by Elder Neal A. Maxwell
Righteous work is our love of God and of our neighbors being made manifest! Creative work is a special expression, “a more excellent way” (1 Cor. 12:31), of showing that love. Creative expression can also represent the celebration of our gratitude to God for our gifts and talents.
When by wise self-management we are creative, then we mortals taste what Pascal called “the dignity of causality,” the capacity to cause that which had not existed in quite that way before! Something pertaining to truth and beauty occurs that would not have happened quite that way without us! Thus as “agents unto” ourselves we use the power that is in us to do good, but also to do it well, whether our creativity involves the use of our voice, our hands, our muscles, or our conceptual powers.
True creativity, as it reflects our capacity to see or to produce something in a new way, represents a restructuring that carries our individual imprint and uniqueness. Such can be equally true of the inventor and the painter, of the pianist as well as the poet.
Thus creativity involves both a process and a result. It springs out of our seeing possibilities that we have not seen before and out of seeing connections between patches of truth and beauty and responding to them in ways we have not done before. Feelings that lead to poetry, mental imagery that leads to painting, and pondering that gives birth to prose are but examples.
Creativity, therefore, is not simply innovation but organization. Clearly self-discipline is required as part and parcel of that self-discovery which is paralleled by the discovery of the universes, vast and small, of which we are a part.
Gospel gladness can give us a precious perspective about all these things and can spur us on to share that beauty which God helps us to create. It is a process that should not trouble itself overmuch, initially, with questions of originality and utility but, rather, with quality and excellence.
Artistic and creative expressions that occur in conformity with reality and with the sublime and eternal truths help to deliver on that marvelous promise that “men are that they might have joy” (2 Ne. 2:25) and help us to “have [life] more abundantly” (John 10:10) by showing us “a more excellent way” (1 Cor. 12:31)
A creative Frank Lloyd Wright observed, “In much of our preparation we don’t really know what we are preparing for.” We need to trust the Lord as He sculpts and shapes our soul, as did a young man, Enoch. At the time of his call, Enoch observed, “I …. am but a lad, and all the people hate me, for I am slow of speech” (Moses 6:31). Yet he trusted the Lord and went on to become the greatest city builder in human history. His city-state was the only instance in recorded human history when the righteousness of a people did not relapse. But he began by feeling inadequate and wondering aloud what the Lord had for him to do. Yet, most importantly, he trusted the Lord and aligned himself with the Lord. Then his creative genius and gifts were given special expressions, and many were blessed!
But La! a shining Seraph comes!
Hark! ‘tis the voice of sacred Truth:
He smiles, and on his visage blooms,
He speaks of things before untold,
Reveals what men nor angels knew,
The secret pages now unfold
To human view.
(Maureen Ursenbach Beecher, “Eliza R. Snow,” in Vicky Burgess-Olson, ed., Sister Saints, Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1978.)
Since all truth comes from God, when we celebrate truth in creative breakthroughs, whether in new understanding of molecular structure or in the beauty of new sculpture or a new painting or new poetry, we are acknowledging the resplendent order in God’s universe.
Beauty and truth are all about us, beckoning us to respond. But perspiration usually precedes inspiration, and pondering, reverentially, almost always occurs before we make any breakthrough. Creative work is sweet, but it is work!
Someone said to a hesitant, prospective woodcarver who didn’t know quite how to begin, “Start making some chips!”
Our first feeble efforts are often no more than that. But they are a beginning. [We] have made more than a beginning. If [we] will now pursue their talents, [we] will find [we] have “miles to go before [we] sleep” (Robert Frost, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”). And all others who feel creative stirrings within themselves should begin the journey of a lifetime in partnership with God, who significantly has accepted as one of His designations the title of “Creator.”
The late Elder Richard L. Evans had a caring mentor, Elder James E. Talmage, who had him rewrite certain pieces for the Millennial Star dozens of times. Irritating though the rewriting must have been, Elder Evans was grateful for such tutoring, and all of his readers, later on, were grateful. Because of the honing and shaping influence that occurred in the life of that young man, he was permitted, through his articulation, to bless the rest of us.
While true creativity is something that can be shared by those who appreciate the works of creation, true creativity does not depend entirely for its satisfactions upon consumers. It is highly personal experience in which we are grateful to the Lord for helping us to see beauty and truth and the order of things, for restructuring our understanding of things, if necessary, to accord with things “as they really are” (Jacob 4:13). Creative experience is intrinsically satisfying. Then whatsoever appreciation comes from others for one’s efforts – such an added blessing!
The greater our sensitivity to the Spirit, the greater our response to beauty, grace, and truth in all their forms as these exist about us. Our righteousness opens us up like a blossoming flower to both detail and immensity. Sin, on the other hand, closes us down; it scalds the taste buds of the soul.
After all, was it not the Creator of the worlds who called our attention to the beauty of the lilies of the field, to the power in the tiny mustard seed, and to the leaves on the fig tree?
Was it not that same Creator who also asked us, as we observe the heavens, planets, and stars moving in their orbits, to remember that when we have so observed, we have “seen God moving in his majesty and power”? (D&C 88:47)
There is so much to see and so much to celebrate righteously. Indeed, appreciation for the world (and all in it) which God has given us is but a prelude to adoration of the God who has so gloriously displayed His creativity for us. Creativity permits us to see the wondrous order of things, their infinite beauty, their scope, but also their incredible detail. To use the words of Moses, we then see and feel things which we “never had supposed” (Moses 1:10).
By Neal A. Maxwell