Sermon: The Artist’s Way by Rev. Ana Levy-Lyons

2023 February 1

Jan 29, 2023

First Unitarian, Brooklyn

Part 1

In the basement of my building, next to the laundry room, there’s a bookcase where people can leave books they no longer want and take books that look interesting. I’ve started calling this bookcase “God’s Dropbox” because it seems like God curates a personalized reading list for me and deposits the books there. Several times, a book I found there has been exactly the thing I needed at that moment.

And so it was that over the summer I was talking with a friend about writing and writer’s block. He suggested that I might want to try this practice that he had read about years ago where you start each day by writing, free association, long hand, for ten minutes. He said it was from the book, The Artist’s Way. I had never read that book, but I thought the writing exercise was worth a try. So I tried a version of it – not first thing in the morning, but just before I would work on a writing project. Free associate for ten minutes. I noticed how much it helped my writing flow more easily, more freely, more creatively. I came up with ideas and connections in those ten minutes that might not have occurred to me otherwise. And I also noticed how I was still so resistant to doing it every day because there was a voice in my head that said, this is a waste of time.

I was noticing all this about myself and after about a week, there it was in God’s Dropbox: The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. I took it off the shelf and leafed through it. It was all cut up inside because, I realized later, it’s a workbook that you write in and cut things out and stick them up above your desk or on your fridge. But I took this copy of The Artist’s Way up to my apartment and started reading it.

It was a strange entry into the world of this book because it was always the important parts that were cut out. It was like one of those espionage documents where all the most explosive, compromising information is redacted with black bars. It would say, for example, “The following spiritual principles are the bedrock on which creative recovery and discovery can be built [colon].” And then there would be a big square cut out of the page.

But by reading what was there, I started to piece it together in my mind and heart. Its premise was simple: that we are all creative beings. Creativity is not something that only successful artists possess; it’s part of our nature; part of our inner child, part of the factory settings of each human being, installed by the greatest Creator of all. Julia Cameron, the author, uses the word “God,” but she’s quick to say that it doesn’t matter what you call it; there is a creative force at the foundation of the universe and part of the evolution of the world as we know it has been the transmission of that creative capacity itself to us. The feminist theologian Mary Daly put it this way: “It is the creative potential itself in human beings that is in the image of God.”

This natural creativity that we have is abundant in our childhood. We pretend, make believe, dream vividly, conjure imaginary friends. We love color, we love sparkle, we love twirling and running. We identify with strange looking animals like komodo dragons. We ask fresh questions and make astute observations about our world. We’re funny when we’re kids, and humor is always a little creative twinkle.

But at some point in our childhoods, many of us find that the adults in our lives are trying to dampen that expansive dream-filled way of being. They want to steer us toward more serious matters of getting dressed and brushing our teeth and going to school, getting there on time, and then doing our homework. All mediated by grownups. When we bring home a crayon drawing from school, the grownups may chortle about how cute it is and may put it up on the fridge. But they don’t take us seriously as artists.

And as we get older, grownups sometimes will subtly or not so subtly steer us away from serious study or careers in the arts. That stuff is just for fun; just a hobby. Worst of all, some of us get told that we’re no good at it. Creativity is for other people, for the professionals, for people with real gifts. Not you. Sometimes well-meaning friends will pile on and critique an idea or rough draft too early – and you get shamed for not being good enough right out of the gate. And so your tender creative venture withdraws.

Reading around the edges of The Artist’s Way, literally, I could tell that Cameron believes what I have always felt: that there is a kind of spiritual/ creative injury that we suffer in that process. The creative part of ourselves, the divine gift that is so essential to who we are, gets suppressed. And along with it, the channels of spiritual flow get stopped up. We live smaller, less expansively. Our childhood dreams grow dim. We put our heads down and do our jobs, sometimes living vicariously through other creative people around us.

But creative flow is part of who we are. Each of us. And I have come to believe that it is un-killable. We have the ability to nurture that part of us and let it flourish again. Cameron calls it creative recovery. And it is clearly also spiritual recovery. When we unclog our spiritual plumbing and allow the natural current of creativity to flow through us, we become more fully ourselves. And when that happens, watch out, world. It’s so powerful. Amazing things begin to happen. For one thing, synchronicity. I’ve experienced it myself, that when I start to tune in to my creativity, all kinds of “coincidences” and unexpected opportunities crop up. I believe that’s the great Creator happily, busily making connections for us.

