As you may have guessed, I enjoy spending time on the North Coast of Ireland, and writing about the places here that I love. It can be an inspiring place to go walking, to swim, to drink coffee with family and friends, to read, to think, and to write. But there are spiritual connections too. It was in this part of the world that I first came to faith in Christ. I was baptised as a teenager, and later married, in Heathmount Hall, in the seaside town of Portstewart.
So the unexpected invitation to join with women from across Ireland at the Arise Conference at Portstewart Baptist Church earlier this summer, to explore the practice of creativity in the context of the Christian faith, and specifically the conference text, Psalm 91, was very special.
'Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust' Psalm 91 vv 1-2
As I prepared for the seminar, it dawned on me that the conference was taking place on 11th June, 2022. The date made me stop for a minute or two and think. I left my perch at the kitchen table and made my way to the bookshelves in the next room. I was looking for a small, leather-bound copy of the Believers’ Hymn Book. Gladys, my Sunday School teacher in Portstewart, gave this little book to me as a gift when I became a Christian. In the inside cover she had written just a few words: ‘To Sharon, Psalm 121, 11th June 1981’. I’m no mathematician, and I don’t usually go for auspicious dates, but the date of the Arise Conference fell exactly 41 years to the day since that early date in my Christian journey. It felt like God was giving me a new opportunity – or a new responsibility – to go back to Portstewart to let people know that over the last 41 years, God has been faithful.
The little hymn book given in Portstewart has travelled with me. I have sung the beautiful words of the old hymns it contains many, many times. They are richly crafted lyrics – many written by women – that reflect on God as our refuge and fortress, just as in Psalm 91.
I’m not sure if Gladys knew, but she couldn’t have given a better gift. Words and music have become an important part of my life.
As I shared with the women at the seminar, I have become fascinated by creativity. I have observed close friends and family who take its practice seriously. They work hard and are very good at what they do. The focus of my studies for many years has been writing and the creative process. I also have the privilege of investing in the important business of talent development in children and young people. I am blessed with three children who are now young adults. And my ‘day job’ involves mentoring exceptionally talented student teachers as they lead learning in schools here in Ireland and further afield.
The title I was given for seminar was ‘Abiding in Creativity’. To keep the coastal theme going, it’s a topic that really floats my boat! As school is out now for the summer, I’m back at the coast, with a bit more time to write. And as this is Ireland in July, while the rest of the UK has been experiencing a heatwave, we have been dodging the rain. A window of opportunity, perhaps, to open up the conversation and tease out some of the things we considered in the ‘Abiding in Creativity’ seminar in Portstewart back in June. We will look at each of these in turn in more detail in future posts, but for now, here’s a short summary.
We reflected firstly on our Creative Calling. We are all made in the image of the most amazing Creator God, and so each and every one of us has been given the gift of creativity. What that might look like in practical terms in our individual lives may be very diverse. That is all part of the joy.
We also thought about Creative Declaration: our specific calling as Christians to tell out the wonders of God, His creation and His New Creation. To proclaim the living hope we have in His Son Jesus Christ.
Finally, we spent a bit of time together in silent thinking (and scribbling and sketching!) about Creative Blessing. This is a kind of umbrella term for the many different ways we can live creatively for the blessing of other people and to God’s glory in our own lives. Gladys’s kind gift of the hymn book, and the song lyrics within its covers, are examples of this. The idea was to reflect, in the space of the seminar, on a little project, small or big, that would be life giving and bless others.
There wasn’t enough time of course – there never is – but it was a start. A gentle nudge perhaps for someone who has had an idea on the back burner for a while, but not yet transferred it from the imagined to the concrete. Or encouragement to take another incremental step along an ongoing creative journey. My prayer is that God would use our imaginations, and the working out of our dreaming into creative activity, to bring Him glory, and to be a life-giving influence in our small corners of His world.