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Spiritual Theater – Better Than Magic

By Laura Bartnick from Welcome to the Shivoo

Magic is a popular descriptor these days.  Even Christians use the descriptors “magical” or “alchemy” playing on the idea of transformation or illumination apart from God’s creativity. Creatives can try to employ magic in a spiritual, holistic sense as though it were only a metaphor or allegory, but the practice of magic is not even close to the biblical ideas of imagination, wonder, miracles, transformation, and illumination. Magic removes the Wonderful One from the equation of creation by mimicking the wonder with a sleight of hand. It attempts to transform something or someone by blind equations of lesser powers and chemical substances. Cutting these cords between the wonder and the Giver may feel fanciful and creative, but the end is separation from God. Please know that an Illusion can be a purposeful sleight of hand, but magic is the use of deception to transform, confuse, snare, and kill. Alchemy removes the primary ingredient of God’s own purpose or design.

It was only when Adam and Eve broke confidence with their Creator that the wonder of God’s Spirit separated from them because God is Holy and cannot mingle with sin. The result was dying and death.

In love and goodness, the Lord devised another means of expression through connective blood and tissue in His covenant with us.

Imagine that God’s covenant was depicted in the performance of theatrical rituals and purposeful sacrifices. Did God mean to command that His people were to engage in the theater for purposes of illumination?

Imagine, also, that community laws and festivals allowed those practicing to gain a better understanding of His goodness and love. Imagine that they did not believe these edicts were legalism. How did it work?

Reenacting the Lord’s dramatic events kept His purposes in mind. They helped people look honestly at processing life His way. The codes and laws provided a means to treat others respectfully and compassionately.[i]

And, many of these feasts and played-out dramas were great experiences for the community. For individuals. Yet, because sin began to mar God’s creation, God would implement new theatrics, mighty works and wonders, to rescue people as He’d promised. Things like Moses and Aaron’s feats before Pharaoh, lifting up the walls of the Red Sea, providing enough oil to get His people through an assault, bringing birds and manna to eat, later, feeding the thousands with a loaf of bread and a few fish. Preserving His own. Time and time again. The drama of Queen Esther and Mordecai saving the Jews, Daniel in the lion’s den, Joseph’s technicolor coat, and the dramas of David and Goliath are still favorites in Christian theater.

In God’s creation, He contemplated rescue for any who were deaf, blind, lost, or paralyzed. He even contemplated resuscitating the dead.[ii] Passover and Resurrection are the primary and unique colors of God’s creativity. He saves souls and transforms them.

If you have been taught that winning souls is a fruit of the Spirit, check again.

The nine fruits of the spirit are listed in Galatians 5:22–23 as love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Against such things there is no law. Benedictine monks would call these spiritual practices “the conversation of life.”[iii]

So while God is primarily creating, rescuing, resuscitating the dead, we are co-creating, co-rescuing, co-resuscitating the dead. It wouldn’t surprise me to discover as we are working out our own salvation,  that these spiritual fruits will appear in artistic endeavors. Yes, they will appear in writing, and in the stressors of life’s interactions with others, but these characteristics will also win souls.

If you are a creative individual, then practice drawing from the tree of life. Bear good fruit, fruit connected to the Giver, the Source, not disconnected magical fruit.

HERE ARE SOME EXAMPLES

RITUAL FIRSTS. What does it mean in priority, to have a first child? We know that in biblical history the first child obtained the first and best, most complete blessing. The first male was dedicated to God because God claimed him.[iv] He was destined to assume the role of family leader, given authority, double inheritance, and special rights.

THE PATTERN: The Law forbade the disinheriting of the firstborn in a family.[v] The first animal to breach the womb was to be sacrificed to God or redeemed by an offering.[vi] When God reached over the first to bless the second child, He was making quite a statement, which made news several times in scripture. Jacob and Esau experienced it.[vii] Jacob later reenacted the experience with Ephraim and Manasseh.[viii] Reuben’s right as the firstborn of Jacob was taken away because of sin.[ix] When God made the earth, giving creative-mimicking powers to the first man and woman, He signified a right, rule, and inheritance over the animals and plants and other created things. Yet, in Colossians 1, Paul uses the word, “preeminent” to express the position of Christ in relationship to all things in heaven and on earth. Jesus, the Second Adam, has all rights to everything. These instances are recorded because of the anomaly: the rule of firsts was broken.

