“An artist cannot translate the passionate intensity of life without working in passion. Scholar’s, scholar, critics, critic, but the artist burns and beats and blows and jumps and rushes. It’s all a mater of virtue, i.e. virtuosity.” –Jack Kerouac
I have a friend who is an aspiring writer. I use that term for those of you that might not understand that, despite not being published, he doesn’t use the word ‘aspiring,’ he just says writer. Now that may sound presumptuous to you but understand, he truly believes that anyone who writes to express themselves should be called a writer. I can remember thinking that he was wrong. The idea at first seemed to me to be a bit degrading to those struggling folks, including himself, that worked very hard on becoming published, not just writing for their own sake. And I would never call myself a writer, I’m a pastor and teacher who happens to scribble down a few ideas from time to time. But I’ve been thinking that my approach is all wrong.
Last week was Passion Week and I tried, and succeeded, to write a new blog post every day for that week. Many of you read the posts, thank you. I discovered a great deal about my creative process during the week. It had already been on my mind as I had been reading a little Freud and a little M. Scott Peck, looking at the term cathexis. A good friend of mine had engaged with me in a conversation about creativity and where the energy for it originated. I have noticed in the last several weeks that when I am at my most creative, whether prepping and speaking a Sunday homily or writing, I had a peculiar feeling in my chest. It wasn’t sadness, it wasn’t happiness, it was like someone had rammed something into my heart like sticking a chair in a revolving door to hold it open. It was a bittersweet transcendence not unlike C.S. Lewis’ definition of joy in Surprised by Joy. So, I wondered if I could reproduce the feeling or I just had to wait for it. Turns out, with prayer, effort and meditation it can be reproduced. I told one friend that I had to injure myself and bleed onto the paper to accomplish anything at all artistically. Now that brings me back to the Kerouac quote.
Passion is the answer. Not just passion as we think of love and lust and the overcoming desire to know and be known by a person, although that’s part of it. Passion also means suffering as in The Passion of the Christ. Could passion and joy be related? I think they must be, Christ certainly equated them. The Man of Sorrows wanted His disciples Joy to be full as His was. He preached an abundant life but one that required us to take up our cross and die daily. Passion, on the border of ecstasy and agony, certainly fits. Now I will finally get to my point, thanks for your patience.
Art requires passion. If art is the expression of the passion inside of us, then anyone can be an artist! Furthermore, the greatest artists in the world should be those of us who choose to follow Jesus Christ.
Wait a minute, wait a minute! That was quite a leap! Not really. Think back through your lists of great artists, especially from the Renaissance, how many were Christians? How many who weren’t still claimed some tie to the divine and lived in search for truth?And if that’s true, where are the great Christian artists of our day?
The real problem is that as Christians we have ceased to live passionate lives or even believe that it is necessary or right. In our constant dumbing down and teeth-pulling of our faith to make it less risky, safer, tamer, more palatable, less reliant on grace, we have destroyed the passionate heart that thrills with the adventure of following Jesus. We have placed His great love in tiny containers and compartments so we are not bothered by suffering in the world. We have put up with tepid worship services and tepid marriages. We have pulled down the Romance of God and replaced it with the golden calf of expedience and security. And so, we have lost our art; and our heart. Change must come. Now that’s where you come in.
Bringing change to our faith is a process and it has to start with individuals. Sometime this week, work through this excercise.
1. Read Ephesians 2:10. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.
The word translated ‘masterpiece’ is from the Greek, poiema. You can figure it out from there.
2. Meditate on the thought that you are a masterpiece of God’s. You can visualize prayerfully God creating you as a great painting, or a statue, or a poem, or a song; whichever artistic medium best fits in your mind’s eye. How lovingly did he create you? How careful were His brushstrokes? How many times did His hammer strike the chisel? Get it?
3. Think about the passion that God released into your creation. How much love? How much suffering?
4. Now, if you are His creation, and you are made in His image, and He has created you to do things, good things, are you doing them with passion? Are your good works your art?
5. Finally, dwell on this, if God is The Creator and we are created in His image, should we not also be giving artistic expression to the passion in our lives? Gifting decides much of who affects the culture, but everyone can express their passion! Create something!
We always let kids do craft projects. Talk about passion! There is nothing more beautiful than a five year old girl expressing her love for her Daddy and making a mess of paste, macaroni, beads, fingerpaint. In the process of expression, children literally become the art they are creating! Isn’t that a perfect metaphor? Many of you are artists of one kind or another, don’t think of your art as a pastime or a guilty pleasure, pursue it with the fury of God’s love! Be passionate as He is passionate. Find your place of joy, passion, open your heart and bleed onto the page or the palette or the yarn. Bleed your passion into others lives and show them what it is to truly live. Make music, learn to fly, paint, sculpt, write, sing, dance, act! Let yourself go! Release your heart, o best beloved! Catch the lightning of God’s love for you in a bottle and point it back at the sky or your spouse or kids or friends!
More on this, later this week!