we learn things we couldn't learn in the more fruitful, fulfilling times of our lives.

There's been a very gradual growth in terms of my acceptance and recognition as a poet. There haven't been any huge awards or breakthroughs. It's been a long, slow apprenticeship. And I still have so much to learn. But I am grateful that my poetry is having a level of acceptance, both in Christian circles and in the more secular market.

Mars Hill: What has influenced your view of Christianity and art?

LS: I think it's been my own dismay at the lack of appreciation in many Christian circles for the arts in general. It's discouraging when you try to express the thing that is most significant and burning in your own heart to a fellow Christian--and there's absolutely no response, no sense of its importance. And that is so different from the way it's been in our past cultural history.

I think at the time of the Enlightenment there was a split between right-brain and left- brain thinking. Before that, art in general, particularly in the Western--or European--culture, was a reflection of human desire to glorify God. Think of the music of Bach; think of Renaissance painting, where religious themes were preeminent. There were other themes involved, but this was really what it was: scenes from Scripture, from Dante. Bach wrote on his every musical score Soli Gloria Deo, Glory to God alone. Then, when rational, critical analysis came with the Enlightenment, there was much more of a humanistic trend in believing that religion and art didn't have to go together. I think we lost something at that time--and the Church became really defensive, even hostile to the arts, because of their humanistic direction.

Back in the preliterate days, the Church was "the poor man's Bible"; the layout of most churches was in the form of a cross; the stained-glass windows; all the symbols and signs and imagery in the construction and decoration of the church; everything spoke of God, or showed scenes from Scripture. For people who could not read, it was a way of instructing them as they sat in the sanctuary to worship God. Now, the Church has little sense of instructing through art. And art is viewed with suspicion in many church circles because artists tend to be innovators, iconoclasts. We're trying to break down the old clichés and trite ways of understanding God and present fresh new avenues of understanding and seeing. And that is threatening to conservative Christians.

Mars Hill: Have you seen much change in the last decade?

LS: That depends on the context. I'm an Episcopalian, so I belong to a church where the arts are celebrated and appreciated. But there are many more fundamental groups--and I hate to label people like that, but I don't quite know any other way to describe it--where if you're not saving souls you're not in the business of God. To me, the business of God is to be as fully human as God programmed us to be. And that includes the imagination and the creative impulse, which I think is universal, but which we squelch; our education system and our churches discourage artistic freedom, or try to banish the sense that we are made to create--we are created to create.

Mars Hill: Since we are created to create, what is the relationship of God to the imagination? How does that work?

LS: I think the imagination is God's most effective teaching tool. When you look at Scripture you realize that one-third of the Bible is poetry. The most effective way to get truth across is in the form of imagery--drawing pictures in our heads. I think of the verse, Isaiah 1:18, "though your sins be as scarlet." Just listen to the colors and textures in it. "Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow." You can feel the snow and see the scarlet. "Though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool." And that's one way of talking about transformation and cleansing. Because it paints a picture in your mind and appeals to the senses, it imprints itself in your imagination so that it's hard to forget. But if there had been a purely abstract statement about forgiveness and cleansing, that God will forgive your sins, in some ways that doesn't have the same impact.

Prosaic statements only present half the story, even a kind of falsehood. "True truth," using C.S. Lewis' term, requires the seasoning of poetry to bring abstract principles to life. It needs the images, colors, light, the peaks and valleys of poetry. The monochrome of the human spirit cries out for color.

Then there were the Psalmists, of course, and the many prophets, with their visions. Ezekiel's visions were fantastic--that is, they seemed like fantasy--richly imaginative. Other prophets had these extraordinary images from nature and their own experience which still are accessible to us in our century. It's astonishing to me how Scripture does that; we're not a nation of shepherds, yet we still understand what a shepherds is and how David's life was formed. We understand how the Psalms came into being because of the lonely life he lived on the hills and his habit of putting his feeling about God's Presence into words. So I think that our imaginations are a very vital part of our psyche, a part put there by God for a purpose; it is something to be used, not just to teach but to enrich and to bring enjoyment.

