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Creativity and the body

Lynne Baab • Wednesday July 1 2020

Creativity and the body

I’m thinking about friends who have been doing a lot of crocheting and knitting during the pandemic. I’m thinking of their hands rhythmically moving the knitting needles or crochet hook, threading yarn through their fingers.

I’m thinking of friends who have been baking bread in these strange days. I picture them moving around their kitchens, from fridge to sink to countertop to oven, using their hands and their feet as they gather ingredients, knead and shape their loaves.

I’m thinking of a friend who is a poet. I’ve never asked her whether she writes her poems on a piece of paper with a pen or pencil or whether she types them on a tablet or laptop. Either way, her hands take her evocative words from her brain onto paper or screen.

I’m thinking of my husband Dave who has painted and painted during the pandemic. I see him standing by his painting table, one brush in his right hand and an extra one in his mouth, rocking back and forth as he considers what to do next on his watercolor.

I’m thinking of friends who are trying to come up creative ways to help white people understand the challenges of people of color. I see activists typing articles on their laptops using their fingers and arms. I see them holding cellphones and video cameras so all of us can observe what’s happening. I see them marching. I see them brainstorming with others, their lungs pushing air across their vocal cords, sounds moving through the air and hitting the ears of the people they are brainstorming with. Perhaps these sounds travelled to the other person via a satellite, electronic pulses sent from a cellphone or computer, and then turned back into sound waves to enter the body through the ear and be processed in the brain.

For all of these creative people – whether they’re knitting, crocheting, cooking, baking, painting, writing, typing, or brainstorming – brain chemicals cross the gaps between neurons to make the creative process happen. In our brain, spinal cord, and in the nerves in our hands and feet, neurotransmitting chemicals busily do their work.

In my early adult years, I learned a mostly disembodied form of Christianity. In those days, thinking was not viewed as embodied, partly because we knew so little about brain chemicals and how the brain works. The Christian faith was often viewed as giving cognitive assent to a list of truths about God, completely disconnected from any kind of physical experience. Sure, we were supposed to love God – hey, remember the greatest commandment – but let’s not get too emotional about it. Let’s not think too hard about the connection of the body to that love.

With a group of Christians, I’ve been reading Sex, God and the Conservative Church, by an old friend, Tina Schermer Sellers. As you read these two sentences she wrote, think about the connections with creativity:

“Our body is the pen with which we write our love story, beginning with our first breath and ending at death. The body gives a physical representation of the things that happen in the ‘inner chambers’ of thought, desire, reason and emotion.” [1]

Our creative expressions can be viewed as a love story to the God who created the constellation Orion, fragrant roses, and Bengal tigers. Creativity begins in the “inner chambers of thought, desire, reason and emotion,” and then our bodies enable us to give physical representation to what we’ve been thinking about, desiring, and feeling.

We praise God for so many forms of creativity, and we rejoice in so many forms of beauty. We can amplify our thanks by focusing on the role of our bodies in creativity. We can give high praise to our creative God for the privilege of living in bodies and using them to serve God creatively.

Next week: Creativity and the imagination. Illustration by Dave Baab, one of his many pandemic paintings, from a photo taken on a hike in Bend, Oregon, last winter.

Some previous blog posts that relate to the body:

[1] Tina Schermer Sellers, Sex, God and the Conservative Church: Erasing Shame from Sexual Intimacy, Routledge, 2017, 65.

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