The Holy Dwells in Dark Places: Using Creativity to Connect with Hope.
To approach the topic of hope, of being a power for good, for lighting a way out of this new dark, we have to begin somewhere.
This is the sixth draft of this post, the previous five of which have begun in anger. My anger is fierce, strong, and unrelenting. Every day, a savory news item adds to my fire. But less readable than my anger was the part where I wrote about being a stand for love, no matter what, and a stand for beauty, no matter what. Those, I wrote, are my superpowers.
But with every revision, I realized I sound preachy and right, like I have all the answers. Believe me, I do not have all the answers. Especially when news sources fling darkness and challenge, stories from Congress, or Standing Rock or the Congo or the Arctic sink me deeper in despair.
Then I remembered something I wrote in my Dark Journal this week: “The holy dwells in dark places.”
What can that mean for you, living your life in your own town?
For me, it means allowing my spiritual solitude, my willingness, into the dark. That is where right action gestates. I often work in a dark journal, especially in winter. I sit with dark feelings and questions. Sometimes I rise from those pages with inspiration. Usually, time in my Dark Journal lets my senses adjust to the lack of light, my words tune to this other song that gets louder by the day.
What I aim to illustrate is how a daily creative practice works for me, anchors me while the tide of despair rushes in again.
Will my creative practice fill the empty bellies in the Congo? Will it repair lives in Aleppo? Will it assure all citizens healthcare or build gender equality? Will my daily writing erase some of the pain in the world? Could my creative practice stem the melt of the Arctic ice? No. But it will allow me to make sense of my place in the world and in relation to all the needs I witness.
My practice allows me a thread to hold on to, resilient, no matter what. I connect to Spirit. I remember that love is the most powerful force in the world, and I become ready to take what action is mine to take. I recognize my deep longing and answer it with small steps of engaged action.
“The practice of expressive writing can move us forward by helping us gain new insights on the challenges in our lives. It involves free writing continuously for 20 minutes about an issue, exploring your deepest thoughts and feelings around it. The goal is to get something down on paper, not to create a memoir-like masterpiece.” ~ Kira M. Newman
Today, on an ordinary day with the sideways light of a winter afternoon slanting in the window, I write.
Then what? I gather.
Since the November election, I have gathered with different groups of people to talk about what change we can seed, what hope we can possibly foster, even when effectiveness slithers from our fingers.
In each gathering, the overtone of sorrow thrums as we hold open the questions that made us gather in the first place. How can we seed hope in 2017? So many people want to take positive action, to help where help is needed. We want to express from this newly inhabited despair that is sistered to legacies of hopelessness in so many communities. “Just let me do something.”
“For those of us who want to see democracy survive and thrive — and we are legion — the heart is where everything begins: that grounded place in each of us where we can overcome fear, rediscover that we are members of one another, and embrace the conflicts that threaten democracy as openings to new life for us and for our nation.” ~ from the Prelude in Parker J. Palmer’s Healing the Heart of Democracy
In mid-December, I gathered in New York City with Starhawk and BrightFlame, two leaders in the Reclaiming movement, along with 50 people at the Westbeth Community Center in lower Manhattan. The desire among the group was to make a ritual that matters, together. But more potent were our mutual desires, as change-makers, to fuel our selves for the daunting work ahead.
The women held the space for a group-led ritual that took about five hours to craft. Fresh from Standing Rock, Starhawk spoke about ritual deepening our sense of value, no matter where we are. Starhawk is a Sequoia in the forest of change agents alive today.
I left the ritual buoyed, but not by some new medicine to apply to a growing set of symptoms. Rooted in my purpose through the experience of creating a ritual with a group of complete strangers in a community room that sits on a street just 50 paces from the Hudson River, I knew what is mine to do.
I wake with this purpose daily, and I will not back down. I stand for women’s voices and the voices of young people coming up in the world. I will continue to teach, speak, write, and engage in a daily creative practice, for it is the strongest tool I know for nurturing positive change.
If I do not know something of my inner world, about the issues I care about, I will always and ever be overwhelmed by the needs of the world. With my daily practice, my heart sows roots and I become more grounded.
If we do some form of creative practice daily, something done in solitude, prayerfully and diligently, our inner truth surfaces and each of us, me included, will know the next right action to take. The way will become clear.
So, while my personal politics require me to deal with bouts of anger and sadness, I will no longer despair. In the future, this very immediate future, my children, yours too, and our LGBTQ family, our disabled family, our elders, our family and friends from other nations, and the indigenous people of the United States will be impacted by changes in our national leadership.
What is required of me is to be clear of conscience, to be true in my motives to do the work I am called to do, and to invite collaborative conversation whenever I can, to make ritual in my daily life.
“Little bursts of awe make you humble and really engaged in other people.” ~ Dacher Keltner of Greater Good
What I almost always come to in my daily practice is some small moment of awe. Maybe it is a phrase I turn to in a book opened randomly, or the sight of a hawk tracing a line between the pine and the oak outside my window, or the way a simple collage illustrates a thought.
I set something of the natural world on my desk, I light a candle and read, allowing this simple ritual to stand as the opening bell, ringing in what is new, next, and important.
A daily creative practice builds resilience and connection, and opens our eyes to awe and wonder. We cannot not see beauty in the world, even when worry dogs us like high fever. We find power where confusion or frustrations have previously ranged.
Even in dark places, awe surfaces when we pay attention, and power takes root there.
Suzi Banks Baum is an artist, actress, writer, teacher, community organizer, and mom. She’s passionate about helping women find their creative voice and live focused, joy-filled lives. Freshly returned from Armenia, where she led an art and writing workshop called New Illuminations, Suzi inspires hundreds of women every year to live their lives from the space of creative spirit and to value their contributions to the world and one another. You can find her work on TheMid, Literary Mama, MotherWriterMentor and her blog.
Starhawk is a veteran of progressive movements, from anti-war to anti-nukes, and is deeply committed to bringing the techniques and creative power of spirituality to political activism. You could contact her via her website.