Mars Hill: What about the New Age movement into the mystical; how has that impacted our view of the imagination?

LS: There has been an overreaction in some circles to the whole idea of the imagination through practices like meditation and proactive prayer, which visualizes how something happens. For me, however, this is an absolutely wonderful way of exercising faith. I'm doing a talk in San Francisco on how art impacts our spirituality. In the flyer they used my definition of faith, which is "a widening of the imagination." If our imaginations are broadened enough, something that seems unbelievable to us can seem possible; and we can base our prayers that way. We broaden our prayer life by possibility thinking, not by negativism and legalism.

Mars Hill: How can we again redeem the imagination from misunderstanding and misuse?

LS: Our muse is the Holy Spirit. There are two sources from which we can receive the images or information on which our imagination feeds. We can be listening to the creative universe and to the God who created the universe. Or we can listen to the destructive lying of the enemy which twists things a little bit, or perverts them, or bends them away from the direction God has given. It's very subtle, but it can result in art which debases God rather than glorifying him. So I feel that a baptized, or redeemed, imagination is an imagination which is truly listening for God images. And for truth.

But truth isn't always pleasant. I'm not saying that Christians who practice art always have to produce sweetness and light. I think we have to recognize the darkness and shadow as well as the light and realize that God allows shadows into our lives. It's not that God himself is dark and evil, but that he embodies mystery. Sometimes God withdraws and leaves us in the dark--and we can learn to view it as a very instructive and salutary thing to happen. It's not pleasant, but we discover things in the dark that we wouldn't find in the light. Also, the contrast between darkness and light is important, in that the light shows the darkness for what it is and the dark shows the light for what it is. Contrast is a highlight, as it were; it means something. If everything is a ten, then a ten has no meaning. You have to have a scale from one to ten in order for real values to be exposed.

Mars Hill: You wrote about your time of darkness after your first husband Harold's death in your book, God in the Dark. What came out of that time of darkness in terms of your art?

LS: A lot of realism. And it wasn't just after Harold's death. I was in a period of darkness and depression for a period of about seven years--and his death came in the middle of that. I can't second guess and say this is what God had in mind by allowing Harold's cancer, but I think part of what came out of it was in my poetry. Prior to that time, I had written poetry about God in ways that I believed were true but hadn't always experienced. Now, I'm writing much more from real life experience; I'm giving the rough, the painful, and the distressing elements entrance into the poetry so that it's much more the way things truly are rather than the way I'd hoped they'd be. In other words, it's not trying to be inspiring, it's trying to be reflective, to be descriptive rather than prescriptive.

Mars Hill: Have you noticed a different reception to these poems?

LS: It certainly has made an impact. I contribute poems to a number of secular journals and I've had much better acceptance in those journals since then. I had an interesting experience in a secular poetry workshop up at Lake Tahoe a couple of years ago. It was organized by Gary Snyder, one of the premier living American poets, and I had an adviser, Al Young, who is poet-in-residence at the University of Michigan; he spent a whole afternoon going through my poetry and working with me. I explained to him my dilemma, that I'm too literary for the Christian world, but too Christian for the literary world; and that I feel as if I fall between those two camps. And he said, "Don't worry about that. Spread your seeds wherever you can--we need that kind of seeding in the secular world. We need poets who have a belief system and are not simply asking questions." Not that I don't ask questions, but I think what I believe comes up through the fabric of the poetry in a more subliminal and subtle way. To hear him say, "Just go ahead and write what you know, what you have experienced and what you sense is true," was very encouraging to me.

Mars Hill: You have seen your own recognition in the secular world growing as your art has changed. How do you see Christians impacting the secular society through art? How can that be more effective; how can those connections develop? And what is our role to be as artists in the world?

LS: I think the metaphor of spreading seeds is appropriate. I'm not sure if we should come across with a frontal, or confrontational, expression of our Christian faith. I don't think that it would be accepted. In poetry, less is more; the soft-sell, the understatement rather than the overstatement, is going to have far more impact. But it's going to take a while; it's like inductive Bible Study versus straight teaching. It's where you allow the images, the metaphors, to carry the messages rather than a simplistic statement of the gospel. And people begin to ask questions.

