Elizabeth Gilbert on the Creative Process

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I stumbled onto this wonderfully engaging talk by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the bestselling Eat, Pray, Love, that bears a lot of truth about how important it is to acknowledge that the source of our creative gifts are not always within us but without.  Anyone who writes, paints, sings, dances or otherwise engages in the mystery of sub-creation will appreciate what she has to say.

Pete Peterson is the author of the Revolutionary War adventure The Fiddler’s Gun and its sequel Fiddler’s Green. Among the many strange things he’s been in life are the following: U.S Marine air traffic controller, television editor, art teacher and boatwright at the Florida Sheriffs Boys Ranch, and progenitor of the mysterious Budge-Nuzzard. He lives in Nashville with his wife, Jennifer, where he’s the Executive Director of the Rabbit Room and Managing Editor of Rabbit Room Press.


16 Comments

  1. leonie

    thanks for this, i’m an artist and writer and could identify with so much of this and will find myself listening back to this often!

  2. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Pete,

    That was gorgeous. I wept and I laughed during her talk. It reminded me of three books – Dorothy Sayers’ The Mind of the Maker, Madeleine L’Engle’s Walking on Water, and especially Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art. Thanks for posting a great encouragement to press on in my work and acknowledge God as the Breath that can infuse it with life.

    One of the things that has kept me procrastinating so much of my career is that pressure of thinking I’ve got to come up with the work, whatever it is – a song, a solo, etc. And for me it goes right back to the danger of self-effort and thinking I’ve got to live this Christian life, striving and all that rot. All I’ve got to do is show up, get to work, and expect God to do the same. If he doesn’t, that isn’t my problem – I showed up. Thanks again for a great encouragement.

  3. Curt McLey

    @curtmcley

    This is a very moving video and applies to almost everything we do in life. And Ron, indeed this does dovetail very nicely into your discussions on faith—working expectantly because of who we are in Christ. If you haven’t watched it, the twenty minutes invested is worth it.

  4. Benjamin Wolaver

    Very engaging, very psychologically perceptive and creatively astute. Also some of the most ludicrous New Age drivel I’ve ever heard…

  5. Aaron Roughton

    Just me, my elf, and I, working on some creative stuff. Of course, working with your elf is not as easy as it sounds. I only have my elf to blame if things go wrong. Once I laughed so hard I nearly wet my elf. That’s a quick way to shut down the magic creative process.

    I guess from a new age perspective, it sort of sounds like you’re trading anxiety and depression for schizophrenia. I’m not saying I don’t see the connection to the Holy Spirit’s work in the life of a follower of Jesus, and I certainly agree that our inspiration is far more often external than internal, I just think there’s a lot of translation that has to happen.

  6. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Benjamin, Aaron,

    Granted she is likely speaking from a relativistic mindset, seemingly saying, “Believe this, not because it’s true but because it helps.” And yes, we don’t need to go off thinking we have a daemon. Because really I don’t want a daemon – I want Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God when I write, and I not only want Him; I have Him as well. He is available.

    For me the video took the pressure off, made me realize, or rather re-cognize that Christ is the power behind what I do if I faithe in Him to be that creative power.

    We can look at any video or cd or book in a negative light, or go ahead and see the negative but see what truth lies in it. I used to go to movies looking for anti-Christian bias, and I found it everywhere. Now I see Christ, because that’s who I’m looking for. The other stuff is still there, but it’s a matter of taking what is good and leaving what isn’t, extracting the truth of a thing while spitting out the lie.

  7. Tony Heringer

    Pete,

    Where do you find this stuff? Very cool. Here is an image-bearer wrestling with the Giver of the image. She recognizes her gift as beyond her — as we all should no matter what our vocation – but without her connection to the Giver, she is fearful and maybe becoming more cavalier. That part of the talk was fuzzy, but so was her philosophy.

    I thought her assessment of young artists taking their lives insightful. When we remove God from the picture and make it all about us, we eventually lose all hope. This would be especially true from those who create and express life through their art. When she was on this part of the talk I thought of Kurt Cobain or Michael Hutchens or Janis Joplin.

