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/ 13 November 2017

Spiritually Healthy Creativity

Renowned writer, Murray Watts discusses how to maintain a strong faith and yet be creative in life.

Recently, about 60 creative people met at St Mellitus College in Kensington, for a unique and inspiring day, which allowed people of all creative persuasions to come together, and to revel and delight in their God-created ingenuity, artistry, and to celebrate who they are.

The Spiritually Healthy Creativity day hosted a number of workshops and two keynote speakers, who gave heartfelt advice on living as a creative, in a pressurised world, while growing in the Christian faith. The speakers, the acclaimed writer Murray Watts and Karen Covell (of the Hollywood Prayer Network) were the highlights of the day. Together with the workshop leaders, they taught practical ways for artists to flourish in their creativity and in their faith.

Murray, who has written and directed in the theatre and TV over the last 35-years, also founded the Wayfarer Trust, which works with people in the arts and media to provide strong encouragement and spiritual inspiration. He also founded Riding Lights Theatre Company, and spoke about his deep hope for those who work in the arts. Using his experience writing the BBC manual for stress management, and reflecting on how artistic people are some of the most erratic in society, he highlighted the need for creatives to be ambassadors of hope. They need to be distinguished by creative and spiritual integrity, so they can have an impact for good on the wider UK society.

Referencing the former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, he noted the phrase that we need to create ‘Ecologies of Hope’ – environments were hope is likely to flourish. To this, he suggested that we all be like trees that are healthy, whole, integrated, with strong roots. Murray suggested that Jesus did not come to make us Christians, but to make us grow more fully as men and women, and to realise our full potential in the image of God. He noted artists can grow like a healthy tree, with roots in the stream of life, which he compared to stillness, silence, worship and listening out for God. Focussing on what can disrupt this, he looked at narcissism, fear of failure, striving for perfectionism, when we should be focussing on doing our best.

The second keynote speaker, Karen Covell, a producer in the US and founder of the Hollywood Prayer Network, highlighted how prayer can help people of faith root themselves in a solid ground of spiritual health, and she encouraged everyone to use prayer as part of everything they do. Noting the Hollywood Prayer Network started with just six people in 2001 and is now almost 10,000 people strong. Covell asked us not to hate Hollywood but to pray for the industry professionals in the US and the UK, especially after the Harvey Weinstein revelations.

After a lunch of great food, networking and good conversation, the workshops kicked off, starting with London resident and Founder of Morphē Arts Alastair Gordon. His workshop looked at Signs of God In Contemporary Art. Comparing the recent works of Stabat Mater by James MacMillan at the Barbican, the 2017 Reith Lecture looking at the role of creed and scripture in modern Britain, and works at Tate Modern, and the Donmar Warehouse, Gordon suggested there may be a Christian renaissance in the creative arts.

In a different room, Dr Sara Schumacher, Tutor and Lecturer in Theology and the Arts at St Mellitus College, led a discussion on Renewing Your Mind: Reimagining the Spiritual Disciplines in a Digital Age. With many commentators suggesting that digital technology is changing our minds, literally, the debate ranged on what does this mean for all as artists? What does the renewal of our minds in this new age look like? Sara helped those on the day, to re-imagine the age-old spiritual disciplines for life in a digital world. Drawing on the work of theologians as well as sociologists, she explored the points of intersections, divergence and how artists contribute to the flourishing of all people in society.

Later in the afternoon, Missioner to the Creative Industries, and The Haven + London’s Director, the Revd Peterson Feital, looked at Living with the Creative Temperament. In this session, he highlighted that being a creative means having a “type” of temperament that often feels misunderstood. Peterson proposed a shift in how the church should change this dialogue. Commenting on the workshop he said:

“The church has in the past been seen as patron to the arts, but now the church needs to be seen as the patron to artists”.

In this workshop, he shared his own journey of being a creative in a church with the pain and the liberation to be free to express who you are. This was also echoed in a workshop by Murray Watts, who looked at inner censorship of the voices in our heads which whisper, ‘Don’t write that – my parents, friends, the church won’t approve!’  He noted John Updike, who often said ‘always write as if your parents are dead.’ In other words, use the phrase the ‘truth will set you free’, as the writer must be free at all costs.

Murray noted the great screenwriting guru, Robert McKee who said:

‘Every screenwriter has a duty not to be politically correct’.

Murray went on to challenge the whole self-love, self-obsession of today’s world. Quoting McKee he again suggested that artists should believe in their self, as everybody is special and unique.

Lastly, Karen Covell ran informative sessions on how prayer helped many of the artists present and looked at the best ways in which it can help individuals to progress in their profession. To round up the day all present were treated to stunning Jazz Eucharist, led by the Revd Jez Carr of All Souls St Margarets, in Twickenham.

The day was seen as a great chance for all the creatives who attended to feel valued and to be recognised by the church. Many of them left feeling that their God-given talents were cherished.

Poet Sarah de Nordwall left feeling appreciated and supported. She said:

“I’ve been banging on about the need for the church to support artists for years in my own church. At last, there are Christians who support, love and cherish the talents that artists give to enhance the life of wider society.

Non-fiction writer and painter Sharon Angell commented about how exhilarating the day was and stated:

“I found the whole day exciting, encouraging and inspiring. There was something rich about the atmosphere in sensing the presence of God and linking together with other creatives from all spheres. It was wonderful to come together to learn, share and encourage one another. I also loved the Jazz Eucharist at the end! When is the next one?”

See online to find out more about the Creatives Network or you can join via a very short form.

About Matthew Hall

Matthew Hall was the diocesan Communications Assistant, before going on to become a Franciscan Friar with the Society of St Francis. Matthew seeks to protect the environment. He adores hiking and being outdoor in the country or by the sea in nearly all weather. He dreams of hiking to Rome and Jerusalem.

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