Vale of Tears

Grief that Inspires Creativity



Grief that Inspires Creativity

There is nothing more inventive than suffering.

Many of the writings, compositions and paintings that speak most deeply to our spirits, have emerged from the shadow of dark times.5 Just think of the impact that Joni Eriksson’s books and talks have had, following the inner struggles she won over depression in the aftermath of the diving accident that left her life permanently altered in a moment as a quadriplegic.

Rather as countries with an abundance of water harness this natural resource to produce hydro-electricity, so must we be on the lookout to find ways to use our strong grief emotions. I loved how the Abbess Hilda called her community of nuns to move beyond any trace of self-absorption back in the seventh century:

Trade with the gifts God has given you.

Bend your minds to holy learning so that you may escape the fretting moth of littleness of mind that would wear out your souls.

Brace your wills to action that they may not be the spoil of weak desires.

Train your hearts and lips to song, which gives courage to the soul.

Being rebuffed by trials, learn to laugh.

Being reproved, give thanks.

Having failed, determine to succeed.

Abbess Hilda of Whitby, 7th century

These are phrases and concepts we do so well to ponder and take to heart.

It is no wonder that those of us whose work involves prolonged and intensive thinking relax with pastimes such as painting or walking, even without the additional stimulus of grief to do so. Their repetitive rhythm soothes and releases our spirit, allowing ideas to arise from the depths of our sub-conscious. In return for little outward thought often come our most inspirited Spirit-filled thoughts.

People and situations likewise come vividly to mind when I am writing. I rarely feel so at one with my calling as when mind and spirit are working in tandem in such ways. Almost without pausing I lift them to the Lord. If I am too busy to pray in detail at the time, I make a note of the burden and return to it when I am less pressed.

If ideas for other projects come to mind, I welcome them. More focused people might be tempted to hold such thoughts at bay, lest they prove a distraction from completing the project they are engaged on. We must each do our best to follow our leading. Inspiration comes as and when it does, and I am keen to catch and carefully store each precious drop. At any point, even many years later, the Lord can shape and refine these inspirational ideas – provided that I have taken the trouble to jot them down.

I do my best, therefore, to welcome whatever ministers to my spirit, or which makes me laugh. After all, where do we get our sense of humour from, if not from God? So long as we are not using our humour to make fun of others maliciously – or as a form of denial, to pretend that our grief is not there – what better antidote to it can there be than to laugh? It releases the flow of blood to the heart, massages our vital organs and makes us feel a whole lot better!

Reflect and Pray

However intense your grief, do not despair: the time will come when your creativity will surface again.

Take time to consider: which places and relationships have refreshed and revived your soul in the past? Now may well be the time to revisit them; they may well prove a source of inspiration to inspire you to carry on the daily task of living, and to regain a measure renewed enthusiasm.6

5 Immediate examples that spring to mind in the literary world include Tennyson’s In Memoriam, Hardy’s letters to his late wife, Shelley’s poem Adonais about the death of Keats, is an intense expression of feeling on the death of his fellow poet, Keats, just as Milton’s Lycidas was. Henry King’s Exequy is likewise a lament on his young wife’s untimely death.
6 Parts of this book were written in beautiful surroundings in Shetland, Jersey and Dresden, with the final draft and proofreading being completed in Crete. Like Catherine Marshall, I hoped that writing in such inspiring places would give my book a special flavour, “like garlic rubbed on the salad bowl or a hint of rosemary in the soup!” The greater part of it was written, however, in early morning shifts between half past four and breakfast time, at a time when my mind and spirit were clear before the other demands of the day weighed in. See also my chapter ‘Towards a Life of Reflection’ in Intimacy and Eternity.