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February 2022: Here I Am
why creativity and presence are related, plus the pursuit of beauty in the middle of catastrophe
Welcome to Lindsey Learns, a monthly newsletter dedicated to sharing what I’m learning about faith, community, and creativity. If you found me this month via my Coffee + Crumbs essay, welcome! I’m so glad you’re here. I hope each issue gives you something to think about and gently points you toward light and love.
As I do every year, I sat down at the beginning of January to brainstorm about my word of the year. From the get-go, I had the sense that creative practice would be a large part of the process of embracing “present/presence” in 2022. I just didn’t know why.
What does writing have to do with being present? What about my other creative projects, like scrapbooking, or art journaling? I wasn’t sure.
A couple mornings a week, I begin my day by listening to Lectio365, an app that provides daily audio prayers and reflections on Scripture. A few weeks ago, I turned it on one morning to discover that the week’s focus was on creativity. “This week,” the narrator read, “we’re exploring how creativity can be unlocked in our lives through partnering with God in prayer.”
I was tracking with them until I realized that the day’s Bible passage was the story of Moses and the Burning Bush—not a part of Scripture I generally associate with creativity.
Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.” When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.” (Exodus 3:2b-4, NIV)
As I listened and asked, “What does this story have to do with creativity?” I was struck by Moses’ declaration of presence: Here I am.
Our Indianapolis Moms Book Club pick for February was Inheritance by Dani Shapiro. Shapiro grew up in an Orthodox Jewish family, but as an adult (years after her parents passed away), she discovered the man who raised her was not her biological father. As you can imagine, this sent her spiraling as she sought to make sense of her family, culture, and heritage.
In the book’s final paragraph, Shapiro writes:
There has rarely been an event of importance in my life when I have not searched for my father. Rarely a time during which I have not felt both his presence and his absence. I silently call to him, a Hebrew word—hineni. Here I am. Hineni, uttered only eight times in the entire Torah, is less a statement of personal geography than an expression of presence and pure attentiveness.
“…less a statement of personal geography than an expression of presence and pure attentiveness.”
It turns out, “hineni” is the word Moses uses to answer God in the story of the burning bush. It’s also used by Abraham, Jacob, Samuel, Isaiah, and David in the Old Testament and by Ananias in the New Testament. Occasionally, God also uses this word to affirm God’s own presence.
The word seems to be used whenever a person is faced with a pivotal moment of some kind, like a decision or a call to action, and also in moments when they encounter God tangibly and individually. God knows where they are, of course, yet they must still declare themselves— not their geographical location but their presence and attentiveness.
When I think about art like Van Gogh’s self-portraits or Glenn Ligon’s “I Am A Man” posters (inspired by posters from the Civil Rights era), it strikes me that so much of creativity is a means of proclaiming, “Here I am.”
It’s not merely that the artifacts themselves are evidence of the artist’s existence. Rather, the process is as important as the product, and the participatory creative act is a way of declaring presence and attentiveness—something deeper than mere existence. (The declaration is not, after all, “There I was.”)
I write and scrapbook because they ask me to be present. To do this work, I have to pay attention, watching and listening for stories at every turn. I have to set down my devices and attend to the page in front of me with both hands. Creativity is how I process what has happened but also what is happening, here and now.
Just a few weeks ago, I couldn’t articulate why or how creativity mattered to my practice of “presence” this year, but I’m beginning to piece it together now. Creativity asks me to be fully here. All I can do is put one word down at a time, and then one word after that.
Sewing, cooking, painting, building, decorating, strumming, pirouetting: one stitch, one slice, one stroke, one note, one step at a time. Every distraction, wandering thought, new idea, or phone notification is an invitation to return yet again to the page (canvas, cutting board, dance floor…).
Here I am. Present to the page and the Loving Creator who invites me to participate. Hineni.
Where I’ve Written
I’m currently participating in a writing workshop through Exhale, and at the beginning, we were asked to make a list of all the places we’ve written. Here’s the poem that resulted.
corners of couches
my childhood bedroom
filling composition books
with imaginary worlds
for teenagers named Bethany and Skye
so many classrooms
in the presence of teachers
on a Dell laptop
on my dorm room bed
libraries in Gainesville and Grand Rapids.
on Melissa’s patio,
among her plants
with a Coke she kept in her fridge just for me.
on Lynne’s couch,
with women I had only known on-line
who held my words with grace.
at the Starbucks
with a barista named Kristen,
“Whatcha writing today?”
Indianapolis coffee shops
Provider and Bovaconti
Calvin Fletcher’s and Coat Check
over a light roast with cream
Florida, Michigan, Indiana
New York and California
Paris and a village outside Lilongwe
buses, planes, and cars
The Good Stuff:
Each month, I’d like to share a round up if some of the good I’ve found out there in the world, inspired by Louisa May Alcott’s admonition: “Keep good company, read good books, love good things and cultivate soul and body as faithfully as you can.”
When the world seems to be tilting off it’s axis, the pursuit and celebration of beauty feels important. Though I know symbolic acts are not enough to heal the brokenness in our world, I still believe they are important. Here are a few examples of beauty and goodness from the past month:
As part of their observance of Black History Month, our church diocese shared pieces from artist Steve Prince. I was so captivated by this rendering of Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat. (Do you see the “I am” poster?)
Speaking of beauty, joy, and skill: I absolutely loved these photos of indigenous Bolivian women skateboarding in traditional clothing.
One Last Thing:
As I think about the value of creativity in our world—about the way art declares “Here I am,” and demands we pay attention, I kept thinking about this young boy, defiantly playing piano while his homeland of Ukraine came under attack, as captured by Washington Post journalist Whitney Leaning.
The people of Ukraine continue to demonstrate such incredible courage and strength—let’s stand with them. Please call your representatives and ask for increased support and resources for Ukraine, including the closure of Ukraine’s airspace by NATO. (As always, Sharon McMahon has done a wonderful job explaining the situation if you need a summary.)
As always, I’ll leave you with a benediction to carry with you in the days ahead.
This month, may our attention be not merely a means of consumption—swirling and scrolling and double-tapping away. Instead, may our attention be the means by which we declare, “Here I am, and I see you.”
Grace and peace, friends. See you back here next month.