Featured Reviews, VOLUME 3

Featured: AWAKENING THE CREATIVE SPIRIT by Paintner and Beckman [Vol. 3, #26]

“Art Work/Soul Work”

A Review of
Awakening the Creative Spirit:
Bringing the Arts to Spiritual Direction
(A Spiritual Directors International Book)

Christine Valters Paintner and Betsey Beckman

Reviewed by Margaret D. McGee.

Awakening the Creative Spirit:
Bringing the Arts to Spiritual Direction
(A Spiritual Directors International Book)
Christine Valters Paintner and Betsey Beckman.
Paperback: Morehouse Publishing, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

AWAKENING THE CREATIVE SPIRIT - Paintner / BeckmanWhen fear stops the tongue, or grief envelops the soul, or a period of transition makes the way ahead appear dark and confused, a healthy way to deal with chaotic emotions is to make them into art. By giving painful experiences and scary feelings external shape and form, making art also makes a safe place to integrate those experiences and feelings into the whole of life. Similarly, a time of joy or fulfillment can be embodied in a piece of art, making whole and real what might otherwise be just a fleeting moment, quickly lost.

Trouble is, many of us don’t see ourselves as artists, or as having more than one or two ways to express our creativity. In Awakening the Creative Spirit: Bringing the Arts to Spiritual Direction, Christine Valters Painter and Betsey Beckman offer a variety inviting paths into creative expression as soul work. Ostensibly addressed to spiritual directors working with individuals and groups, Awakening the Creative Spirit will be useful to pastors, retreat leaders, therapists, educators, or anyone who offers spiritual care to others and wants to use expressive arts in their work.

Valters Paintner is an artist, spiritual director, and teacher whose artistic expression finds voice primarily in writing, poetry, and visual arts such as photography and collage. Beckman has studied dance throughout her life, growing into a calling to liturgical dance and storytelling in movement. Together, they are co-founders and directors of a week-long intensive program in using the expressive arts with individuals or groups doing inner work under some kind of direction. Awakening the Creative Spirit is a compilation of material derived from that program, including exercises that gently draw a person into expressing feeling through imaginative play in various art forms.

The book’s great strengths lie in its rich assortment of exercises that provide easy entry into the different art forms, followed by tips for transitioning from one medium to another as a way to integrate different colors of feeling and experience. Most of us have performance anxiety around one form of creative expression or another. The authors have perfected the art of banishing such fears in the fun of exploring very simple—in some cases, childishly simple—forms of expression that lead us deeper into ourselves, or that give us access to a side of our creative selves that doesn’t get much play.

My own performance anxieties center around the vocal arts. An exercise called “babbling” that appears in Chapter 8, “Music, Voice, and Rhythm,” sounded perfect for easing my reluctance to sing in groups, especially small groups. The exercise starts with the leader making random sounds in rhythm, then inviting the group to join in. “Ta, ta, ta, ta, ta. Whee! whee! whee! whee! whee! Harrumph … harrumph … harrumph … harrumph” (100) and so on, making it up as you go. I tried it by myself while walking on a deserted country lane and was amazed at the odd combinations of sounds that came pouring out of my mouth. Can’t say that I went deep, but I certainly had a good time making silly noises. The exercise returned me to a sense of child-like play—a wonderful place to go. After doing that in a group, I might even be able to sing out loud with everyone else, from my heart. Whee! Whee! Whee!

— ————–

Margaret D. McGee, author of Haiku – The Sacred Art: A Spiritual Practice in Three Lines (SkyLight Paths, 2009 — Read our review.), shares new liturgy and her further adventures on the spiritual path on her web site, www.inthecourtyard.com.

C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com

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One Comment

  1. This past week my five year old told me that I didn’t laugh enough. So one day in the car I was attempting to laugh more with him and he proceeded to tell me I was not really laughing. So he starts making all these funny sounds with his mouth and begins to giggle uncontrollably. He tells me this is how you make yourself laugh. I tried it and remarkably he was so right. For some reason the art of babbling random noises made me truly laugh out loud.
    It really is a wonderful place to go.