I do believe there are already a large number of major poets who write from a Christian worldview. And I think it is having an effect on the subculture of poetry. For instance, Donald Hall, who is one of the elder statesmen in the poetic field, is a very ardent Episcopalian; he has a tremendous sense of God in his life and the relationship between God and humanity. He recently wrote an extended essay called" Life Work" in which he talks about what it's like to be a poet, what his days are filled with and how his life is lived out as a poet. It's full of profound statements about God and about that relationship. Wendell Berry, an essayist, poet, and conservationist, is a strong Christian. Peter Davison is the poetry editor for The Atlantic and is a Christian. My own publishing company, Shaw Publishers, last year released an anthology of 72 major poets who write from a Christian worldview. It is titled Odd Angles of Heaven and I feel it was a major contribution in the anthological world. It shows that there are no boundaries to what you can write about. You can write about your own personal faith and your understanding of creation, about anything; there is no topic about which poetry cannot be written. The only thing is that it has to be good art.

Mars Hill: You can certainly see this in some of your poetry. One of my favorite poems of yours, "to the municipal incinerator," is written about trash, yet you turn it into a powerful social commentary.

LS: Yes, that was one of my earlier poems, from Listen to the Green, and was written in the '60s when we lived in Chicago. My youngest son loved garbage collectors--he's a very successful trader in the options and currency market in London right now--but as a little boy garbage collecting was his goal! And I began to see things through his eyes, to see just how many good things we throw away and how many wonderful people we devalue or demean by not recognizing the good parts of their lives even though there are destructive and painful parts. So it's a way of analyzing all of life, through the eyes of the incinerator or the garbage collection system. It's happened again and again that my children will make a casual comment and I will recognize something there that needs to be expressed in poetry.

Mars Hill: Your poetry has changed over the years from being more abstract to more concrete. How and why has that change occurred?

LS: Very gradually, poem by poem. A poet is his or her own best critic. You learn from your own poetic process, from trying out various techniques and styles and ways of coming at a poem. I usually go through 50-60 drafts before I am satisfied with any poem. My computer is full of uncompleted poems that haven't found themselves yet. There's a lot of trial and error; you're never sure when a thing is going to succeed.

It's like a child growing in spurts--so unpredictable, you don't know what the final product will be. Does that make it sound as though the poet has no control at all? That's not true. The poet has a lot of control, but it's a balance between having control and letting go, letting the poem find its own destiny, its own way. You must let it develop itself, which is once again like raising a child. In the early stages, the parents are very much in control of its life, but as the child grows older and learns how to make choices and decisions, the child begins to take destiny in its own hands and shape its own life in different ways.

Mars Hill: So how does your poetry get "grown"?

LS: Well, let's look at my journal; this is where most of my poems begin. I've been working on a new poem here. It started while I was driving home from church one Sunday, thinking about lunch, thinking about having asparagus. Then I thought about the word asparagus, that it comes from the Latin word asperges--to sprinkle. And it's a term used in the Episcopal or Catholic church; there's actually a prayer where you say, "Asperges me, O God." Sprinkle me, God. So I start out: O my asparagus... and O my avocado.... And I'm talking to God. Avocado is the Spanish word for advocate. God's Spirit is our advocate, the one who is on my side to represent me to God. Then I got into flowers, "O my clove... and 0 my carnation..." Clove is from the French word clou, a nail. I was thinking of the nails in Christ's flesh and carnation speaks of flesh. Incarnation is about being enfleshed. We think of the red carnation, but we don't think of the meaning of the word. So I'm trying to get to the original intent of certain words and open them up. It might seem a little sacrilegious to be praying to God using these terms, but the original languages are so rich and full of meaning which opens up in poetry in surprising ways.

O my asparagus, the cleansing sprinkle of your fern, your stalked asperity under the melting butter, your gentle juices waken me to spring.

