Monday, January 23, 2012

Art, Sadness & the Unresolved Heart

I wonder if today’s Renaissance men/women are the artistic melancholics of our day. Given the weightiness of our self knowing via the social sciences, faith practices, and the constant barrage of consumptive sensory experiences, we are now “too aware” of our inflated presence in the room. In this magnified display of the self and its proclivities, a degree of loathing is probably healthy. Should we not grieve over our penchant for pleasure at the cost of discipline and service? Should we not ponder the subterranean rage that masks itself as distance and boredom? Should we not feel the sorrow befitting a people cut off from their deepest more spiritual parts? 

For a man my age there is so much still unresolved. So much disparity between my values and my actions. So much space between my dreams and reality. This distance can fill up with such profound sadness at times. Rilke speaks so eloquently about the shear terror that beauty offers us in the unresolvedness of life, in the deep meaning of things seeking divine fruition. One of his more profound observations is the idea that the purpose of life is "to be defeated by greater and greater things." As they say...this is a hard saying. Who can know it? Circling around God for years, I, like Rilke, wonder if I am a “falcon, a storm, or a great song." 

In moments of holy discontent, this unrelenting sorrow is a blessing as it is my edge. It is the air my lungs need to take in the deep deep richness of the dark. However, it is the paralysis this darkness may bring that frightens me most. When my obsession with the journey takes me into God, the dark is holy and brilliant in its glow. When passion becomes a mania or fixation it becomes unwilling to embrace the questions as divine messengers of a different knowing. In this state these quandaries mock me into disbelief and suspicion. In this place I get lost in the loathing & begin to see it all as a joke. My life is a joke. I am a burden to myself and I cannot bear this yoke of self awareness alone. I need a people, a tribe, and a family who share the same appreciation of the consequences of this awareness. I need a Savior who only allows a heaviness that leads to transformation. 

To still have so much uncertainty and reservation within my breast is on certain days overwhelmingly sad. On other days I realize that living in this tension of knowing and unknowing is overpowering only if I refuse its terrifying glory. Only if I refuse to the undertaking, to the divine duty of loving life into the questions. Only then does the disparity become a fruit ready to fall to the ground welcoming gravity’s call. Only then does the silence and solitude unveil the striking likeness of the knowing in the unknowing. 

And so I am learning to as Rilke says, "love the questions." I am learning to lean into life as a lover full of sensual heaviness, flinging her hair back with a beatific gaze of pondering and brooding melancholy. This hesitation she sings is my muse, the very enthusiasm my soul needs to pursue. 

Today I welcome my melancholy artistic status. Like Rumi, I submit to this powerlessness reason has offered and seek my sojourn in the unanswerability of beauty and the arts. We read to find ourselves in the story. We paint to mine the silent poetry hidden in color, texture and line. We dance to surrender to the passion our body hears. In these forms of expression we in many ways “live out the questions." We discover the mother tongue. We see the sound and hear the colors. We ask our bodies to teach us the melodies running deep underground in our souls. In this place of revealing, beauty remains terrifying and rightfully so. I would not have it otherwise. But here I do not seek the answers but seek to live them. And as Rilke, I will at some distant day, live my life into the very thing I cannot imagine at this very moment. I end with more Rilke..."I live not in dreams but in contemplation of a reality that is perhaps the future."

Friday, March 11, 2011

Beauty’s Dwelling: Immanuel

Perhaps we are here in order to say; house, bridge, fountain, gate, fruit tree, window. To say them more intensely than the things themselves ever dreamed of existing.

Rilke 9th Duino Elegy

In the wake of centuries of chatter about beauty’s sublime nature, our passion for an embodied felt knowing has not been diminished. In our feeble attempts to repress beauty’s call and memory, we have but heightened our anticipation to the point where all this talk of essences and the dream of art reminds us daily that as Nabokov poets, some divine beckoning is made evident when “the lamp of art is made to shine through life’s foolscape.”

In such times of disconnectedness, mobility for the sake of ambition, possessions made known and named by the corporate language of non representational artifacts (i.e. homes decorated with objects made by machines, in countries that do not even speak the same language, made manifest by colors and shapes unfamiliar with the native tongue of the purchaser) we find ourselves nowhere, seeing little to nothing, collecting more of the same thing that first made us lonely and all the while wondering why beauty has left the building, departed from the sacredness of place.

