Act Against the Creative Censor

crumpled paper next to notepad - photo by Steve Johnson on Pexels

We are made in the image and likeness of our God who creates. It doesn’t matter if we don’t make our living writing, painting, or acting; we are inherently creative.

Now, before you raise a hand in protest, I’m not saying your breakout single has to hit the top of the charts. I would simply encourage all of us to recognize how much creativity is required in our daily lives. Planning a birthday party, mixing a cocktail, and mapping out the children’s summer schedule are all creative acts. Dinner gets dangerously routine without a pinch of creativity (and umami).

So getting in touch with our creative selves is essential work. Creativity expands our horizon on what’s possible; it breaks us out of a status quo that might otherwise grind away at our souls.

But too often, our creative selves are stifled. Fortunately, Ignatian spirituality has something to say about that. St. Ignatius tells us to act against those tendencies in our lives that put distance between us and God—easily said if not done.

In an instance of creative block, what is it we are meant to act against? Bestselling author Julia Cameron, in her classic text/retreat, The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, encourages all of us to practice what she calls morning pages. “The morning pages,” she writes, “are the primary tool of creative recovery.”

In short, Cameron instructs us to wake up each day and write three pages, not stopping until we reach the end of page three. It doesn’t matter what we write; all that matters is that we do the work.

“As blocked artists, we tend to criticize ourselves mercilessly,” Cameron writes. “We are victims of our own internalized perfectionist, a nasty internal and external critic, the Censor.” The Censor, Cameron explains, is that voice in our heads, perhaps formed in childhood, that says you can’t do it. Your work is lousy, and even if you had one success, you’ll never have another. The Censor stops us before we start, insisting that we’re no good and that nothing we could possibly create is worthwhile. Why even bother?

The Censor, I believe, is just another word for the evil spirit, or what Ignatius helpfully names the enemy of our human nature. We’re made in the image and likeness of our God, who creates; it only makes sense that the enemy of our human nature would stand in the way of our creativity.

And so, a practice like the morning pages is our effort to act against that evil spirit. “Because there is no wrong way to write the morning pages, the Censor’s opinion doesn’t count,” Cameron writes. “Let the Censor rattle on. Just keep your hand moving across the page.”

There’s another Ignatian parallel to be drawn here. The morning pages are, in many ways, the raw material of the Examen, that daily prayer in which we sort through our day in gratitude to the Spirit. When it comes to morning pages—or a journal or a diary—what do we have to write about each day if not, in part, reflections drawn from our own lives? What comes out onto the page each morning (or afternoon or evening) is what we also bring to God in prayer. That raw, unedited stuff is then examined with the Spirit, and we seek out those places where God is speaking to us, showing us something new or important.

But the evil spirit doesn’t want that either. How often does the Censor try to insinuate some evil will into our prayer, insisting that we are not, in fact, the beloved of God? That we are not worth delighting in? That God couldn’t possibly be at work in the mundane, ordinary, seemingly useless details of our lives?

Again, we act against. We push on in creativity and in prayer, trusting that our God of infinite delight is intimately at work in our days. We push on, knowing that those little gems of creativity—that new recipe, renewed garden bed, or restored piece of furniture—are little reflections of God’s Spirit acting within us.

Then, in hope, we wait and watch and work to see what good fruits our creativity bears.

Photo by Steve Johnson on Pexels.

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Eric Clayton
Eric A. Clayton is the deputy director of communications for the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States. He has a BA in creative writing and international studies from Fairfield University and an MA in international media from American University. Eric writes Story Scraps on Substack. He lives in Baltimore, MD, with his wife and two daughters. Clayton is the author of Cannonball Moments: Telling Your Story, Deepening Your Faith and My Life with the Jedi: The Spirituality of Star Wars.

5 COMMENTS

  1. This is a great article. So often, I think I ‘m not very creative, thinking of painting, composing, writing, etc. But new recipes, even knitting, can be creative. Thanks for the insight !

  2. Thank you Eric, so many times I can’t relate to your comments because I have not seen any of the Star Wars movies and I do not have children, but this article on creativity is beautiful.

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