Now, I must needs pick up a different thread and follow that into the creative tangle. That thread, my darlings, is the religious one. Over time, I developed a view of God that ate away at my soul like a ravaging disease. Somehow, I came to believe that the only way I could make God happy was to sacrifice whatever I held most dear about myself. And, of course, what I prized most about myself was my creativity...
Last week, my lovelies, I started telling you the story about how I forgot my creative purpose. When I first pondered relating this tale, I thought I would approach it in logical, yea even chronological fashion.
Alas and alack and forsooth, I’ve discovered that I just can’t do it. Too many threads of my personal history are too tightly interwoven with each other, and there’s nary a way I can untangle them all so that they make chronological sense.
In Part 1 of my Confessions, I talked about giving everyone in my life permission to determine what I did with my creativity. I gave it to everyone except myself. In Pt. 1, I described to you some of my thought patterns back then…
…and now, I must needs pick up a different thread and follow that into the creative tangle.
And that thread, my darlings, is the religious one.
Zounds and gadzooks, this one is gonna hurt.
Tangles and Tarnation
I won’t spend time delineating the particulars of the faith I was raised in. Suffice it to say I grew up surrounded by religious folk who were conservative, tradition-minded, and focused on Doing The Right Thing. As an adult, I’ve come to realize that within the confines of the United States, the denomination I was raised in is considered pretty rigid.
In Germany, however, flexibility was vital. The church my parents and I attended was composed mainly of American military servicemembers and their families. Because of military rotation, the congregation had a new face every few years. People came and went — people who hailed from various stateside cultures and religious backgrounds. If the church was to survive as a group, everybody had to swallow their pride in certain traditions. Some rituals and patterns of thought remained the same; but nobody had the luxury of resting on the easy laurels of dogma.
On top of that, I was blessed with parents who demanded I think and speak for myself. I asked questions, requested honesty, and made a beloved nuisance of myself to the church leadership. (Fortunately, the leadership changed every few years, so I didn’t develop a reputation.) *grin*
But in spite of all this freedom of religious thought, I still managed to tangle up a few things. I heard a lot of preaching and teaching about self-sacrifice and about putting others’ needs ahead of my own. Both fantastic principles — when understood and applied correctly.
Unfortunately, I neither understood nor applied correctly.
Over time, I developed a view of God that ate away at my soul like a ravaging disease. Somehow, I came to believe that if I didn’t do things to make God happy, he would send me to hell. And the only way I could make God happy was to sacrifice whatever I held most dear about myself.
And, of course, what I prized most about myself was my creativity.
I told myself that I loved God. I told others that I loved God. You’d be impressed with my acting skills, dear inklings: My surface faith was so convincing, it would numb your brain. I had myself convinced, that’s for sure.
But all the while, I feared that God would someday demand I pay up. I lived in terror that God would say, “You’ve put your creativity on a pedestal long enough! It’s time to give that back to me.”
I came to see myself as a type of Abraham. Abraham laid Isaac, his son, on the sacrificial altar with a knife poised to plunge into the boy’s chest.
I believed that God would require me to stretch my artist child out upon just such an altar — and rip the artist child’s living heart out.
Remember what I said in Confessions, Pt. 1 about how I bent to society’s expectations? Take what I just said about sacrifice and extrapolate:
When society insisted that I should Get A Good Job, Make Something Of Myself, and Contribute Responsibly, I thought it was God, telling me to pay up.
When individuals demanded that I write or paint only Happy Encouraging Things instead of gritty truth, I thought it was God, telling me to sacrifice.
When people I trusted told me to give up my writing time in favor of what others needed of me, I thought it was God, putting the ritual knife into my trembling, unwilling, sinful fingers.
Years of depression. Years of fear: fear of God, fear of rejection, fear for my inner artist child. I was terrified of what looked, to me, like a bleak and unbearable future. I berated myself for my secret unwillingness to sacrifice. I thought I was just weak of soul. I questioned my worth.
I all but quit writing. I had nightmares of murder and guilt. My paintings turned ever darker, and I received criticism for them. The word “demonic” was used.
I thought it was God, telling me I had no right to cause such trouble with my controversial art.
I was wrong.
That was not God.
The Creator does not work that way.
But I wouldn’t realize those Truths for a long time.
Come back Thursday. I’ll confess another thread of the story — and point us toward a happy ending.
I welcome all of your thoughts on these things.
What questions do you have for me?