The beauty of the imagination is that it can discover such magnificent vastness inside a tiny space. John O’Donohue’s - Beauty

Hungry in spirit we are so anticipating beauty’s mysterious welcoming presence into a place, a single place to abide. Beauty calls forth an awakening that envelopes our hearts, enlivens the very space we inhabit. Beauty confirms the uniqueness of each moment. We are not accidents nor are we called to dwell in a particular place by whimsy or happenstance.

Rilke reminds us powerfully as to the dangers of ignoring beauty’s voice and entrance when he says, “being here is so much.” There is no private territory, no place or space outside the pronouncement of beauty’s sacred embrace. Beauty calls us out of exile, invokes an ever-present sacramental pronouncement over the very place in which our soul is currently engaged and present. She calls us to listen, to re-engage and participate with life once again, refuse to objectify creation, self, along with others and this revelation ushers in the creative imagination as the only vehicle through which love can be grasp.

Beauty engulfs and informs presence and space offering transcendence through a revealing that all things cry out to be seen and known. Everyday experiences are enlarged through metaphor, image and other creative gifts that bring us together in a holy conversation. In this unique space, we see the profane and the sacred culminating with the primacy of beauty’s call – which is the reconciliation of all things.

As science has quelled if not silenced the welcoming blessing of beauty’s wooing, without fanfare and by her very nature, full of dignity, beauty incarnates newness to our daily lives. Beauty offers creatively the gift of animating property in an erotic manner such that objects are not merely objects. Things, created by humans for humans, have an attributional communal context to the exchange. Artists must learn to be custodians of these exchanges. Beauty, unhurried and unharried breaks the sacred silence naming the space with extraordinary mysterious care. Out of the mysterious silence an invitation is heard. This silence defines the borders of the enchanted space and evokes a rooted and deeply felt sense of knowing. Much like prayer, the heart is to be wholly present as beauty and its companion, the imagination, welcome the visitation- the Annunciation.

Beauty steps into time as well making sacramental the detailed ordinariness of our lives. Creative attention confesses to its holy longing. Welcoming the beauty into the space is more than ritual. It allows for a committed posture of attribution to avoid diminishment and interpretation as acts of engagement. As if the heart of creation, nature itself, was naturing us along taking upon her the burden of named or ugly space, w are welcomed into a landscape of exquisite presence. Although time indeed is spent or recorded or seen as moving in & through us, the welcoming of beauty makes the disclosure of the moment, the space, and the very sense of place holy.

Lovers of beauty listen to her voice and story. Unheard, the story of rapture and enchantment unfolds, spiraling out into the space filling each and every pilgrim with their own story of the sacred space. So beauty allows for the story to be a dialogue, a welcoming conversation of hospitality.


When beauty is received as gift, enlivened trust is birthed. This trust, much like light and darkness must have trusted the Father in the very beginning, opening space up to the good and the true. Not only does beauty welcome us into the space as if it were meant for us throughout all eternity, but it embraces the longing now free to this empowered open space generated by beauty. Now beauty induces the divine questions here to for hidden or unrevealed in us.

Beauty as well, tutors us in the custodial realm of honoring the erotic life of property and gifts we make for others. Many Christians, afraid of animism, as well as disenchanted Westerners, have desacralized the material world as lifeless and merely stuff. Outside of beauty’s wake, time and space are filled with “no-thing.” Beauty’s welcoming presence unmasks our more profound desires, desires to big for our hearts to fathom without beauty’s buffered hospitality guarding our childlike hearts. Beauty offers life to the material world. Welcomed, beauty dispels any sense of being a burden to the universe. Free to be truly present with beauty’s welcoming permission, my longing to see and know the rapturous wonders hidden in my desire cause me to discover that beauty’s very heart is reconciling all things unto the Father. This is beauty’s calling herself back to herself. Yes…desire heaven. Yes…But beauty’s reconciling radiance calls the space to enlarge itself, to duplicate itself, to share its glory and grace in the now, in this one single space, in time, through material things….the very stuff of earth…the ordinary, the simple.