O my avocado,
your vegetable comfort calls my name,
teaching me the colors of green. And your purpled
leather rind discloses a sumptuous spirit
around your oily seed heart.

O my small clove,
your dark nail probes my hand
studding my open palm like
a pink Easter ham,
pinning me to Christ's last clench of pain.

O my scarlet carnation,
your iron-fresh scent, and the sharp,
pinked edges of your dying
outflesh for me the colors
of God's blood, God's body.

O my pear...

It's a psalm, if you like, a contemporary psalm. I don't know where this is going or if it'll ever become a finished poem, but it's a beginning and it builds on itself. Fragmentary thoughts keep coming into your mind--it's like a percolator; it bubbles up in the back of your mind even when you're not conscious of it. It's an interesting process; I find if I have a problem or something that needs resolution, I can sort of program it into my mind at night and expect an answer in the morning. Very often something has become clear without my conscious thought. It's a hidden process. It's fascinating to me that the human mind has that capacity. And once again I really believe that it's the Holy Spirit at work "leading us into truth."

Mars Hill: In both those poems you deal with disparate images and connect them to one another: trash and humanity, vegetables and God. You've also written a lot about mixed metaphors in terms of describing God. What is the importance of these in terms of our art and faith?

LS: I talk about the Bible, and God, using mixed metaphors because the Bible is so full of diverse images. I have in my house one of those Austrian crystals; it's a great, big, pear-shaped, many-faceted crystal hanging by a nylon thread. It turns very gently in the sun and every facet catches the light at a different angle to reflect different colors, and fire. We need all these different images and meanings to approach a true understanding of God. We can't just view God through one image--say the Shepherd--and approach the full truth about Him. Or take two very contradictory images, the Lamb and the Lion. The Lamb speaks of certain attributes of Christ, the willingness to be sacrificed, purity, helplessness, the victim. And on the other hand, you've got the Lion, a very powerful, dominant and fierce image. Both are true. And both are needed. We can't come at the personality and power of Christ without recognizing both and holding them in tension. It's not that you can ever encompass the infinite attributes of Christ, but we are given these disparate views through these different images; the more images we have, the more understanding we have of the true significance of who Christ is.

Mars Hill: You mentioned that prosaic statements only present half the story. How does art speak of who God is in a way that the more prosaic style or propositional truth can't?

LS: Propositional truth is a valid way of trying to abbreviate or summarize something. A proposition states a truth, but very often it needs images, metaphors, to flesh it out, to make it real. In a sermon there can be an exposition of Scripture that sounds very plausible and true, but it's not appealing until the preacher uses an illustration to bring that truth to life for us. And very often it's an illustration out of experience. So I think we need both; we need both the left brain and the right brain. We need the rational, the linear thought, otherwise we could go out of control completely. But we also need that leap of the imagination that connects two images together. And we need, as Christians, to be "whole brained people," who don't despise either the left brain or the right brain and allow the two to work together. Personality wise, we tend to be one or the other. One of my own goals in life is to develop my rational side, which in me tends to be underdeveloped. Then there are other people, engineers and mathematicians, who are extremely rational; they may have a hunger and thirst for the imaginative side. My son John is a doctor and a scientist, who has degrees in Tropical Medicine and Public Health, and he's also a wonderful poet. He's one of the best poets I know. I love to see both these streams of understanding and process going on.

Mars Hill: What's your vision for the Church and art?

LS: I think the fact that some mainline churches are celebrating the arts by having artists conferences and retreats is wonderful. An example is the National Presbyterian Church in Washington D.C. They have an active Arts Group which pulls artists from all over the world. I would love to see that happening on a much broader scale--where art can be embraced and acknowledged and not simply viewed as peripheral or one option among many. I'd like to see it as being more central to the enriched Christian life.

Mars Hill: And what would that look like?

