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Creativity and the Care of the Soul

Posted on April 30th, 2015 by Sanctuary staff

Shall We Dance?

By Caroline Timmins

In the film “Shall We Dance” (Miramax, 2004) Richard Gere plays John Clark, a middle aged man with a secure marriage and a profitable career. Yet beneath his outward stability brews an increasing internal discontent. The daily routines of work, parenting, and relational maintenance have become wearisome. One day while riding his commuter train home, his bored gaze falls upon a mysterious woman staring from the window of a dance studio. Although dance is completely outside the realm of his mundane existence, the woman’s face intrigues him and finally one day he stops off at the studio.

As the film continues, John finds himself secretly taking dance lessons, not because the woman is returning his flirtations, but because he actually discovers he enjoys the creative outlet. However his secrecy has aroused suspicion in his wife. When she uncovers his private passion, she turns up at a dance competition catching him completely off guard. A heated exchange ensues where she, understandably upset, demands an accounting. His answer is surprisingly simple, profound and revealing: “I was unhappy…and it’s not about you.”

I wonder how many times we feel similarly, but remain unskilled or too ashamed or fearful to articulate. I also wonder how many extramarital affairs begin not due to a quest for a new person, but rather out of a desperate search for renewed passion. In shortsightedness we attribute our deadened selves to spousal neglect…when really it is we who have neglected our own souls. Of course there are many times when the marriage has gone untended. Like a once beautiful garden after years of neglect, it becomes buried beneath the weeds and choked by vines. Communication has gone cold due to years of routine, but still I ponder, should not the starting point be the mirror?

I myself reached this conclusion through an involvement in a simple creative endeavor. It was at a time in my life when, due to the demands of marriage and parenting, I had unknowingly slipped into a fairly joyless existence. The dreams, spiritual connections and creative pursuits that once fueled my thirst for adventure, love, and beauty had fallen by the wayside. In short, and by my own neglect, my spirit had atrophied. I was unhappy but it had nothing to do with my spouse or children. During that time, I was asked by theatrical friends to play a part in a Christmas drama. It was not something I would ever have pursued on my own. In fact, I had a lot of apprehension as to my ability to act. But taking this risk in the artistic realm proved to be a catalyst for spiritual revival. While the experience did not transform me into an actress, it did teach me an invaluable lesson about the care of the soul, or rather, how careless can be the neglect of it. I needed creativity in my life to nurture my soul, to help me think and feel better, and to help me remember who I was and what I wanted.

In the book, What We Ache For, (Dreamer, 2005) the author appropriately attributes the following benefits to creativity: “creative work holds surprises, teaches us things we did not know before we began, changes us, helps us unfold and become who we are at the deepest level of our being.” For me this proved precisely true. My experience and characters like John Clark fuel my ponderings. How many men and women like him complete their daily commutes every day between the worlds of work and home stuck in a fuzzy malaise? Caught in the strong undercurrent of indefinable unhappiness and unaware of how creativity relates to the care of the soul, they turn down unhealthy secret back alleys to try and infuse a little excitement into their lives.

In my experience, creative endeavor can be the fresh wind that revives the dusty interiors of the human soul. My involvement in the Christmas drama was not so much about mastering the art of the stage as it was about reconnecting with the long ignored, creative voice within. Somehow by boldly acting out a role on stage, I gained the courage to cultivate the parts of my real life that were cowardly shrinking behind the curtain. The creative endeavor provided a wake-up call to my own soul. Sometimes, before we can begin to weed the marital garden, we need to tend our own little plot of soil.

Creative involvements can till the frozen ground of the soul providing softer more fertile space for unhampered growth. Creativity is always the door, never the destination. Like the wardrobe opening into Narnia, creative work can transport us to that magical place within where Aslan’s grand arrival marks the end of barren winter and the beginning of fecundate spring. Through creative pursuits we care for our souls and at the same time, gain the confidence and energy we need to invite our spouses to join us in the dance.

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