    Ron,

    I concur, no matter the work God has called us to if we “work as unto the Lord” the Spirit will lead us to many wonderful places in our livelihood – even if we are chemical engineers. 

    Can you complete this thought? “All I’ve got to do is show up, get to work, and expect God to do the same. If he doesn’t, that isn’t my problem – I showed up.”

    When she made this statement with regard to her muse or genius or “house elf” not showing up, I didn’t hear a lot of reverence. I know you didn’t mean it that way, but expound on what you do when you don’t sense God’s presence. That is “I showed up.” Is that a time when maybe you pull back and go: “What am I missing?” or “Should I stop?” or “Do I go a different direction?” There are times when that happens in my work – software consultant – and while it isn’t something folks applaud, it has an audience. I’d be curious to hear your and other folks comments on that aspect of her talk.

  8. Benjamin Wolaver

    Ron,

    I totally agree. Actually, the “fantastic” element of what Elizabeth Gilbert described I don’t find that hard to swallow. I believe that the Bible demands a healthy belief in an intricate spiritual world. And certainly the core message of her speech is liberating and spiritually astute. We are not the source of our creativity. God is.

    But on another level, someone like Elizabeth Gilbert is very dangerous because she mixes enough truth with falsehood to be easily deceptive. For her, God is the occasional spiritual mentor who gives her permission to divorce her husband, move to India, and pursue “spiritual enlightenment”. Unfortunately, I think there are far too many people who swallow that kind of message hook, line, and sinker, to the destruction of marriages and lives.

    The message has strong qualities, but we have to beware of the messenger.

  9. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Tony,

    There have been times where I’ve been irreverent. I remember trying to write a gospel tune for our last record – months were going by and I was coming up with zero in the songwriting dept. Finally, not long before our last tracking sessions, I went downstairs and said out loud, “Lord, if you don’t want a gospel song on this record, if you don’t want to reach people through it, then I’m not going to worry about it. That’s Your problem.” I gave it up to Him – somewhat irreverently, because I was frustrated (God can take that; He is absurdly patient). I busied myself with email and such, and a short while later I picked up my guitar and suddenly started humming a melody. Within a half hour I had A Living Prayer, which is the last song on Lonely Runs Both Ways. It’s a very simple, childlike tune, with simple words anyone can understand. I’ve had more response from that single song than from any other that I’ve ever written.

    I don’t promote the idea of irreverence with God; some of my mine came from not hanging on enough to the other side of the immanent God which is of course the transcendent God, the Ruler, the Emperor, the one who has enough power to release the universe to blow us to bits and enough love to continue holding us in His hand. But I know my Father can handle impetuousness and frustration; He knows our frame, He knows we are dust, and He has walked these same roads of weariness, frustration, and temptation. He knows how to deal with us when we are angry – usually with silence or sometimes humor. As we grow in maturity we grow in faith – maturity and faith in our Father are one and the same thing – and that faith takes us past the mud holes where we used to stomp and scream in anger.

    This video reminded me to trust Christ as the source within me for all inspiration, whether writing gospel songs or secular. He’s the wellspring of all true creativity, distorted though it may become by passing through the soul and body.

  10. Pete Peterson

    @pete

    A couple of the comments about the “new age” nature of the subject matter caught me off guard so I just watched it again to see what was meant. I don’t see anything new-agish. I see someone who is probably not a Christian in any traditional sense talking about her divine gifts in the best way that she knows.

    I don’t know anything about her background or personal life and I don’t really need to. Anyone that engages the creative process on a regular basis will understand exactly what she is talking about and I think the points she makes about the separation of the gift from the self is right on the money.

    Unbelievers have as much capacity for wisdom and insight as some of us that claim to be ‘in the know’ do.

  11. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Pete,

    Definitely loved the separation of the gift from the self, whether in success or failure. That takes a lot of the pressure from the human self thinking it has to perform.

