This morning I was ruminating about just how much God loves me. I was thinking about how I love and appreciate Him. It was a time of deeply personal praise which nearly brought me to tears. Like everyone else in this sin-infested world, I have been through my share of the pooh-pile. I’ve had my sufferings. And while they’ve been less severe than those of many others, they’ve made their impact nonetheless.
Adversity & Inspiration
I got to thinking about how and why I so deeply appreciate God. I was thinking about His presence through all I’ve endured so far. And I became aware of the being borne out of those experiences. Let me state it flatly; it is my view that we, God’s faith-driven creatives, would have absolutely no-thing to say or share with the world without our having to endure adversity and challenge. In effect, it a gift.
It got me thinking that in this way, even Christ’s suffering is a living example for us of the unbelievable gifts we reap when we experience adversity, and yes, even real suffering. In the same way that my love, admiration, and respect for God and His Son are heightened by His suffering, I see also that we, God’s creatives, incur a more substantial credibility in the eyes of those who engage our art.
Transformed & Empowered
For the faith-driven artist I see two gifts/blessings; 1) that we are transformed by the experience and have something meaningful to share. And 2) that our “audience” sees that we actually know something of which we “speak.” So I was asking myself, What would I be without the pooh-pile of my past? What level of compassion would I have, and to what depths would my faith go today?
Two years ago I came to an earth shattering revelation; If the one and only purpose of the tumultuous early life I have endured did nothing but help me to see my utter and desperate need for the love of God through Christ Jesus, it has all been worth it. Every beating I endured, every criticism, every rejection, every embarrassing, confusing, naive moment of my youth has all been seeds planted which are resulting in a fully surrendered faith in God. Not only have those experiences transformed in light of the love and salvation of God through Christ, but it can all be harvested in my art today. From the pooh of adversity comes a rich, meaning-filled art-practice.
Am I making sense? The forge hammer of difficulty has not only driven out the dross, but has gifted me with something worth saying to others through my art. I have something to share, not the least of which is that God does indeed walk with us right the way through our sufferings. He knows suffering and so can be there with us and for us.
God’s Creative Voice
Likewise every painting, every novel, poem, or play, every sculpture, dance, or song are how we, God’s chosen creative voice, are able to communicate the relevance, reality, and presence of His love for us all. And most of us are speaking from the reality of personal experience. Personal experience carries with it an intimate knowledge of what it’s really like to suffer, which makes the meaning we share through our art all that more powerful.
So, while I have absolutely no desire to experience what I have, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. The pooh of life is being used as fertilizer in the garden of my life, and God and I are harvesting a bounty of rich meaning-filled creativity to share with the world.
I’d like to think that as the things I make enter and live in someone’s life in some way our spirit’s connect. I’d like to think that someday when I’m gone the objects of art and craft which I’ve fashioned will retain that connection, whatever it is.
I’d like to think that the object(s) itself, having been fashioned by a human-being, rather than a machine, carries something of me with it into the life of the the person who possesses it. I’d like to think that they will always value the nuances of the object(s), the so-called imperfections, seeing them for what they are; marks of the maker.
When I handle something handmade, whether from past generations, or from an art studio or gallery, I am holding an object which has been thoughtfully made. A person did far more than merely design this object. They also fashioned it. They gathered their materials and guided them into an object of meaning. I enjoy the impressions of the maker; their marks. In fact I look for them; brush strokes, penstrokes, tool marks, hand impressions. I like to imagine them gathering their materials, and perhaps without much thought, through years of experience, guiding an object of meaning into being.
I’d like to think that, in some way, I’ve made some kind of precious impression through the object(s) I create; to have transmitted something in common with the owner(s). I’d like to think that my work is valued, not only for the sustainable, up-cycled aspect of my art practice, but that it is seen as something which interprets, translates, and communicates meaning, either mine or theirs.
Certainly I want to make a good/decent living at my art practice. But I am far less interested in fame or fortune, and far more interested in leaving behind a substantial body of work which continues to transmit meaning. With the singular, personal objects I’m privileged to make, I’d like to think that the connection between our spirits, my patrons and mine, will be both valued and eternal, perhaps for generations to come.
It’s a discussion (I don’t waste my time in debate or argument) that’s literally as old as the hills. When we live as Disciples of Christ, what does that really look like? In my art-making, I’m searching for and realizing that context whenever I work to make meaning – art.
FAITH is what powers my art-making. FAITH is what I need to choose a color, blindly create a texture, or sketch an image that’s a mere blur in my mind when I’m awakened in the middle of the night with an “idea”. FAITH drives the confidence engine I need to keep making art even when I’m experiencing a lag in self-confidence. FAITH in God’s design of me and my life; in His divine plan for the good work He has begun in me and which He will see to completion. FAITH propels me forward even when I see no way to move. FAITH says that my art is from God for this world. FAITH says, “I need you to create, to communicate My messages to people who need to “listen”. FAITH says not to worry about whether it will “work”, but to simply do my very best.
Here’s an awesome “poem” that clearly speaks to this tough-love truth. May I suggest you REPLAY this piece several times. Every word in this poem speaks volumes of truth to us all.
Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus | YouTube | Jeff Bethke/bball1989
MERE RELIGION is nothing more than dried up, over-regulated, rituals and rules which have absolutely no meaning. MERE RELIGION actually keeps us from God; it gets in the way. MERE RELIGION is what Jesus railed against simply because it stood between God and His people. MERE RELIGION is a dead lifestyle of dead works. MERE RELIGION is dead, closed, and restrictive. MERE RELIGION is precisely what Martin Luther questioned when he nailed his 95 Theses on the front door of the church.
FAITH however is a living, life-giving, breathing, life-changing relationship with God the Father through Jesus Christ. FAITH is taking risks, making mistakes, and believing in what cannot be seen. FAITH is alive. FAITH is as tough as our willingness to submit to God the Father and follow Him wherever, whenever. FAITH is open, organic, relational, living, dynamic, and powerful.
CHOICE is within everyone’s grasp because Christ’s death & resurrection makes that possible. I choose FAITH over MERE RELIGION any day. My life, my art, my marriage are all driven by, nourished by and nurtured by my walk in FAITH.
What does FAITH-driven art-making look like for you? How does your FAITH in God, through Christ, empower, nurture, nourish, and make works of meaning?
I’ll show my hand here at the outset; I’m not against planning. I’m against my former anal-retentive, hyper-controlling methods of getting creative things done. Can you imagine how much of my own art-making I’ve stifled simply because I’ve “planned” what I’m going to make down to the n-th degree?
At the gallery (ArtFx) last Friday evening I got to speak with people about my work. Many were engaged by the power of the colors. Others were taken by the impression of movement. Some of them moved in closer and mentally dissected the work wondering how it was made.
“How’d you do this?,” they’d ask. Do you sit down and plan what you’re going to do?”
“No,” I’d tell them. “It’s all an act of faith. I trust my instincts and feel my way forward not knowing what I’m going to get.”
That’s a really big change for me in the last few years because it hasn’t always been like this. Up until recently I’d plan everything trusting entirely in the plan and the planning process itself. What I was doing was completely left-braining a right-brain process. I was rationalizing, naming, labeling, and categorizing the work, all the while thinking that something creative would emerge from the process. I was a really tight person. You would not have wanted to spend much time around me. Heck, I didn’t even like being around me back then.
For me it was a control issue. Brought about by the way I was raised, my hot-button was having control of my life taken from me. How I was raised; who I had become through that horrid process had imposed itself upon my art-making. It was killing me.
What I’ve recently discovered in the growth out of that tight, closed thinking is another dimension to the convergence of faith and art. It’s one thing to be a faith-driven artist; making art in the company of the Lord. It’s another to believe not only in God the Father through His Son, Jesus, but to believe in the creative process from within that milieu.
In the nourishing and nurturing environment of faith in God, I am asked to trust, to surrender, and to really believe in what I do not yet see on the panel. I am asked to simply choose colors, forms, and movement as He and I “dance” in the studio. And, I say it again, every single time I open the gluing press the next morning, it’s all-ways a surprise. I am always amazed at what was made even though I was present for every moment of the making.
I don’t plan anymore. These days I simply gather, ruminate, and respond. My blood pressure is almost ten-points lower. My joy is high and growing daily. And my faith and confidence in this additional convergence of faith and art is an endless exploration of discovery.
In the end that’s what I told folks at the gallery about the art I make; that it’s all-ways an act of faith, and a process of discovery. And you know, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
In the studio, what does faith look like for you? Where do you find convergences of faith & art? How does that work for you and your own art practice?
This theme of releasing the past, turning around and facing the future has been something the Lord and I’ve been dealing with for a while now. The biggest gift I’ve been given this time round is that in order to move on it’s important to simply make a new tomorrow. It’s about not looking back, not making repairs, and not re-working what’s already been lived and gone. It all reminded me of the song Don’t Stop, by Fleetwood Mac.
A number of years ago, during a rehearsal break, a dear theatre friend came up to me and the Music Director, and feeling tremendous release from former criticisms, she just hugged us. With tears in her eyes she said, “I feel like I’ve come home here.” She’d been carrying around the burden of opposition and rejection of her art for a long time. She had nearly given it all up until she auditioned for us. That first season she played major roles in, I think, three of the four productions we did.
Later on returning the gift she introducing me to Julia Cameron and The Artists’ Way. In those pages, which I’ve long since dog-eared, annotated, and highlighted, I found another level of my own release from the burden of opposition and criticism. It lead me to both art-journaling as a faith practice, and to “artist dates” for creative nurture.
It is art-journaling which now has become my devotional time with God. The writing is spontaneous, prayerful, even meditative. I simply write what He and I are working through at the moment. These days I fill my journals with praise, gratitude, challenges, celebrations, in both imagery and words. It has become the richest source of inspiration I have for the artworks I’m making.
This year, I’m not looking back. God has brought me to this place of love and safety and I no longer need to turn around in regret wanting to “fix” something back there. This year I am facing forward, ramping up the art practice and looking forward to a tremendous year of blessings.
For another perspective, from blogger, writer, actor, Jeff Berryman: Thriving and the Now Factor.
Here’s to a new year; for you may it be filled with God’s richest blessings of abundance and deep, creative growth. And do me a favor, won’t you? Let me know how you’re doing, what you’re overcoming, and how you’re growing through it all.