An intimate connection exists between developing moral imagination and doing effective prophetic action

Matthew Fox, Sept 2019

esterday we considered Otto Rank’s teaching about the importance of solitude for creativity, for giving birth.  Without it we don’t get in touch with our own depths and we fall into neurosis and a forgetfulness of who we are and how to share our gifts with the world.  Rank was keen on understanding the artistic process and he himself felt that his life depended on “giving birth every day.”  He wrote those words as a teen-ager after attempting suicide and surviving (he had been abused by a relative).

“Global Climate Strike 9/20/19: Wake Up.” Photo by Daniel ArauzFlickr

He took the teaching from Deuteronomy: “I put before you life and death: Choose life” and applied it this way: To choose life, he came to realize, was “to give birth every day.”  Many of Rank’s clients were artists including Anaïs Nin and Henry Moore and more.  It was his book, Art and Artist, that so captured the mind of Ernest Becker who built his Pulitzer-prize winning book Denial of Death on basic ideas from Rank’s understanding of creativity and our fear of death.

Out of the via negativa, which includes both our encounter with nothingness and our practice of solitude, is born creativity.  And with it action for social transformation.  An intimate connection exists between developing moral imagination and doing effective prophetic action.

The Avis family at the Calgary, Alberta climate strike. Photo by Andrew Jeffrey, The Star, Calgary.

Last week’s Climate Strike ,which we are told drew 4.5 million persons around the world, was led by Greta Thurnberg and children exiting schools to march.  Many of them came with very creative signage, much of it paradoxical and humorous, that spoke from heart to hearts. This day of protest and of imagination bears witness to the truth of how the Via Creativa feeds the Via Transformativa.

I highly recommend this link to see some of these signs for yourself.  They come from marches all over the planet, from Poland to Australia. from Malaysia to the United States, from Europe to Africa:

A few of the creative signs follow:

“Climate Strike” Photo by RoyFlickr

Act as if your house is on fire…because it is.

If you were smart, I’d be in school.

System change not Climate Change!

You know it’s time to change when leaders act like children and children act like leaders

The Earth is getting hotter than my imaginary boyfriend

There is no Planet B

You cannot eat money

Don’t be a Fossil Fool!

You’ll die of old age, I’ll die of climate change

It is moving and very real to see young people rising up to instruct adults about values that matter.


There can be no in-depth or spiritual living without solitude. Otto Rank, who has been credited with fathering the humanistic school of psychology that boasts such notables as Rollo May, Karl Rodgers and Abraham Maslow understood this, and he offers reasons why this is the case.

“Untitled” Photo by 3MotionalStudio, Pexels

Rank tells us that the creative person (what we are calling the mystic and prophet) struggles “against the community of living men and against posterity.” The prophetic struggle is one of trying to escape “collectivizing influences by deliberate new creations.” For this some solitude is essential.

The struggle is against social ideologies which postpone life and living. More often than not it is a struggle against oneself insofar as the “self” or ego has incorporated such ideologies. When persons in a group overreact to the spiritual person’s struggle, it invariably takes the form of envy and jealousy, a collective condemnation of the creative person’s efforts.

The notion that spiritual greatness seeks fame and success is itself a projection by the unproductive, or what Rank calls the neurotic, individual who has surrendered his or her vocation to greatness.

Rank insists that every truly creative person knows that success is the enemy of creativity. “Success is therefore a stimulus to creativity only so long as it is not attained,” he warns. Thus, the need for solitude—to get away from any fame or success that comes with being true to the imago Dei in one.

“Man Playing Guitar” Photo by Anita Peeples on Unsplash

Jesus, who was so creative both in his message and in his messaging by way of parable-telling, was intent on preaching the coming of the divine reign now. “Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven,” he teaches people to pray. The Creator of all watches over even the sparrow falling from the nest, so there is no need to fear. Rather, embrace the time and give birth to a new messianic time. Create!

Another need for solitude on the part of a creative person–Jesus’ being driven out to the desert or to the mountains or to boats to get away from the crowd–is to escape the collective-immortality impulses or projections of others—impulses that may be expressed positively or negatively.

True spiritual living includes the dialectic of solitude and social interaction that Jesus and other spiritual persons have learned to balance.  The two dynamics are not in contradiction.  Instead they serve one another for without the solitude what is creative or new may never be born.  And without others there is no one to whom to give the gift.

Adapted from: Matthew Fox, “Otto Rank on the Artistic Journey as a Spiritual Journey, the Spiritual Journey as an Artistic Journey in Foxm Wrestling with The Prophets: Essays on Creation Spirituality and Everyday Life, pp. 207-209.

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