I was a sophomore in college when I received the little blue book, a gift from a friend who also wanted to be a writer. At the time I was editing the student newspaper, poring over buried leads and dangling modifiers.
Written by the legendary Madeleine L’Engle, the title spoke to me – “Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art.” It promised something deeper behind my mad dash to produce a paper.
Perched on the top of a bunk bed in a dark dorm, I highlighted this affirmation: “God is constantly creating, in us, through us, with us, and to co-create with God is our human calling.”
As I was writing headlines and wrangling reporters, I was answering a calling. I was creating with God, who formed cosmos out of chaos. My late-night work had a spiritual underpinning.
I pressed on.
Every few years I return to the book. It is the same, but I am different. A reporter. A graduate student. A newlywed. A mother.
I always pick up on the Catholic themes: wisdom from saints, a clear-eyed endorsement of icons and a meditation on Mary’s fiat.
But I find different messages for different seasons. This time I need courage. A longtime contract came to an end this year, and I have pushed myself to drum up new work. I’m re-examining my writing, my rate, my capacity for competing deadlines. I’m welcoming new ideas and new people. And for the first time in years, I’m contemplating new kinds of creative work. I’ve watched YouTube tutorials and signed up for a class, my chest throbbing.
There’s an edge to the excitement that I actually like because it is unfamiliar. I haven’t challenged myself like this in so long. The fear is a sign of the possibility.
And once again, “Walking on Water” resonates with me. “Unless we are creators, we are not fully alive,” L’Engle writes.
I’m creating, and I feel fully alive.
Lack of experience is not an issue, she reassures. “In a very real sense not one of us is qualified, but it seems that God continually chooses the most unqualified to do his work, to bear his glory.”
It’s not about talent or training. It’s about creativity and courage. It’s feeling unqualified but still accepting the invitation of a blank canvas.
My friend Jackie is on a similar journey. For too long, she’d been an art major trapped in retail. Now she’s a working artist. She summoned the courage to quit her job at Hobby Lobby, where she’d made $17 an hour as an assistant manager unloading merchandise and surveying shoplifters.
Jackie celebrated her newfound freedom with a trip to Mexico, where she landed a gig to paint two murals on a hostel: a cactus and an octopus. She hadn’t painted much before, but the murals turned out beautifully – and she had a blast.
A business was born. She reserved the domain muralsbyjackie.com and posted a Craiglist ad that generated a commission from a Wisconsin goat farm. Her next project will be a nursery.
Self-employment has been exhilarating, she said. “It’s both exciting and scary. But I think the world needs more art.”
Each of us is called to create with our paintbrushes, our homes and our lives. When we embrace art, we reflect the creation story and our own origin, that we are fearfully and wonderfully made.
The hardest part is to show up – with your two hands, your beating heart, your busy schedule and your half-baked idea. Push past the uncertainty and trust that shortcomings will enable you to go long in another direction, producing something a more proficient artist would overlook – something different, something else, something new. Something the world needs.