I used to grimace whenever I heard someone say they were dancing or shooting hoops for Jesus.
That’s a cruel thing, I think. And I couldn’t help myself. I wish I could have…
Even when I firmly believe there is no purer form of worship than creatively performing one’s personal devotion to the Lord, it was somehow hard to think it mattered in the grand scheme of things.
There is an acrid skepticism inside that sometimes accuses authentic, personalized worship as being insufficient or unsanctioned—“Sure, you sang an aria for Jesus, but it’s not as effective as taking the sacrament or officiating in a temple ceremony!”
It sounds ludicrous when I write it down, but it’s a reaction that always seems ready to pounce from within me. There is absolutely nothing wrong with seeing our talents endowed with sacred significance. In fact, I’m convinced there might be no greater nor more powerful act of prayer and praise to God. Creatively approaching the Father as His own personal creation via the unique gifts he has endowed us with, I believe, might be the holiest form of worship.
We may partake of the sacrament and participate in other rites and our souls may soar at times, or they may not. When we allow ourselves to approach God as we are with the talents he has given us, this can become another opportunity to find ourselves soaring with a renewed sense of communion and purpose too.
I personally commune best with the Divine when I am writing, speaking, drawing, sculpting and singing—all performances that will rarely find their way onto a church record or form a paper trail of good discipleship. Practicing them drops me immediately into a zone of profound peace and tranquility, where stars seem to align, thoughts come to rest, and demons scatter. I know intuitively that these may rank as some of the most significant acts of devotion I may ever perform.
I remember sprawling in a hall outside the chapel as a teenager working intensely over a charcoal drawing of Joseph and the Nauvoo temple. It was a wonderful hour of worshipful, creative searching with an artistic tool. Some in the ward thought it was odd. I take heart that our own scriptures recount similar episodes of creative aberrations that reveal and confirm God’s presence among his children.
Given that we are on the Book of Mormon in Sunday School this year, I’m thinking about a few instances from Nephi’s life that demonstrate this quite nicely. Nephi—from all appearances quite the conformist in contrast to his rebellious brothers—was in fact one of the more creative agents in scripture. One of the things that most draws our attention to him is the individual path he blazed for himself founded on the principles of righteousness.
His desire to commune with God was constant, but his methods and performance certainly were not always typical. What we might rightly laud in him as arising partly from obedience, in fact also required a colossal creative endeavor. He was an agent working on the horizon of the unknown, listening to the divine impulses within himself. He offered up his will and talents, sought the Lord’s direction, and performed as best he could (sometimes causing confusion for those around him—even the patriarch, his father).
In her recent conference talk on spirituality, Michelle Craig draws attention to the many ways—a way, not the way—that the Lord invites us to move through life:
“Nephi, the brother of Jared, and even Moses all had a large body of water to cross—and each did it differently. Nephi worked ‘timbers of curious workmanship.’ The brother of Jared built barges that were ‘tight like unto a dish.’ And Moses ‘walked upon dry land in the midst of the sea.’
They each received personalized direction, tailored to them, and each trusted and acted in unique ways. The Lord is mindful of those who obey and, in the words of Nephi, will ‘prepare a way for [us to] accomplish the thing which he commandeth.’ Once again, note that Nephi says, ‘a way’—not ‘the way.’”
Other instances of Nephi’s trust in God’s gifts and guidance, and his own unique abilities:
- Seeking his own visions: a refusal to just stick to someone else’s visions.
- The Liahona: experimenting with a form of sacred technology.
- Building a ship: a bold, creative attempt at construction and HR management.
- Obtaining the bronze plates: a blind, dangerous and, ultimately, dark journey.
Following the inspirations within us that activate our God-given talents completes us, even as it inspires and moves others around us forward. These spiritual inspirations and creations may at times feel insignificant or even aberrational, but God’s sudden and unexpected presence can sometimes feel that way. In the end, though, they can be beautiful and restorative experiences, so often uplifting to those hungering for inspiration around us.
I’d like to think now I would shoot those hoops for Jesus right next to my brother or sister. I’m grateful to have found through my own experience how engaging in creative endeavors can activate a rich communion with the Lord.
Dance for the Lord, brothers and sisters!