Now to be clear, this is not just for people who want to be writers or musicians or painters. We can bring creativity to our whole lives, whatever we do. For lawyers, for scientists, for retail workers, for accountants (they don’t call it creative bookkeeping for nothing)! Definitely for teachers, definitely for parents. The way we run a PTA meeting or play a pickup game of basketball or arrange the furniture in our apartment. There is creative potential everywhere. When it’s flowing, our whole life can be a work of art. And when it’s flowing, we realize: this is how it’s meant to be. This is who we are meant to be. At that point, how can we keep from singing?

Hymn: My Life Flows On in Endless Song (#108)

Part 2

What’s in God’s Dropbox for me is going to be different from what’s in your God’s Dropbox. It may not be books for you; it may be some other vehicle by which you are offered the next step in your journey. The important thing is to keep your eyes and ears open to receiving whatever signal might be coming your way. Who knows? Maybe First U is your Dropbox.

So I want to offer you some key teachings from this particular path of The Artist’s Way and you can try it on for size if you like.

To move toward creative recovery, Julia Cameron lays out a 12-week program with two foundational practices: Morning Pages and the Artist’s Date. Morning Pages is basically what my friend told me: Just write every morning, three pages longhand, without stopping or thinking about it. Just spew onto the page whatever is running through your head. By getting it all out, most of it banal, some of it profound. It becomes a kind of prayer or meditation, simply watching your thoughts as they spill onto the page. No judging, no editing. And you don’t show it to anybody. Not anybody. You don’t even go back and reread it yourself for the first few weeks. You just do it.

The other practice, the Artist’s Date, is where you take yourself, alone, on an outing every week. It doesn’t need to be something highbrow. It should be something fun. Playful. Interesting. Different. Go to a part of town you’ve never been to before and wander around. Go to a beach in the winter. Go look at dinosaur bones in a museum. Ride the subway to the end of the line. Talk to strangers. Buy some weird ingredients that you don’t know what they are and try to cook something with them. Do something that your adult self would think is a waste of time, but that your inner child would think is awesome. In letting yourself play like this you are nurturing that inner child. You’re filling the well of your creativity with new experiences. And you’re starting to open up a long-dormant part of yourself.

There are many more exercises that Julia Cameron offers, all designed to help us recover our capacity to dream and trust ourselves and create. Many of them also help us come to terms with the source of our old creative and spiritual injuries. And so just in case First U is your God’s Dropbox, Ana Egge – who sang her song, Dreamer, for us earlier – and I are going to be offering a workshop based on these exercises. Anyone and everyone is invited to join us, read the book, do the exercises, and see what happens. The info will be in the e-news this week.

Here’s what Ana had to say about doing this work: “I’ve always seen songwriting and music making as fun. Not that I haven’t experienced writer’s block, I have. But over the years I’ve learned to give myself permission to play. One of the exercises from The Artist’s Way that has helped me to do that is the morning pages exercise, which I’ve done on and off for many years now. It really helps me to clear out the mental chatter and make room for something new. I’m really looking forward to showing up with the group for the Artist’s Way meetings at First U to see what happens as we allow ourselves to recover our own creativity and give ourselves and each other permission to play.”

I eventually went out and bought myself a complete copy of The Artist’s Way without all the cut up pages. But reading it initially with the key spiritual lessons clipped out taught me something invaluable: I already knew the key spiritual lessons. We all already know these lessons in our hearts. We know that “Creativity is the natural order of life.” We know that “When we open ourselves to our creativity, we open ourselves to the Creator’s creativity within us and our lives.” We know that there is a source of spiritual energy far beyond us and deep within us. It’s sometimes buried; it’s sometimes scared. But when we start to let it flow, we reclaim our true nature and we begin to become who we are meant to be.


Let’s pray together. Great Creator within us and beyond us, guide us in our journeys. Help us to become the artists of our lives, living with creativity, joy and playfulness. Help us quiet the voices that tell us we can’t or we shouldn’t dare. May the child within us be nourished and protected. And may that child can be a conduit for our dreams. Help us open ourselves to your holy flow every day and bring creative spirit to everything we do.

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