    Benjamin,

    I’m with you on the fantastic element. As far as what unbelievers do, they do what they must. They are following the only paths currently available to them. Paul said in 1Cor 5:12, 13, “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside.”

    The believer has a different option available – to “one” himself with Christ and follow Him by seeing Him in the mirror. If a believer sees Gilbert’s video and decides to follow her life rather than Christ, that believer probably hasn’t spent a lot of time digging in the Word. Paul’s attitude is for that person to get their rear end in gear and start walking in faith.

    I agree that the relativism of the world can affect us – but only if we continue to allow it. Much of my walk of sanctification has been to be divested of all the relativism I was raised on in the ’70s and 80s American educational system and media outlets.

    So – anyway, now I look for truth and spit out the rest. I loved Elizabeth Gilbert’s talk; it was perfectly what I needed to hear, and I wept and laughed to hear it. We all need to be reminded of where the Source is, and as George MacDonald said, “Truth is truth, whether from the lips of Jesus or Balaam.” Steven Pressfield’s War of Art, a secular book, did the same thing for me, along with The Mind of the Maker and Walking on Water.

  12. Benjamin Wolaver

    One thing’s for sure… I wish I could be that engaging and look effortless while doing so…

  13. Tony Heringer

    This quote from Ron “Truth is truth, whether from the lips of Jesus or Balaam.” reminded me of this Rich Mullins quote: “God spoke through Balaam’s ass, and he’s been speaking through asses ever since.”

    In all of life we should be looking for truth and dispensing it as well. Her articulation of something beyond her was an honest expression of her belief. I thought she was quite brave in an age of people who act like the TV character Gregory House or magician/comedian Penn Jillette. People who are quite vehement in their denial of the divine.

    However, she is espousing a philosophy in her description of her own creative process. That shouldn’t just be idle chatter to us, but it should cause us to remember the Truth.

    C.S. Lewis said “the only reason for good philosophy is bad philosophy.” Therefore, I’m not just taking from her the good and discarding the rest. I’m also thinking of how I’d counter her assertions which I know to be false from what God says in His Word. Not that I’d have to do anything with that other than perhaps preach to myself, but if I’m suddenly in the company of folks who bought her talk hook, line and sinker, I’d best be prepared to offer “the rest of the story.”

    I like how Larry Crabb put it in his book “The Silence of Adam.” Crabb said men are called to “look deeply into mystery, to honestly face the un-resolvable confusion of life, remember the character and deeds of God , to see the unseen story of God revealed in Scripture and in the events of our lives; move into the chaos of life, with the power to restore and release beauty.” That beauty is the Gospel which we can bring to bear in big and small ways.

    Ways that would not demean an artist describing her craft, but instead allow us a springboard for introducing the artist to her very creative Creator. This is a woman who is grasping for God. I hurt for her because she is close to the Kingdom. I’d say there are many who would take all of her talk to heart because there is a lot of truth to it.

    This is similar to how Paul ministered to the folks at Mars Hill. In that episode of Paul’s life he quotes pagan poets to connect them to God (Acts 17:28). That’s a great example of Paul using any means to communicate Christ to folks. We should go and do likewise.

    That is why I love Pete bringing things like this to the table. It truly ministers on many levels. Thanks Pete!

  14. Aaron Roughton

    Sorry Pete. I was being a wiseacre when I was talking about the new age element. I didn’t miss the truth. In fact, it fit right in with a sermon series I’ve been listening to about the sermon on the mount. The preacher pointed out that in Luke’s account, Jesus got specific and said that the “good thing” God gives to those who ask is the Holy Spirit. He said we needed to ask more. I don’t often ask God enough for His Spirit to be the very Breath of my Life. I rely on me. I had been listening to the sermons with a daily life/sin management mindset. This video was a great reminder to allow God to be the Breath of my creative Life as well. Thanks for posting.

    But seriously? You didn’t see ANY new age stuff in there? Not even when she paused mid-speech to feed her unicorn some more crystals so his rainbow didn’t fade? Come on.

