This last weekend, I had the privilege of attending the Inklings Conference put on by Square Halo Books in Lancaster, PA. Square Halo Books seeks to “publish extraordinary books for ordinary saints,” and they are also connected with The Rabbit Room, an online community which “cultivates and curates stories, music, and art to nourish Christ-centered communities for the life of the world.”
When I first found out about this conference in December, I knew immediately that I needed to go. I could tell these were my kind of people, and I could also tell that my soul was in desperate need of inspiration again. These words struck a spark of hope in me –
“Our hope is that this conference will plant seeds of generativity in the imaginations of those who attend; that this weekend together will be a time to encounter generosity of spirit, experience genesis moments, and enjoy the fruit of generational thinking. And, having feasted on this richness, we hope to see people take all of these ideas and experiences back across the country to the people God has given them and in the places he has planted them” (“Creativity, Collaboration, & Community: An Invitation to 2022’s Inklings Conference”).
I felt like I had been in a creative “drought,” and I was certain that this conference would awaken my senses to wonder and delight once again. And I couldn’t have been more right. The entire weekend, in fact, was integral in helping me see my creative purpose again and discover fresh insights in dozens of ways. And this was a key goal of the conference – to bring about creativity through community. In listening to workshops and speakers and through individual conversations, we grew deeper in understanding of our art and creative passions.
In hopes of processing and remembering what I learned and sharing some of it with you, here are a few of the key takeaways from this past weekend.
Consumption Can Kill Creativity or Curate It
I realized as I slowed myself down this weekend that I have gotten well out of the habit of simply observing, being, and thinking—all key traits for a writer to have. I have allowed the consumption of media to displace time for making and creating, even in my own mind. Even the good things that I’m reading and listening to have filled up every corner of my life so that there’s no room to process and think of new things to write about.
Unfortunately, our culture is saturated in consumption, and in one conversation I had with a new friend at the conference, we talked about what a negative effect this has on our kids and teens. They are always looking for distraction and stimulation which greatly limits their capacity to create out of their own imagination.
In another conversation with my friend taking me to the airport, we discussed the necessity to put aside media at times when going for walks and simply talk to the Lord and listen for the quiet things he reveals to us in the silence. And as my friend pointed out, what good are all the things we’re consuming if we’re missing out on the best thing, which is our relationship with God? In those quiet moments of communion, he often reveals things that we can then put forth into our creativity – but we sometimes miss it in our abundance of consumption.
There are things that we can consume that can curate our creativity, and I discovered these in writers and artists this weekend that inspired me and pushed me to new depth of thought. I just have to put healthy boundaries on my consumption of books and media and ask myself whether it’s helping or hindering my creativity.
Every Creative Endeavor, No Matter How Small, Can be Used by God
One featured event at this conference was the staged dramatic reading of the short story Leaf by Niggle by J.R.R. Tolkien. Unfortunately, I couldn’t squeeze it into my schedule of workshops and activities, but several speakers referenced it in their talks, bringing to light different facets of the story. Niggle is a painter, who spends his life working on a painting of a tree, which he never finishes and is often frustrated by when working on it. But when he goes to heaven, he sees his painting full and complete, just the way he had always imagined it.
One speaker encouraged those of us who feel like we’re so busy with other things in life that we can’t spend enough time on our art or creativity, saying that it’s not a waste. God is using every kind of creativity, whether in direct artistic measures or in indirect ways of keeping a home, tuning up a car, or studying infectious diseases.
Another speaker reminded us to steward our love and loving things well because it will not be wasted in eternity. God will use it all. What a beautiful concept for this girl who often laments the lack of time in her life to be creative.
We Are Striving for Reunification through Our Art
One of my favorite workshops about Tolkien and his poetry talked about how our relationship to God and the world around us has been fragmented. The unity that we once shared as an extension of the unity within the Trinity has been lost. However, through our art, we are striving for reunification.
One of the ways we do that, the speaker said, was through “naming the world.” One of our tasks as humans is to name the world (as Adam’s first task was in the Garden of Eden). We must see the world as God sees it, and as we name it through our poetry, our art, and our story-telling, we know it on a deeper level. And as she said, “To name something is to discover something about its purpose.”
So this process of art-making is not just a fun “hobby” – it’s integral to who we are as humans participating in bringing back the unity lost in the fall. As we name things, we will start to see them as they truly are and help others to see them as well. And in this way, we are drawing each other back into the rich fellowship shared with the God of the universe.
Cultivate the Vision for a Flourishing Community
A point one speaker brought out was that “every artist needs to live in mutual dependence in community. He needs the community for his art to flourish.” That point was brought vividly to life throughout the whole conference as we shared the gifts we loved and saw new ways to grow in them.
However, it’s an idea that needs to be brought home and implemented. I love the community that I share with the small groups at my church, but I also want to be intentional about cultivating a love for creativity in community. I’ve done this in small ways over the past year as I’ve done artistic things in groups. But I also want to seek out a group who will share my love for reading and writing and growing in them together. If I don’t have that accountability for my writing or someone who gives me new insight about it, I often don’t seek to grow in it as I should. Thus, one of my goals this year is to find that community, however small it might be, and be consistent in building it up.
Recognize that You are Simply a Part of What God is Doing
Finally, the author Douglas McKelvey (who wrote Every Moment Holy) shared in his workshop with Ned Bustard (who illustrated it) that at the end of your creating, you should have the sense that you got to be a part of something that God was doing. This helps us ward against pride, envy, self-promotion, and greed in our work, and helps orient our thinking in the proper perspective.
As creatives, it’s natural for us to look for approval from other people. We need to know if they liked it so that we can continue making things that will please them. However, this really ends up being a way of measuring our own self-glorification, even as we might offer words of professed modesty. Instead, we should look for the needs of those around us and seek how we might meet those needs with our art.
And as we do so, we also need to ask ourselves, “Am I willing to still be faithful in stewarding the gifts I’ve been given even if I don’t see measures of ‘success’?”
Sometimes the art is just for us and God—a way of processing what he’s teaching us and offering it back as a gift. And sometimes he uses that art to encourage one or two other people; sometimes a host of other people. Regardless, we must be faithful with our creativity and continue pursuing it, even if it never becomes “famous” or widely recognized. If God has called us to it, then he will be well pleased with our pursuit of it.
There could be so many more things I could say from all I learned, but this is where I end for now. I’m grateful for the faithfulness of those who planned and carried out this conference as God led them to so that many, like myself, could be blessed and encouraged by it.
May this year continue to be one of bringing glory to God through all our artistic and creative endeavors.