So beauty walks the earth, seeking out seemingly emptied wastelands and ever so quietly announces a new naming presence for the space. This is the Kingdom of God. Beauty’s role is to exchange the previously impoverished places with the hospitable grace of the newly redeemed, recklessly innocent, and overwhelmingly unashamed of its powerful desire. As though beauty’s presence carried with her an authority to exchange the ugliness of disenchanted space and time with love, now touched and moved by our being in the space with the 3rd member of beauty’s original family, we get to share in the ushering in & attributional festivities.

Over and over again beauty tells her story, beginning where someone else left off, creating where someone else grew weary in well doing. Now,,,,no thing could be called abstract. All things belong, all is enlivened and animated and beauty’s force and presence creatively points to both the here and now and the not yet.

Welcomed into the space beauty offers hope and the future is unveiling itself as we speak. Every moment is full, every nook & cranny full of glory and presence, every sound and smell reminds us we desire because we do belong in this sacred space called out home, our street, our town, our world. It is safe to inhabit the space fully and without resignation. Creative callings beckon beauty’s tourist heart and provides all the encouragement to unpacked the gift, to see the space as holy, the entire world as an erotic narrative full of enchanted images waiting for miracles to happen.

Step into beauty’s welcoming hospitable presence today.

How one walks through the world, the endless small adjustments of balance, is affected by the shifting weighs of beautiful things. Elaine Scarry

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Deep Symbols & Our Naming

The Diminishment of Self Through Words

The act of naming is a non-negotiable in life. Thought is involuntary. Thus, we may regard the naming and acknowledgement of experience as involuntary as well. Naming is also less an intellectual exercise and much more a narrative device we embody in everyday conversations. Once again, we often ignore or pay little attention to the words and phrases we use to describe or explain our experience. Is it possible that our lack of attention may render much of life boring, ugly or uneventful or merely misnamed?

One of the most powerful experiences I have had in my men’s group (New Adam) is to be privy to another man's renaming of an experience. The past is something that, by its very nature, forces us to name. We are hearkening back to memory as source of reflection and description. We are looking for the "right" words. Our memory is the Thesaurus and dictionary if you will of our lives. It is out of that collection of words, phrases, and stories that our very life is animated and we grow into a sense of being. To name life is to live.

This is why we need each other. The naming of life as an isolated story without community is a sad one at best. In truth, it is a dangerously overpowering one as well. I have found that my wife and friends have a much more nuanced awareness of how I might want to describe myself. Maybe it is the by product of my fallenness but it appears that my own ability to see, hear, and feel my self into reality is limited. This limitation is due to the fact that I am somehow connected to others as a source for meaning. I cannot offer up my own meaning on my own. Ironic isn't it?

Without the rich offering of another's words and encouragements and blessings, I cannot sustain my place in this world. I have nervous breakdowns, I get depressed, I attempt to find myself in some obsessive hobby, work, or isolated relationship, or I look for a name I think I deserve and cling to it out of my ego. I am young, I am beautiful. I am smart. I am clever. Conversely...I am ugly. I am old. I am worthless.

Each Monday or Thursday night at my men’s group I offer up my heart's Thesaurus and dump out what words I have to date. As rich and alive as my words may be, it is always the case that a brother offers up a deepening and broadening of my sense of self. Each night I engage in this “work” of naming I leave the time with a much more grounded sense of my presence in this world.

I am PRESENT.

I am!

Being alive to the true beauty of our creation is to submit ourselves to others so they can deepen and bring to life our ultimate naming.

Let us fill in today the names we might call each other.

We are forgiven
We are sons & daughters of the most High God
We are blessing
We are gift
We are beauty
We are truth
and on and on...

To the naming!!!!!!!!!

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Beauty's Residence-When the True Self Comes Home

Every one of us is shadowed by an illusory person: a false self. This is the man I want to be but who cannot exist, because God does not know anything about him. And to be unknown of God is altogether too much privacy. Thomas Merton (NS 34)

We all long to be known. We hunger for contact with our deep inner beauty. This essence is the child’s heart Christ refers to when he points to the Kingdom & its nature. Our false self, full of pride & sufficiency avoids the death needed to enter the Kingdom thus cannot ultimately submit to its own healing. This beauty becomes hidden & the flaw which could be redeemed & made whole remains an impediment to artistic vision & real life.

