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Creativity and imagination

Lynne Baab • Friday July 10 2020

Creativity and imagination

Before I give you my thoughts on this subject, I want to ask you to ponder some questions:

  • Are creativity and imagination the same? Different? Overlapping a little? Overlapping a lot?
  • Does creativity fuel imagination? Or does imagination fuel creativity? Or both?

I’m asking those questions because I’m pondering them. Those two words are often used with similar or overlapping meanings. In my mind, they are not the same thing, but I’m still working on figuring out exactly how I think they differ. I want to give some examples that I have thought about as I have tried to answer my questions above. You may have additional ideas.

When I think of imagination, what comes to mind is dreaming up things that don’t exist. This fits with one online definition of imagination: the faculty or action of forming new ideas, or images or concepts of external objects not present to the senses.

I have done a lot of imaginative prayer, often called inner healing prayer or healing of memories, where I remember a specific incident from my past and I invite Jesus into that memory. Using my imagination, I talk to Jesus in that setting from my past, expecting him to answer or even to act. Recently I engaged in inner healing prayer for an incident in high school when my mother was critical of me. In the prayer time, I experienced Jesus taking me by the hand, leading me downstairs to the family room, and sitting with me on the sofa, talking about his love for me. A large bouquet of blue flowers sat on the coffee table, with each flower dripping water, a symbol of his tears joining mine. I cannot remember a bouquet on that table, certainly not a bouquet of blue flowers. My perception is that God entered into my imagination to use it for healing.

In addition, I often use imagination in prayer. I’ve created imaginary worlds where I meet Jesus, talk with him, relinquish things into his hands, pray for family members and friends, and place ornaments on a thankfulness tree. (I wrote about that here.) For me, all these ways of using imagination in prayer demonstrate the power of using my brain to think about something that doesn’t exist in the physical world.

Another example is a matted print I saw in a gallery in Hawaii about 15 years ago that I have regretted not buying every since. On the print, a blue turtle swam in blue water. I know turtles are brown, but that blue turtle captured something about the experience of snorkeling with turtles. In my imagination, turtles feel blue because of the beauty of the blue water and sky in Hawaii.

Faithful readers of this blog will know that my husband, Dave, is an outstanding watercolor artist. None of you will doubt the creativity he manifests in his art. That exercise of creativity has made a huge contribution to his emotional and spiritual health during the pandemic. Dave, however, does not enjoy imaginative prayer. He did not like that blue turtle. His art is usually very representational. He has to use his creativity and skill to figure out the best way to capture colors and shapes that he sees in real life, but he seldom paints something he has not seen. I would say Dave has high levels of creativity, while I have high levels of imagination.

My beloved readers have been quite affirming during this series of blog posts on creativity, saying that my writing shows my creativity. I’m grateful for the kind compliments, and I’m grateful for the moments of creativity I do experience in writing. For me, though, I feel more like a crafts person when I write, rather than a creative person.

In the New York Times article on creativity that motivated me to write this series, the author, Eric Kaplan, a television writer and producer (Big Bang Theory), argues:

“Creativity permeates life. Creativity fills our lives like ocean water fills the grains of a sand castle — saturating the spaces between this moment and the next, this action and the next, this word and the next. As a consequence, you can be creative when you’re doing pretty much anything: You can be creative in the way you walk to work, respond to grief, make a friend, move your body when you wake up in the morning, or hum a tune on a sunny day.”[1]

I really like the idea that we can do anything creatively – add a little twist, a little joy, an offbeat perspective, into anything. And we desperately need those small moments of joy to bring lightness in these strange days. Perhaps our imaginations are the part of us that makes those creative moments happen. But perhaps imagination is actually something different. I’m not sure yet what I think.

God who created swirling galaxies, tender spring leaves and infinitely varied snow crystals, thank you for making us in your image. Thank you that we can be creative in small and big ways, and thank you that creativity has been a healthy lifeline for so many during the pandemic. Thank you that you gave us imagination as well. Help us to use our imagination and our creativity in ways that enable us to draw near to you and embrace your priorities. Amen.

(Next week: one author’s perspective on creativity and imagination. Illustration by Dave Baab, one of his many pandemic sketches: view of downtown Seattle from West Seattle, painted in our car. I love getting new subscribers. Sign up below to receive an email when I post on this blog.)

One of the most creative of my books (in my opinion), is A Renewed Spirituality: Finding Fresh Paths at Midlife. I recently re-published it for kindle. I interviewed dozens of people at midlife, listened to their concerns, and then imagined the spiritual paths and practices that might meet those needs. Then I found more people to interview who were engaging in those practices. In addition to the creative/imaginative process of writing the book, creativity plays a role in several of those paths.

[1] Eric Kaplan, "Five Theses on Creativity," New York Times, May 29, 2020.



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