BREAKING THE PATTERN: “The Word,” personally refers to Emmanuel, God with Us. The Son of God came as the incarnation of the Father, taking on baby flesh comprised of honor and glory as beings beheld Him full of grace and truth. Our most specific right, rule, and inheritance is found in Emmanuel. Not only is He LORD, but He is also our dramatic pattern, God’s ideal Son and men are foreordained to be conformed to His image.[x] This Word of flesh creatively clothed Himself in humility, even washing the dirty feet of His followers (see the character arc?).

Christ obeyed His unique purpose to redeem us through a torturous death. He imagined, ordained, and accepted His own destination on the cross for the joy that was set before Him.  Separated from God the Father in death, He was raised again in triumph. Jesus is the first fruit of the resurrection from the dead in this drama of life,[xi] and many will follow Him in a twinkling of an eye.[xii]

Which do you think is more important to God?

a) any artistic ingenuity that births a curiosity of mind and pulls at spiritual heartstrings, or

b) the creative ingenuity that designs and manufactures a new tool to use, or

c) clear preaching or teaching to others.

Anglican Bishop N.T. Wright offers us the idea that if a set of actors faithfully follow a director, a script, and the stage direction to act out four scenes of a written play, they could be trusted to faithfully improvise a fifth act.[xiii] The details and director of this story are critical.

What does it mean to have the first fruit crop and to actually give it back to God, to give God the first fruits of your labor?

Imagine a seed germinating underground in the winter and then springing to life with the first buds of summer becoming fruit. Giving our first fruits creates an image of personal absolute reliance in the goodness of the Creator, that He will supply all you need. Additionally, this reliance is a form of giving honor. It is a model of weaving life together with His community of faith. He indicates this tithe is for sharing with the community depending upon His care, and for charity.

If you are a creative person, you require a lot of time to yourself nurturing creative processes: exploring, thinking, drafting, experimenting, journaling, producing, and working through many technicalities to produce something original or special, to improve on someone else’s prototype.

In all this excitement and stress, be sure to take time to just be with the LORD. Enjoy His gifts. His gifts are more than benefits. Enjoy His rewards. His rewards are more than benefits. They are reflections of the Giver’s heart.

Take note. These are personal embraces of God to you. And, through you, these gifts are to be primary nutrition for the community of faith and then also your gifts are for charity to strangers and foreigners to the faith.

The details of God’s law, the written word, and fleshing out the Christ, came much later in His own story and revelation. God must create before any of His other plans take hold, according to His own ordinances.

UTTER DEPENDENCE

The first thing we understand as creatives and makers is that we are utterly dependent on something or Someone higher in power and creativity than we are.  Someone Who is organizing a bigger picture of which we are a part. If we breathe in and breathe out with intention and cognizance, we can suddenly experience this human dependence on a Giver of Life and breath and health.

Adam received the first body with fingers to wield tools to put inspiration into existence, to create things. Without a physical body, how would all this godlike inspiration find a use, an expression, or an outlet? Think about how you express yourself in an abundance of physical acts of your will and of your unconscious behaviors e.g., facial expressions that escape the body with or without words.

There is a myriad of expressions in the Logos to draw from. Winemakers understand that they are completely interactive and dependent upon the weather and soil, and Who creates the nutrients in the soil and orders the rain and wind?

Much of your own creative success lies beneath the surface until it begins to resonate with others. When you are spurred by a catalyst, something new spontaneously combusts from your soul. Comedians find their talent because they discover that others find them funny. It is a gift. So, in the beginning, God’s gifts in and around you provide your raw material. What you pull together and release into the world will make for your tribute to God.