Sin is a very ill defined presence in our lives. Because our early years are filled with moralisms which are needful in a child’s ethical pedagogy, we often enter adult life with a grand misunderstanding about sin. We see sin merely as acts that we do rather than a condition of our very being that is inclined to live in darkness.

Sin is a denial of radical need. All our contingencies, our unrealities, are suppressed as we go about life seeking our own way as our source. When our way of seeing & knowing are arbitrated through this false self beauty is dull or even eclipsed .

This place of radical need is always connected to some hurt or lack in our lives. The false self is unable to reveal this radical neediness thus must either pump up what beauty, knowledge or power one feels is resident and then maintain that perception through doing acts that corroborate that naming. In other words, I will tell you who I am knowing full well I am an imposter. But, the imposter is all I know so what am I to do? I must create a world where my friends and acquaintances will tell my false self the lie. That is this…This fabrication of self which we all agree to collectively is the real self. The ultimate downside of this manner of defining and living robs of us of this deeper inner knowing. Our true self or essence is now clouded or hidden from our own site and that of others.

Sensuality is the manner in which the human discovers the glory of his/her creation. For artists, the health & maintenance of this human quality is essential. When our sensuality is tainted by sin and the false self, our inner flaws are things to be shunned and despised. Thus, a deep part of our very being is now estranged & sent away from our consciousness. This is what Jung talks about when he refers to the shadow. This is the unconscious part of our woundedness & sin we hide from even ourselves thus see it emerge in habits, addictions, & denied feelings and thoughts. Its impact on our art is powerful as we become further estranged from our true inner essence, our authentic individuality.

There is an expensive price to pay life for the exile of our deepest loving. The self inflicted banishment may last for years until we are too broken & emptied to hide or present the false self. Or more tragically we may live an entire life exalting our gifts, hoarding the praise, lifting up our own beauty never to see or know the glory of our beloved vulnerability. It is this very crack in the soul, the dim light of eternity hidden so unfathomably from our rational selves that secrets this darker beauty.

Meister Eckhart said, “Stand still and do not waver from your emptiness; for at this time you can turn away, never to turn back again.” For the creative person, this willingness to enter the risk filled void of the false self and look for redemption is essential for the creative atonement of the flaw. Because we are fashioned to be in communion with the Most High, we are meant to see & know the sensual beauty of life. When our own being is dark and foreboding & yes “evil” in our own eyes, we are orphans.

Could beauty actually be the redeemed vision of one made whole? Is beauty coming into our rightful position with the Father thus seeing our individuality flourish and prosper? For many of us the degree of self protection is overwhelmingly draining. Tired & weary from the false self operating our insight & reflection we get lost in the destruction of our selves by life, sin, & the collective brokenness and remain there. Deeply imprinted on our very heart is the wound or the flaw. We must hide it from all & even ourselves lest we acknowledge the inner depths of our sin & distance from the Father.

What I am slowly learning is that beauty is not all brightness & light. Even Scripture tells us that God created out of a void and there was darkness upon the earth. This idea of darkness and the wound have been with us since the beginning. Is there a new way to imagine & name the darkness & the wound?

Once again I refer to my mentor John O’Donohue. He tells us that, “The luminous beauty of great art so often issues from the deepest, darkest woundings. We always seem to visualize a wound as a sore, a tear on the skin’s surface. The protective outer layer is broken and the sensitive interior is invaded and torn. Perhaps there is another way to image a wound. It is the place where the sealed surface that keeps the interior hidden is broken. …While the wound is open, new light flows into the helpless dark and the inner night of the body weeps through the wound. In the rupture and pain it causes, a wound breaks the silence; it cries out. It ruptures through the ordinary cover of words we put on things.”

A submitted imagination will allow the false self to play its hand, drain its rage, shout is epitaphs until its true powerlessness is revealed. What was once concealed is now open to renaming. What had blackened the heart & tossed the soul into despair now appears as an extravagant grace. He was never impressed with the false self for He knew him not. He has only known who He made you to be. He sees you through the eyes of His Son so even your sin is covered and atoned. Now your deepest image of self is reflected through His gaze. In His hospitality of gracious wonderings & extravagancies do we encounter this truly safe place to create. It is not free from darkness but in a bizarre twist of irony and paradox we discover the God beyond our limited naming. As much as we struggle to properly name the created world how much more do we find our knowledge of the Father diminished and antiquated? It is at this threshold you are introduced to your true self & the very heart of the Father.

