In the Service of Others
I haven’t posted since January and that’s primarily because on the 28th, when my son Levi and I went to visit my Dad, we found him bedridden for 36 hours and nearly gone. Since that episode my work with and for my Dad has become an almost full-time commitment. I walk through the hospital and nursing home corridors carrying my case-log notebook, and am often asked if I work there. Yeah, I think, I do work here. I’m an amateur/volunteer case-worker for one. It’s all joy though. It’s all glory to God.
February and March saw us nearly lose Dad twice, with trips to ER and then into the hospital for stays. April found him enduring rehabilitative physical therapy, and now mid-May finds him at Heaven’s Door.
There are two principal discoveries I’ve made in the midst of these hours; 1)Waiting is a vital stage in every life of faith & art; 2) Inspiration can be found in the most “art-less” of places.
Waiting / Resting
I have long been one of the most rest-less, impatient little cusses on God’s good Earth. I bought-in, hook, line, and sinker, to the mainstream idea that progress is only realized when we’re moving forward, conquering, achieving, consuming, building. Sitting still and knowing that He is God didn’t seem to me to be progress. Sitting for hours in hospitals and nursing homes can bring that kind of attitude to a gentle halt, or it can drive you nuts, as at first it did me.
I’ve come now to cherish these waiting/resting times, and to see them as rich opportunities to drive depth in faith & life. I’m not talking about mere pauses, but wholesale haltings of what I have on my plate at the moment. These resting / waiting times, for me, can last days, weeks, or even months.
The lack of a living spiritual depth is the premise of Dick Staub’s book, The Culturally Savvy Christian; that America is populated by people of faith whose relationship with God is miles wide and one inch deep – vast expanses of shallowness. Push against such a person with even a light breeze of adversity and down comes their life of faith like a house of cards.
The stamina, staying power, and strength of a deep and abiding faith is exactly what I want, and frantically ploughing through church services, bible studies, small groups, and 30-second devo’s will not achieve it. Like healing, I’m finding that depth takes a great deal of quiet time to develop, and I’m loving it.
Permit me to close with L’Engle’s thought on the vital need for faith-driven creatives to stop, look, & listen. In her book Walking On Water, L’Engle talks of her own meditative, quiet time, what she called being time. While her idea might seem little more than daily quiet time or meditation, on a larger scale, being time can become what I am experiencing. I’ve worked with/for my Dad’s needs for a couple of years now, and in that time God has shown me the real value of resting/waiting, much of which, in my own ignorance, I’ve missed. But no longer.
The stuff of life is the stuff of making art itself. This is my second discovery, something I am certain most artists already know. However, for me this is a brand new connection, and here’s why.
I have long bemoaned that I don’t have a studio, or a workspace even, and that I cannot get any smaller with regard to my art-making. I don’t know how it came about, but I credit the Holy Spirit; suddenly it occurred to me that the very experiences I am witness to in the midst of helping my Dad is being lost daily as I moan and groan about not having art space, or art time, or whatever.
Suddenly everything Dad experienced, everything my grieving & celebrating family is experiencing, everything that’s going on with me, is the stuff – the inspiration – the material of new works. My idea notebooks are filling with explorations of possibilities and I am seeing many everyday circumstances in a new light.
For example, I see row upon row of elderly and severely disabled being shown far more kindness and attention by Resident Staff members than by many of their own families who so rarely visit them. I realize that our family is fortunate that I have so much liberty, but still. I watch the Staff of both the Hospital and the Nursing Home and see things as I’ve never seen them before.
This reminds me of my own fervent prayers, that I wanted again to hear the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit. And if you’re a L’Engle fan as I am, you’ll realize that hearing God’s Spirit and seeing the world through Christ’s eyes are much the same thing.
It goes along with something a friend of mine sent me in an email. He was citing Leland Ryken and his book Culture in Christian Perspective, when he said,“…a couple of principles I gleaned from… Ryken… No matter how hard artists try, they can’t hide what they truly believe. Your core beliefs will surface in your work in some way.”
I’ve long seen my creative process as entirely separate from my daily living, and like prayer time, I’d have art time. Well, life time is art time, and living is prayer time. Again an idea from L’Engle; For her, she said, to talk about faith in God and about art are one in the same thing. I knew this. I’ve long believed this. I’ve just never known this deeply that life is the stuff of art; I’m talking about the everyday knit and grit of living.
Living With Eyes Open
In the midst of service to my dying Dad – of living everyday life – I find that there is, as Ellen Dissanayake says, much to translate, much to interpret, and much to communicate.
Your Own Journey
What discoveries have you or are you making in the convergence zones of life? How do these convergences inform your own art-practice?