Your creativity, at first, is not often the finest expression. It shows spirit, but may lack gloss, detail, proofreading or testing. The hook, the skill, the expert choice of the right material may be missing. The performance style may need direction, and sometimes your work even lacks the proper context. Some things are invented before their time, and because they are out of pocket, people don’t recognize the significance of what has been created. This is a gift, too.

Leonardo da Vinci created many mechanical tools and systems because people needed them. On the sly, Leonardo’s God-given creativity caused him to experiment with human medicine and cadavers. He was looking into things banned as unorthodox at the time, but which later were proven to be important medical breakthroughs.[xiv]

In her book, Plain and Simple: A Woman’s Journey to the Amish, Sue Bender wrote, “I never thought to stop and ask myself, ‘What really matters?’ Instead, I gave everything equal weight. I had no way to select what was important and what was not. Things that were important didn’t get done, and others, quite unimportant, were completed and crossed off the list.”[xv]

Sue was referring to her habits of keeping her house clean, grading papers, and visiting friends, and to her desire to produce art that was special so that she would be thought of as special. “Accumulating choices was a way of not having to make a choice, but I didn’t know it at the time. To eliminate anything was a foreign concept.  I felt deprived if I let go of any choices.”[xvi]

As a creative, do you ever find yourself confused about how to prioritize your interests and activities? Do you feel like a jar of river water all shaken up, unable to be still long enough to let the sediment settle into its layers? Deciphering layers of each character and layers of the story itself takes time.  Meaning takes time.  Time, work, rest, and reflection are cyclical gifts.

Notice, part of the communication cycle is meditation or rest, not of words, but of simply being human and enjoying relationships in spiritual reflection offered as “Sabbath.”  Don’t neglect your God-ordained quiet interludes, but rather to think, receive dreams, and rethink. Jesus said the Sabbath was made for human benefit.

Creating in a personal void is really creating with the raw materials given by the Heavenly Father, both the acid and the sweetness in a life, and the opportunities given by the Great Designer. Like a child is utterly dependent upon his or her parent for the raw materials of life, and for some directives and guidance, so a Creative is dependent on the Creator’s supply and purposes. If He stops everything. That’s it. If He opens an avenue, a journey, and favor in a direction, that is the direction we will most assuredly take and find purpose.

Yahweh commanded his prophet, Hosea, to marry a “wife of whoredom”.[xvii] This Hebrew term indicates illicit sexual behavior.  Moses used the word in Genesis 38:24 to refer to Tamar’s posing as a shrine prostitute in order to entice Judah to do his duty under the law by her since he had refused to give her his son in marriage, as was her God-ordained right of survival. In both cases, these theatrical acts were ordained by God for purposes that took time to unfold and to be understood. Sometimes, images given to creatives to use in our work are means

the Lord uses to teach us as we are mulling them over, implementing them, and offering them to our audience.  These images and tools are gifts entrusted to and for us for our good, and then as we hone and share them, they become gifts to others.

Jesus went to the desert to be alone with His Father God for 40 days.[xviii] Moses ran from Pharaoh into the desert where he stayed for the rest of his life as a nomad.[xix]  Not all who wander are lost.  Jesus became so full of His experience with His Father that when Satan came to tempt Him, Jesus’ retorted, “I have food you know nothing of.”[xx] When Moses left all of the riches, authority, and the attachments of his stepmother and her royal household behind, he found his exquisite wife and became the leader whom God intended for him to become.[xxi]  All this came to being through communion with God. To find meekness through self-examination as Moses did, or strength to face all the temptations of life as Jesus did, consider the solace of the Father’s company alone when you need direction.

