Soul of Sheffield Reflections 1: All is Gift


Photograph © A.Evans

If we stay on the same path throughout our lives, keep treading the same road each day, to and fro, we will never be surprised at where we end up. But there is something about the creative urge, a restless curiosity that seeks out the gaps in the fence that secures the well worn track. It tempts us to squeeze our way through, often on our hands and knees through the dirt, to seek out new paths; even new worlds and new ways of being and seeing.

As I consider the experience of Soul of Sheffield I look around and am surprised at where we ended up. I can remember the first glimpse of that gap in the fence and tentatively exploring, not really knowing for sure whether there was a way though or where it would lead. Of all the ideas that swirl around my brain this was the one that settled, that began to dig in and provoke me into following the path. It reminds me of something the prophet Jeremiah says in the Old Testament:

 ‘If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak anymore in his name,” then within me is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot’

Some things just won’t let you go until you act on them.

And so, carefully at first, through conversations over coffee with creative people leading to more concrete actions such as seeking out a space to occupy and then the messy physical work of moving furniture and constructing a vast cardboard landscape; I followed the path that opened up before me. And others joined me on the road because I couldn’t have done it alone.

Looking back on the journey I wonder how much of what happened was due to my own efforts, because so much of the way things worked out seems to be outside of my control. Depending on what you believe about the universe perhaps you think these things happen by luck, and that the luckiest people are those who orientate themselves in such a way to take advantage of the circumstances that happenstance provides. I have some sympathy for this view. But this creative experience has, for me, had more of the quality of gift than simply the fortuitous roll of a dice.

It could so easily all have gone horribly wrong on several occasions. One situation in particular that arose could have led to me, if not losing my job, at least being severely reprimanded. But somehow, it worked. From finding the right space, to coming across just the right group of fellow creative travellers to encounters with people in the media and so on and so on. As I look back on the experience it feels less like a hike up a mountain, with all the forward motion coming from my own effort, and more like white water rafting through the canyons below. Both are thrilling experiences but the latter entails putting ourselves in a place where we lose control and are carried along by the force and life of something so much vaster than we are.

That’s not to say that there’s no choice in the matter: we can haul ourselves to the shore at any time and step out of the flow to make camp. This would make us feel a lot more stable and secure and there were several times during Soul of Sheffield that I felt tempted to do just that. But somehow, through the encouragement of those around me and a sense that, whatever might happen the journey was worth making, I was able to paddle back out into the ferocious heart of the river.

So, is the creative experience luck and chance or gift? A year ago I would have gone with luck, but more and more I’m inclining towards gift. If we can live and be in the world in such a way as to be open to receive that gift then we never know where we might end up. We can never know what risks we might be drawn to take. And, in the end, we can never know what will emerge if we have the courage to be energised and led by that wild creative spirit that can’t ever be tamed.

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