  15. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Tony,

    Of course we are to be ready to give an answer for the faith. My point was to not throw the baby out with the bathwater, and I described what I do: I eat the truth and spit out the lies. That presupposes a familiarity with the Word, something every believer is called to. The Word of God is what keeps us from following Satan’s delusions in every form.

    The insight she has in this video of the creative process is very rewarding to me – it isn’t just idle chatter. Creativity is not just “Me working 4 God.” It is Christ working through me. It is divine impartation, divine fruition through a human channel. If we as believers have eyes to see it, it’ll feed our creativity.

    Now, of course she has her own slant; unfortunately daemons exist and do motivate creative artists; artists are sensitive people. That same faculty of sensitivity makes art fueled by the Holy Spirit a deeply powerful thing. But what we don’t realize is that God can and does use art as a means whether or not the artist is Christian. There have been many movies that have spoken to me on deep levels because I am looking for the truth in it and not the lie; I get fed by that, and my walk with Christ is deepened. The Matrix was just one of those. I spit out the Gnosticism and other unbiblical elements and took the truth of my real identity, my death and resurrection with Christ, and recognized if I walk in that identity by faith I am invincible to the devil’s attacks. When I discuss the Matrix with people do I mention the Gnostic elements? Of course. But I major on the truth.

    If I was having a discussion with her I would start with the commonalities. Then I would make the distinctions. But it’s important for us to remember that the only people Jesus hit hard verbally were the self-righteous. He reasoned with everyone else, and reasoned not from a desire to prove intellectual or moral superiority but from deep love for the lost. That’s why he was constantly surrounded by sinners. We’ve got to make sure we are loving first and telling the truth second rather than the other way round. We’re not here to convert people to Christ; we’re here to be seed-sowers. I can’t convert a single person. Only the Holy Spirit can do that. But I can throw seed.

  16. Tony Heringer

    Ron,

    Amen bro. I’m a 1 Peter 3:15 kinda guy when it comes to spreading the good news. Being prepared to give an answer, but doing so with gentleness and respect. There are many ways to do this in a winsome way.

    As to Jesus, He didn’t mince words with anyone. He called a Canaanite woman a dog (Matthew 15:26). That seems to be a bit of a hard blow, eh? There are other examples, but my point is Jesus was real with everyone. He punctured the overzealous balloons of the Pharisees for their own good. I’d also say He did it because they were leaders/teachers.

    So, in this case, I don’t know if I’d be harsh with her but, if given the opportunity, I wouldn’t let it pass without a response. We are commanded to “make disciples” by Jesus. Disciple making involves going out to people in need, introducing them to Jesus by exposing them to His Word and us (His people), teaching those who accept Jesus to be obedient to Him which starts the process all over again. How the Spirit leads us to do this is multi-faceted to be sure.

    “But what we don’t realize is that God can and does use art as a means whether or not the artist is Christian. ” – Great quote. Have you ever listened to Mars Hill Audio Journal? If you haven’t I think you’d love it. Here’s the link (http://www.marshillaudio.org/about/aboutmha.asp), it is very affordable and chock full of good conversation. A while back, there was a conversation with an author who wrote a book about how Christian authors expressed their faith in God in their work. This guy was challenged by one of his mentors to write how those who railed against God still expressed truth about God in their work. Can’t recall the specifics, but what struck me was this thought you are expressing here which goes back to my points above. Elizabeth bears God’s image and as an image bearer, she is bound to express His truth. Matrix is another good example from pop culture.

    House is another. I saw an episode recently where he acknowledged as real a priest seeing a vision of Christ. It was a process to get to that point, but it was interesting how he was driven to the conclusion.

    Since we’ve veered down this path, what do you all think of this confession from Penn Jillette? (This comes from another Rabbit Rooomer)

    His exhortation to “proselytize” doesn’t cause me to retreat from my 1 Peter 3:15 mindset because I find as I am prepared, the Spirit sends folks my way. What’s moving to me is his response to the love given. I have a similar response for the clip in this post. I’d reach out in love.

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