BEING CUNNING WITH RAW MATERIALS

Creativity is, in essence, being “cunning.” This word has taken on a sour connotation, as has the word “creative,” but biblically, cunning is only defined in the positive sense. It means being ingenious, gifted with finesse, wise.[xxii] Yet, if you set something newly created before an audience, it might not appear all that good. You might get a stunned look, a jail sentence, or nervous laughter for reward. Being a creative person requires that you continue to focus on the standards of the craft to improve. Standards belong to the Lord. Ideas, lyrics, melodies, and fairy tales are improved with practice and honing, with measures of accountability and with renewed teamwork. New renderings and settings often improve upon the original. Yet, none of this improvement or public applause will exist without embarking, creatively formatting, plotting the vision.

Understand, the Godhead always creates first in the Spirit with His Word. He creates for His own circle of joy! His creation formed and decorated a setting for us to experience belonging.

All good ideas, all good results from hard research, all good inspiration are directly given from the Creator’s hand. Often, He even gives His inspiration and anointing to those who do not recognize Him. Everybody serves God’s purposes. We are all servants. This is why incredible art and the classics in literature exist apart from having been created by a believer in the Triune God.  His boundaries and purposes are not ours.

Still, I would rather be a friend of God, a beloved of the Creator, than a mere servant. Wouldn’t you?

I hope you understand that you, personally, your good, and your work in conjunction with His image are of high priority. He invests a lot of Himself into you on a daily basis. You’re always welcome to the Shivoo! He’s said so many times, in many ways.

“For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives,  so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.”[xxiii]

Rule 1: DEPENDENCE. Breathe in.  Consider your own dependence on the Creator. Let your body become a living sacrifice to God. Imagine offering each part of your body to Him. BREATHE out with His authority.

 

[i] Lev. 1–27.

[ii] Matt. 11:5;.

[iii] “Benedictine-Values,” MaterChristi, last modified 2019, materchristi.edu.au/benedictine-values.

[iv] Exod. 13:2; 22:29–31; 34:19.

[v] Deut. 21:15–17.

[vi] Exod. 34:19.

[vii] Gen. 27:1–29 BSB.­

[viii] Gen. 48:13–22.

[ix] Gen. 35:22; 49:1–4.

[x] Rom. 8:29.

[xi] 1 Cor. 15:20.

[xii] 1 Cor. 15:52.

[xiii] N. T. Wright, “How Can The Bible Be Authoritative?,” Vox Evangelica 21 (1991), p.18.

[xiv] “Science”, Anatomy in Leonardo da Vinci., N.P., https://www.leonardo-da-vinci.ch/science.

[xv] Sue Bender, Plain and Simple: A Woman’s Journey to the Amish, (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1991), 89.

[xvi] Bender, 141.

[xvii] Hosea 1:2.

[xviii] Matt. 4:1–11.

[xix] Exod. 2:15–21.

[xx] Matt. 4:1–4.

[xxi] Exod. 2:15–21; 3:1–Deut. 4:5. These passages of Moses’ life tell of how he met and married his wife, and how he became the leader God intended him to be leading Israel

from captivity and later provided Israel with God’s own instruction on how to live.

[xxii] W. L. Walker, “Cunning” In The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, edited by James Orr, N.P.,1915. http://classic.studylight.org/enc/isb/view.cgi?number=T2446.

[xxiii] Col. 1:9–10.

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A Spouse’s Blessed Persuasion

By G.K. Johnson, author of The Zealots

Suddenly I was out of excuses. I stood at the starting line of a race I’d always wanted to run. When a major life change came our way, my husband and I decided that “now” was the time to give my writing dream a shot. Or at least, my wise husband did. God bless him. I started getting excited.

For years, I knew the story God had put on my heart. I knew who I wanted my main character to be and I knew the general gist of the storyline, random points of climax, the fuzzy details between.

Whenever I was asked about a dream I hoped to achieve in my lifetime, I often said, “I want to write a book!” But for years I never put pen to paper. The thought of doing so wore the luster off the idea of being an author. How would I begin? If I didn’t start the ‘right’ way, all would be lost!

Fear of Being a ‘Said Failure’

Looking back on it now, I know the reason I kept putting off my dream. I was afraid of failure.