Let me close with another Thomas Merton quote. I am taking liberties here as I am going to replace the word ”contemplative(s)” with the word “artist(s)”. Know that I have taken such freedoms and hope I do not take away from Merton’s ultimate intention.

God seeks Himself in us, and the aridity and sorrow of our heart is the sorrow of God who is not known to us, who cannot yet find Himself in us because we do not dare to believe or trust the incredible truth that He could live in us, and live there out of choice, out of preference. But indeed, we exist solely for this, to be the place He has chosen for His presence, His manifestation in the world. His epiphany. But we make all this dark and inglorious because fail to believe it, we refuse to believe it. It is not that we hate God, rather that we hate ourselves, despairs of ourselves. If we once began to recognize, humbly, but truly, the real value of our own self, we would see that this value was the sign of God in our being, the signature of God upon our being.

The artist (contemplative) is not the man who has fiery visions of the cherubim of God on their imagined chariot, but simply he who has risked his mind in the desert beyond language and ideas where God is encountered in the nakedness of pure trust, that is to say in the surrender of our own poverty and incompleteness in order no longer to clench our minds in a cramp upon themselves, as if thinking made us exist. The message of hope the artist (contemplatives) offers you, then, is not that you need to find your own way through the jungle of language and problems that today surround God; but that whether you understand or not, God loves you, is present to you, lives in you, dwells in you, calls you, saves you, and offers you an understanding and light which are like nothing you ever found in books or heard in sermons. The artist (contemplative) has nothing to tell you except to reassure you and to say, that if you dare to penetrate your own silence and dare to advance without fear into the solitude of your own heart, and risk sharing that solitude with the lonely other who seeks God through you and with you, then you will truly recover the light and the capacity to understand what is beyond words and beyond explanations because it is too close to be explained; it is the intimate union in the depths of your own heart, of God’s Spirit and your secret inmost self, so that you and He are in all truth one Spirit, I love you in Christ. Thomas Merton 1915-1968 American Cistercian Monk

Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Beauty in Desiring God

Creativity as Spiritual Longing

"It will come about after this that I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; And your sons and daughters will prophesy, Your old men will dream dreams, Your young men will see visions. Joel 2:28

The music that really turns me on is either running toward God or away from God. Both recognize the pivot, that God is at the center of the jaunt. Bono

It’s been said that thoughts are the ultimate pilgrims. Something within us leans into the horizon, yearns for a larger story, a more expansive tale in which our hearts are welcomed towards a homecoming. As though from beyond, beauty beckons us. All the parts of our life that appear in exile intuitively honor this presence we call beauty and await its visitation.

The truly beautiful will always be a mediating metaphor. It will never replace God or seek to make Him an object. In fact, real beauty will continually flee the need to domesticate and capture God. When this spiritual longing is allowed to manifest itself in my heart of hearts I sense my inner most parts formed for eternal kinship with the Father.

As Saint John of the Cross said...

I did not have to ask my heart what it wanted

Because of all the desires I have ever known,

Just one did I cling to

For it was the essence of all desire:

To know beauty

To know beauty. This is the vocation of some. In a time of great ugliness and darkness beauty often eludes my heart. Its glimmering shafts of light are lost in my hurried harried pace. I demand it reveal itself in the shallowness of my habits, the attachment of my heart to sin, the pettiness of my soul towards God’s creation. Occasionally in dreams beauty appears like a doe in the dusk of nightfall. Veiled in its presence but powerfully near in its enchantment, I capture a glimpse. I know such delight in its revealing. But just as quickly it is spirited away & I am left with this longing. I am sad. How would I have known that this journey home meant relinquishing over and over again the very place in my heart that was meant for habitation? He will not allow me to schedule His disclosure. I can only hold it momentarily and then my heart mourns its loss and I begin the entire process over and over again.

