The mission of the Okanagan Institute is to contribute to the quality of creative engagement in the Okanagan through publications, events and collaborations. If you have never attended one of their Express events, I encourage you to do so, Thursdays at 5 PM at the Bohemian Bagel, Bernard Avenue, Kelowna, B.C.
This is what I shared with those gathered last Thursday night.
Poetry and the healing power of creative expression
Preparing to speak tonight on healing and creative expression, both as a writer, and as a human being, led me to ask several questions;
What is healing?
When we say healing, do we mean physical healing?
I have a friend who is absolutely convinced that her cancer-filled body, is healed. Another friend, with Lou Gehrig’s Disease, believed in a healing miracle for three years before he passed away. I’ve been asked to pray for ‘healing’, and I have to admit that causes conflicting emotions for me.
Healing is multi-faceted, involving our heart, our mind, our spirit or soul, and our body. When we make peace with something, that’s healing. When our hearts finally mend after a huge loss, that is healing. When we change a thought pattern, or still the voices, or quiet the demons, or forgive the unforgivable, all that is healing. And, when we speak of our disease going into remission, or our body being clear after a series of treatments, that’s profound healing as well.
Why do we need to be healed?
To say we require healing suggests we are broken, hurting, imperfect people. This is the human condition. This is who I am, as much as I’d like to project otherwise. Yet, we all desire to be whole people, don’t we? We all seek healing to some degree or another.
And, what is creative expression?
The act of creating anything, whether a dance, or a painting, or a garden, or a cathedral, or a poem, is inherently powerful. This ability to create belongs only to the human race. It is an echo of the divine nature in each of us.
Creative expression is about courageously delving into our inner lives, unearthing or glimpsing something unique, intriguing, transcendent, and then casting our thought, idea, epiphany out into the world, in the belief that what we have expressed has a purpose higher than ourselves.
Creative expression is deeply cathartic. In the process we acknowledge who we are, what we have to give, and then release our creation to leave it’s mark on the worldŠ proof that we were here.
Creative expression allow us to tell a story to someone whom we may never meet. Author Stephen King says in his book, On Writing, ” We are not even in the same year together, let alone the same roomŠ except we are together. We are close. We are having a meeting of the minds.” That’s powerful stuff.
Is everyone creative?
Yes. Although sadly, many have lost touch with that part of themselves, like the free spirited pre-schooler who was told to colour within the lines. Creativity is hard wired within us, and we are more fully alive when we learn how to reconnect and express this part of who we are.
But does developing and expressing our creative nature heal us?
Healing, of the body, soul, spirit, heart and mind, comes from wrestling through, therapy, acceptance, faith, forgiveness, surrender, wise counsel, time, distance, AND creative expression. As difficult as it is to understand healing, it is still more difficult to measure. We look for outward proof about something that is, by nature, internal and personal.
A healed individual may manifest a spirit of peace, grace, joy, hope, resilience, often where we least expect to see it. I recall hearing of a woman who, when pulled from the rubble of Port au Prince, Haiti after 17 days, was smiling and singing a hymn. She was peaceful rather than afraid. I sense her spirit was whole while her body was bruised, broken, hungry, thirsty, and her mind, longing for release.
The creative arts allow us to put our complex feelings about our world and circumstances into word and action, rather than allowing things to fester and grow into something ugly inside us. Peace is a byproduct of creative expression.
Many Kelowna artists are working through their media to express deep sadness over the devastating situation in Japan. Jody Bruce, an artist friend, woke in the middle of the night unable to sleep, and was compelled to create this beautiful piece called, ‘Hope’, because she just had to do something in response. She offered her painting of an illustration to us tonight. Another local artist, Carrie Harper, has created a Facebook Group called, “Artists for Japan”, where artists can donate paintings for online auction. All proceeds will go to the Canadian Red Cross effort in Japan.
On a more personal note, last year, when I heard about the devastation in Haiti, and felt immobilized to do anything hands on to help, I worked through my emotions by writing to poetry. It allowed me to let go of my feelings of powerlessness, make peace with the situation, and to empathize to some degree with what was happening there;This is one of those poems;
What seems like one minute you are chewing on your HB pencil
Staring at the clock and dreaming yourself out onto the dusty street with
Football between your agile feet, and running, running.
The next, you are lying on your back struggling
To breath, through white dust that settles in your mouth and lungs
And you somehow can’t make your hand wipe away what stops your eyes from blinking.
Sounds of moaning, all around you in the dark, burst the tiny bubble of
Hope that, you are daydreaming at your desk, and you will wake up any moment
And the clock will say 16:54.
Have I experienced healing as a poet and writer?
I haven’t always been a poet, haven’t been able to say I’m a poet without choking on those words. I’ve become a poet. It’s taken time, courage, and a healthy dose of faith to stand before you today.
Art, music, design, love of the written word have always been part of who I am. But my design career as an Architect ended when I became a mom. There were many years when I did not creatively express the deeper things of my heart. And part of me shriveled up and almost died.
Then, about 6 years ago, through weighty circumstances, and the pursuit of spiritual formation, I began to pay more attention to my inner life, to the ideas and desires that percolated around inside me. I began to write, and opportunities came for me to share my writing. I started to listen to people’s positive response to my writing, which fueled my passion further, and gave me greater purpose.
I see a clear connection between Creator God, and the ability to express my creative nature in writing and poetry. I am a spiritual being, and my creativity is a spiritual pathway for me to commune with God. To write is a gift. In the movie ‘Chariots of Fire, the olympic runner Erik Liddell says, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.” That is how I feel about my writing.
As I write, I find that my words contain a common message of love and longing, wonder and revelation, grief and loss, forgiveness and redemption, this message resonates with others.
Healing happens when I write because I embrace what I was intended to do. I use my unique voice, and add it to the chorus of humanity. Writing gives me permission to ask unanswerable questions, and to speak of unspeakably difficult things. Writing allows me to own living in the tension of not knowing, not being in control, not needing to be the one. I live as a writer who relies on God, and isn’t afraid to be human. Living out of this new wider place is what heals my soul, a little bit day by day.
So what is the ripple effect?
Sometimes we don’t expect to be part of a healing process. it happens as a byproduct of what we do. 2 years ago, I created a book for that friend I mentioned earlier who had ALS. I collected stories, letters, emails, poems, bible verses, photographs, and worked with a graphic designer to produce a book called ‘Buddy Breathing’. The most powerful part of my experience, was seeing how written words impacted my friend. I was witness to healing.
Over the weeks and months that led to his death, Art’s bible, and his book ‘Buddy Breathing’ became touchstones of strength, and platforms for meaningful conversations. In hospice, in the small hours of the night, his nurses read to him. He often asked friends to read and re-read certain portions of the book. He would say, “Is this really about me? I can’t believe people say that about me.” He was made stronger in his daily physical struggles through the affirming words of others, through knowing his life mattered. His heart was healed, though his body never was.
Could it be that our experience of healing through the creative process, the healing of our hearts, minds, and spirits, is just a tiny taste of what’s to come? An ancient Hebrew text promises that, “One day, God will wipe away EVERY TEAR from our eyes, and here will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain.” Could it be, that through creative expression, we are being invited to a deeper encounter with Creator God, the author of creativity and the source of ultimate healing?