Perhaps more than being afraid of failure, I was afraid of the ensuing consequences of being a ‘said failure’. What would it mean about me if I wrote something I thought was good, only to find out nobody else liked it? Telling people I had the intention to write a book one day sounded great and impressive but. . . hollow because I never actually sat down to do it.

My husband has a keen sense of discernment. He knew the real reason I was holding back the writing before I did. He urged me to take this opportunity to fulfill my dream. To treat writing like a job and get serious about it.

Getting Serious

I began to imagine my life as a writer. I pictured myself holding a beautifully covered novel, signing books, speaking at events. With these visions in mind, I sat down at my Mac one morning and hit ‘go’ on my stopwatch, the closest thing I had to ‘clocking in.’

I began to write no matter how I felt. I began treating writing like a job. My intention was to write for eight hours. If I was treating this like a job and giving it my utmost effort, that was the thing to do, right? I had no outline, I literally just started writing.

Two Hours In, Mentally Exhausted

Library Story Hour – The Zealots

I know some people can write in coffee shops or listen to music in the background and be incredibly productive but that’s not me. When I write I need silence. This is a bummer because I love the romantic idea of writing a bestseller in a coffee shop while drinking a mocha. It just doesn’t work for me. Anyway. I had typed for two hours and I felt pretty good about what I had on paper, but my brain was worn out.

I stared out the window and wondered how I was going to fill six more hours with productive writing when I felt creatively wrung out. It felt as though my fear of being a failure was already becoming a reality.

What Happened

Halfway through I realized I really needed an outline and wrote one.

After that day of trying to write for eight hours, I realized that was an impossible goal. For me at least. My sweet spot used to be two to four hours of writing a day. Any more than that, and I noticed that the quality of my writing went downhill.

Ultimately I finished that novel several months later.

This time period included several teary breakdowns in which I insisted ‘I can’t do this’ and my husband reminded me I could.

My writing career got even more complicated when our baby came home. Now, I needed to consult with my editor, make changes, rereads, and begin to blog. I squeezed in writing between my infant son’s nap times.

I’m learning that the practice of writing is a fluid thing-ebbing and flowing with seasons of life. I brew myself a cup of coffee for that romantic ‘close-as-I-can-get to a coffee shop’ feeling, but my brew usually gets cold before I drink it. Why? Because my goal is to write and I’m doing that.

My finished manuscript was accepted by a publisher, edited, and finally, my book was published by Capture Books, complete with the important aspects that make a professionally published book sell (hooray!).

In the first month after its release, I didn’t do any book signing events unless you count the ones I signed at my dining room table and sent out. And no one has asked me to speak at their event. Of course, there is a pandemic needing to be quieted for the population to feel comfy in group settings.

In the Midst of the Process

I sent my book to some friends for their feedback and while most of them said nice things, some didn’t like every part of the book.

Yikes, that must have triggered my fear of failure, right?

Well yes and no. Yes, I would be happy if everyone who picked up my book loved it! And yes, it stings a little when someone tells me they don’t like a certain part. But it’s impossible that every person would connect with my genre and writing style. Concerning the story critique, if I’m being honest, I appreciate their input! It’s cliche, but without constructive criticism, it would be impossible for me to grow as a writer. So I’m doing my best to take all the feedback and sort through it. This is the life of a writer.

This week, I was awarded a stunning editorial review from BookLife, an arm of Publishers Weekly.  You may want to read it here.

Here’s the Thing. . . I-Wrote-A-Book.

God told me to write a story and I wrote it. Perhaps this has been the biggest takeaway for me from this entire process. At the end of the day, regardless of whether everyone likes it, I followed through. So when God puts something on your heart believe that He will give you the resources to do it. The support of my husband was crucial throughout the process of writing The Zealots. He is God’s blessing to me.

That first step is scary, but I promise that you will learn so much in following through and accepting the resources the Lord offers. Let someone special in to your writing life to hold you accountable and to help persuade you when you are not “feeling it.” The Lord will be with you every step of the way. When you’re listening to His voice you can’t fail.

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