But alas, I cannot confine nor take into custody this grand eternal calling. This heavenly sighting serves as a nudge into the urgent arena of creativity according to O’Donohue. What my dreams imagined forth into the visible realm where indeed only gifts of the imagination and creativity that liberated my heart from attachment. Beauty allowed me to sit in the invisible nature of what my mind sees as concrete. At this point I am left with the Holy Spirit's reminder that my very being is eternally sustained and ordered by a Beauty much more overwhelming than the doe. I am being pulled into the very heart of my Father’s love for me. It is this love that all my imaginings have envisioned. All the seemingly poetic make believe or artistic meanderings, all the deposits of awakened humanity, now find a home in the Father’s heart.

O’Donohue says this so magnificently when he poets, “The beauty of God is the warmth of the divine affection. You did not invent yourself or bring yourself here. In terms of human time, the mystery of your individuality was dreamed for millions of years. Your strange and restless uniqueness is an intimate expression of God and who you are says something of who God is.”

And so this sacred hunger, the deep caring, and the unrelenting desire satiated only in the beatific vision of my welcoming makes all so luminous. In the seemingly limitless alone the inconceivable is made intimate and I sing the transcendent. No abstract anonymous force or essence, this desire and longing is for a person. It is not “What is beauty?…but Who is beauty? And so in innumerable apparitions beauty appears and my heart is illuminated and my holy aspirations find refuge and are as our friend C.S. Lewis said so well, surprised by joy.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Beautiful Tedium of Suspended Disbelief

Enchantment as Faith

Tell them more fairy tales! Bruno Bettelheim

A child kicks its legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again"; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough... It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again," to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again," to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike: it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.
G.K. Chesterton Orthodoxy

This is My Father’s World – Maltbie Babcock
This is my Father's world,
And to my listening ears
All nature sings, and round me rings
The music of the spheres.
This is my Father's world:
I rest me in the thought
Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas;
His hand the wonders wrought.

My Back Pages -Bob Dylan
Crimson flames tied through my ears
Rollin' high and mighty traps
Pounced with fire on flaming roads
Using ideas as my maps
"We'll meet on edges, soon," said I
Proud 'neath heated brow.
Ah, but I was so much older then,
I'm younger than that now.

What does creation whisper daily to our hungry heart? What messages are deeply planted within the sunrise, the first morning song of wind & birds, the crowning of midday radiance or the impending wispy dusk of welcoming twilight? There is an apparent monotony to the steady and seemingly endless replication of the story of our days. I arise each morning out of routine only to regard the display of the unexplained as intrusions and reminders of my world weary soul. I tire of meeting myself continually broken and invariably suspicious of life’s exquisite richness. Like a youth beginning to question the certainty of Christmas and its enchantment, I offer up my misgivings as prayer and quell any restless anticipation of the lovely, the astonishing, the utterly charming in lieu of skepticism, certainty & the immediately tangible.

There is a cost to the soul when the story of life has been written and no reading of its pages brings soulfulness or illumination. G.K. Chesterton must have stumbled upon this soul numbing encounter when he remarked, “The function of the imagination is not to make strange things settled, so much as to make settled things strange.” So what attenuates this posture of expectancy and eagerness so evident in children and the emotionally challenged?

Bruno Bettelheim in his ground breaking work “The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales” tells us over and over again of the importance of storytelling and its formative power in the creation of humanness. For Bettelheim, the impartation of poetic & narrative accounts of life’s struggles and challenges serves to build into the child a resilience rather than a fragile character. Children are formed through these accounts such that they are more readily willing to sit in the realness of life instead of seeking an escape from the inevitable. It should be noted that much of the contemporary stories for children avoid some of the life’s real terrors and offer up instead saccharine & inane replacements.

As an adult I am confronted daily with the vagaries and realities of living in a fallen world. I discover, however, that I am often unable to find symbols and signs from which to draw meaning and purpose. I am unwilling and frequently powerless to grasp the veiled and buried riches concealed in the magnificent rendering of life’s unfolding scenario. What inner opposition renders the grand revealing? What dullness and hesitation turn my heart to disbelief and suspicion?

In recent years there has been a reemergence of the art of storytelling as well as poetry readings and poetry slams. To the delight of many, a new tradition of story tellers is surfacing and much of its energy and value are being supported by local gatherings at bookstores, churches, and community centers. Very young children are of course needful of oral readings as they are preliterate. It is, however, really challenging to find a great story teller. Creative and animated story tellers thicken and empower the imaginative expression of stories in our inner life. We see, know, and experience our being reflective of the penetration and intensity of the stories. Their intrinsic weightiness and force over and in our descriptive engagement with life satiate our imagination allowing us to truly occupy the space in which we live. We are indeed a storied people.