LS: For instance, liturgical dance for me is a wonderful way of seeing Scripture embodied; it's like praying with the bones. In worship you may see a biblical event or response enfleshed in the human body in dance. At my church we now have a Saturday evening service, called Sabado Primo, the first Saturday of every month. It's an alternative service which allows for creative freedom, though it follows the liturgy of the Church in the sense that it's the liturgy of the Word and the liturgy of the Table. We have Scripture, but it can be dramatically presented, not just as a reading. And at the time of the Eucharist, we all do a simple dance around the table and pass the bread and wine to each other; it's an absolutely beautiful outworking of the community of Christ, the community of saints being together and celebrating.

Music, of course is central to the Church and has been for centuries. It's a very significant art form, since it's both words and music, expressing the depths of the human heart and the depths of Christ's love. We have our hymnody and I would love to see fresh hymns; good hymns, solid hymns, that are built, not just out of experience, but out of biblical truth. But full of images and pictures and fresh melodies.

Mars Hill: Christian musician Michael Card has really stressed how important the church community was to his development as an artist. How do you feel about that?

LS: I very much believe in that. Many artists feel very isolated, very alone. They feel like Elijah felt: I alone am left. I'm all alone, no one else feels what I'm feeling or understands what I'm doing. I don't say that now because I have so many friends who are poets and Christians. We have an informal network around the country and write each other and send each other our work. I'm very fortunate; I belong to a group of writers called the Chrysostom Society. There are 20 of us (and our spouses) and we get together once a year. We've been doing this for about eight years. It's not limited to that one event; there's a great deal of networking that goes on between members of this group. It's a great support and encouragement, but we work through very practical problems there as well. Like: what if your publisher is reneging on your contract? It includes people like Philip Yancey, Madeleine L'Engle, Walt Wangerin, Eugene Peterson, Richard Foster and many others. But that has met a need that each of us has felt. We really have developed very deep friendships, intentional friendships, through this group.

Mars Hill: Have you seen your view of Christianity and the arts change through your involvement in this group?

LS: Not changed, but enhanced. We all have a fairly similar worldview. The goal of the group is to encourage each other's writing so that each of us is doing better work. We feel that Christians have the reputation of doing mediocre work compared to some of the giants in the secular world. The hope is that we can do work that compares favorably with any writer, Christian or not, so that Christians can become acknowledged in this wider arena. And we have that as a goal. Fifty years ago, the goal of writers who were Christians was to write good theology. Now that's being joined and partnered with the idea of good writing. The two need to work together.

Mars Hill: How do you go about doing that, continuing to grow in and learn your craft?

LS: I read a lot of contemporary poetry. I have shelves and shelves of poetry; and I read many literary magazines that include poetry. I'm always watching for the new trends, new techniques, different poetic styles, and experimenting. Even though it doesn't always work, it's good to keep those edges growing. It's a lot of fun to keep experimenting.

One of the things I was really impressed with at this writers' conference at Lake Tahoe was how eager everybody was to help everyone else. I had not expected that. I thought it would be people who would be on ego trips for themselves, and out for their own benefit. But I've made some wonderful friends in that group with whom I still meet regularly.

Mars Hill: Most of your poetry is centered in the creation. How has that occurred? Is it something you have developed consciously?

LS: I don't know; I've always had this love for the wilderness. It may have had something to do with my growing up; our summers were spent in the Muskoka Lakes in northern Ontario. Just being able to be in the woods is very calming; I went to camp every summer. There's something about green and growing things that absolutely clutches at me. Nature is like a second Bible to me. In fact, it's hard for me to read Scripture freshly. It's not that it's lost its value--and I'm so committed to it--but I've grown up with it in my ears; I'm so familiar with it, that sometimes I get more of a fresh sense of God's presence and significance in the natural world. Theologically, nature's recognized as a secondary revelation of God, the Scriptures and Christ Himself being the primary revelations.

Mars Hill: What about the modern self-reflective poetry?

LS: There's a lot of confessional poetry today. I write it myself. It's essentially me expressing what I'm thinking and feeling. But I think it's still a connection with the world; it's just more--this is my response to the world around me. And I think most good poetry has to be written out of personal experience. It has to be concrete and individual; it can't be theoretical or it loses its punch.