It is interesting to note that Jesus never wrote a book and primarily used stories or parables as his preferred means of expression. Likewise, it is also historically evident that much of the first century remembrances of Christ and His message were also shared through the medium of storytelling, letters, and public speeches. Yet today we talk of the mysteries of life as though they were mere math problems to be solved. We take the parables and Christ’s sermons and scrutinize each word and phrase to the point where our spiritual dialect is more grammatical than conversational. We know how to exegete a verse but fail to sense the utter sway and authority of the words we say are divinely inspired. Just as children ask for us to “read it again” each reading renders up a fresh and original version of what for many of us has become predictable and small. Few of us really experience the life of the story and yet we often walk away with the impression we “know” the story.

Why did our preliterate ancestors seem to grasp with such verve and wonder the power of these stores? Why do children squeeze joy and wonder from each reading? What fascination and enthrallment overtakes the trusting, uncluttered and unencumbered soul?

There is a part of us that is charmed and delighted by the apparent monotony of life. This deeper self is that part of our being that clings to creation’s collusion with the Father. This space within is a divinely implanted need to collaboratively improvise the unfolding of life. We need the story read aloud so we can respond with amen, hallelujah, prayer or silence? If a yawn is a silent shout, as Chesterton asserts, then much of our dullness and ennui towards realities’ performance is endeavoring to articulate and verbalize our genuine impressions. When willing and able we say, “Read it again, read it again!”

Friday, March 6, 2009

Healing the Wounded Imagination

The Creativity of Hope

It is the task of art to undo the work of our vanity, our passions, our spirit of imitation, our abstract intelligence, our habits…making us travel back in the direction from which we have come to the depths where what has really existed lies unknown within us. Marcel Proust

I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge -- myth is more potent than history -- dreams are more powerful than facts -- hope always triumphs over experience -- laughter is the cure for grief -- love is stronger than death. Robert Fulghum

But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Romans 8:25

Ideology is said to be the beliefs and symbols that serve to interpret social reality. Those energies motivate everything from spiritual renewal & political action to artistic expression. We are currently experiencing the shift from one ideology to another and the differences in narrative symbols and beliefs represents a revolutionary time for artists. The collective imagination is often captured by a dominant ideology to the point where much of life and its fullness becomes attenuated or deadened.

What brings back to life the wounded imagination and inspiration such that life’s challenges and setbacks are met with innovation and inventiveness? What can rekindle ingenuity and original thinking and begin to articulate a dream of the future?

Many in the arts community see the act of creativity as a necessity for life’s journey. Real transformation, be it societal or personal, needs a driving energy and resilience to conceive and fashion a world where truth and goodness go hand in hand with beauty. We need the joy of the Twyla Tharp’s dance but we need a world where there is a decent job for everyone willing to work. We need the power of words and poetry be it street rimes of Common or The Roots as well as the melodious sonnets of Elizabeth Barrett Browning or William Wordsworth. But we also need adequate health care for the elderly and the children. We need the sensual exuberance of Frida Kahlo or the Cirque de Soleil, but we also need a clean and healthy environment.

As we move from a time of seeming toxic messages and images to a new page or canvas, there is a spiritual audacity needed to enter this new space. Some say that hope is a core resonance of creativity. It is out of this space that regressive dogmas are returned to transcendent narrative myths which then become life giving rather than death inducing. These legends and symbols expand the world and enliven dialogue and conversation as well as redemption. This re- imaginative act offers hope as an artistic healing force. Although seemingly fragile to the pragmatist and realist, this response to the foundational beauty in creation and one another honors the transformation that is fostered and engender in the creative act. Far from fragile, the force and vigor of imaginative hope swallow up mere optimism and go straight after meaninglessness and depression. This kind of potent conviction redeems the impoverished world of ideas and symbols to new possibilities and a dynamic spiritual life.

As the imagination becomes restored to its rightful exuberance, aspirations become common place. Great anticipation sits with the elders in the town square. Desire is rekindled in the hearts of lovers. Dreams once again reveal the prophetic and the expectation of even the old is to faith and the possibilities of what many deem the original blessing – the ability to create.