Mars Hill: How can a Christian speak to the secular world through that kind of poetry?

LS: Just by being honest and learning to say things in language that won't immediately raise a red flag. By not including a lot of "God words" in your poetry. By implying the presence of God rather than stating it. By getting in under the skin rather than hitting people over the head.

Mars Hill: So much of today's Christianity seems to be focused on healing; how does that impact Christian artists and their work?

LS: The fact is that most of us are concerned with our needs; so many people have had deep personal needs unmet and have been broken in one way or another. So therapy and healing are needed and are major themes today. I would like to balance that; in a way, it trivializes God and puts him at our service. It's like saying I have these huge needs and I'm so central to my life that I'm inviting God in to help me. Which is a valid thing, but it's making God our servant, rather than us being the servants, serving the Almighty. I think we do this is a number of areas, we trivialize God to make him our accomplice; there's almost a sense that we can turn him on and off like a faucet. If we need him we pray and if we don't need him we don't. I often wonder what God must feel about being so marginalized.

I'd like to have a sense of the absolutely overwhelming power, a God beyond our control. Not a God that's not able to be touched by our needs, but a God we can't control. A God huge enough, overwhelming enough to just sweep us away, so that our own needs become less, seem more trivial by comparison. And if that happens and we're involved in that kind of an overarching relationship with God, our needs will be met, but they won't become primary.

Mars Hill: Can art have a role in that?

LS: Art is one of the most healing things God's given us. Dorothy Sayers used to say that when she completed a poem, a novel, or a speech, she felt "like God on the seventh day." There's this sense that "It's happened!" It's just a magnificent sense of completion, of exhilaration, of rightness, which is wholly Godly: God felt it. I feel that way when a poem is coming along and I know that it's right; when I'm reading a line of it and have this wonderful certainty that it's really happening. Or it's sort of an affirmation after a period of drought, of not having it happen. So that when it does happen it's so satisfying. It's very healing for the artist. My hope is that everybody can reawaken that creative impulse which I think is universal. Everybody's born with the ability to create in one form or the other. If that can be restored or be reborn, it will heal. It does something for the psyche; I think this is something we're not fully aware of.

When you and I got up this morning and got dressed, we didn't just want to be warm and decent. We thought about the colors we were wearing and whether they went together and whether they were appropriate for the occasion. That's an aesthetic impulse. Just the way we arrange our office and our living rooms and the color of the wall paper; how we decorate the wall, or the Christmas tree at Christmas. These are examples of the aesthetic creative impulse in all of us. I think everybody at one stage or another, if they've been in love, has wanted to write a love poem or express that emotion in something other than prosaic language. It's like the exuberance of skipping rather than walking or dancing, or whistling rather than just saying things. It's something that goes beyond the ordinary. If we could just reawaken that freedom to express ourselves in those creative ways, a lot of healing would come, because it's making us whole people again. It's not just this practical, left-brained, functional person, who's able to make a living and keep body and soul together. If we only had a functional world that would be enough; but God, in his grace, has given us this wonderful extra, beauty, which shouldn't just be an extra, it should be integral to our psyche. Frederick Buechner said, "Beauty is to the soul as food is to the body. It fills a need in us that nothing else can fill."

Mars Hill: How can the Church help that to happen?

LS: By acknowledging that it's a genuine gift from God; by encouraging it. Sunday Schools are obvious places where children can be allowed to exercise these creative abilities. Yet Sunday Schools are so often focused on trying to teach Christian principals and behavior or Bible trivia, to the exclusion of everything else. Like the standard flannel-graph retell of the Bible stories without using those stories as a base for something even more creative. That's just one example. I think if seminaries encouraged the pastors and preachers and doctors of theology to exercise creative gifts or included them as part of the educational process that would be very helpful. Banners in the churches! The architecture of the church can be either beautiful or really sterile. Of course, beauty and aesthetics can be very subjective, but if we came at it with a sense of creating sacred space which is beautiful, and which glorifies and enriches the hearts of the people that worship there, what a wonderful thing that would be! What a gift!