In this Holy Day season of Christmas, I am reminded by a Brother, Christ (like wrist) Otto, author of Mary: When God Shares His Glory, of the many parallels that we artists share with Mary, the mother of Jesus. The late Madeleine L’Engle, author of the master work, Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art, also drew on these parallels by reminding artists of the need to be available to the work Father asks of us. In submission and surrender Mary said, “Let it be unto me according to Your will.” In this way the Word became Flesh and dwelt among us, Immanuel.
If we artists will adopt Mary’s submission to the work, we too can participate in this act of incarnation of His Word. Through us, in the cause of Father God, our art is also a form of His Word becoming flesh.
We might want to ask what our inspirational source is for the art we make. Is it our own mind, our own intellect? Or is our source, in relational-faith, none other than the Beloved Father Himself? And when the angel of invitation appears in our hearts, do we choose to accept Father’s invitation to make the work? Will we venture, with Him, into the invisible spiritual realm and render our experience as artwork to share with God’s people? If our relational-faith with Father God is indeed the sole source of our work, then can it not be said that we too participate in the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us?
We artists, as the Charashim of God (His creative artisans), are we not Spirit filled? Do we not posses the closest of intimate relationships with Father God? Do we not participate in our own Mystic Union, that He is in us and we are in Him?
The Holy Spirit came upon Mary and she conceived. In our own spiritual union with Father God we too can experience the conception of works of art that Father desires to share with the world. In this way we participate in the incarnation of His Word. But, are we willing to surrender our own agendas and yield to Him for the benefit of our fellow human kind? What is Father God asking each one of us to “enflesh,” as L’Engle says?
The choice is ours, dear artists. It’s always been ours.
Personally, I am still working to figure out what art is, what the purpose of art is, and why some human beings even bother to make art. When I go back to the beginnings, the earliest expressions of what we now call art – cave paintings & carvings – I am captured by the thought that those primordial people had something other than making art in mind. I don’t think for an instant that our primordial ancestors asked about what they were doing. It’s almost as if an urge needed expression and carvings and cave paintings were simply the necessary outlet.
I believe as well that expressions through singing, chanting, dancing, drumming and the like all came into being and developed because of a rising need for the release of celebration and expression that could not be suppressed. They could not simply sit on their hands and ignore these creative urges that were rising up within them.
Today – and I promise to be very brief – art is treated as are all human products as an economic commodity. Those who buy and sell art, after stealing it from the artist – that is all but the motion picture artists – run off with the many objects of art in the world to buy and sell them with vigorous abandon. Success is often measured by the auction block price tag. And while the artist never sees a dime of those later transactions, that artist is deemed a great success because some of their work sold for thousands, even millions, of dollars. These are transactions which completely exclude the artists.
How did we get from our ancestral heritage of mark-making to today’s “art market”? It’s a question that has interested me for the past decade. Before that time I was all too willing to sell whatever artwork it was that I had made in order to become a “success”. No longer though. I’ve absolutely no interest in playing the art world game with all of its sham, glitter, and goo. I know why I make the art I do and the source from whence it comes. I even know the purpose of my art, and it isn’t to garner personal fame or fortune. In fact, since there’s little or nothing that I want to do to change that condition, is the question even worth my asking?
I think it may be of some value on a personal level because I am still trying to grasp my role as an artist in this world.
As I’m “talking” here, perhaps the question that I’m after is indeed deeply personal and can best be shaped by asking, how I can reconnect with those primordial ancestors who made such innocent and selfless marks? How best do I draw from their drive because I believe that, for them, it was a spiritual drive. So is mine.
In those primordial days, I don’t see someone sitting around thinking in terms of bison anatomy and landscape beauty that they wish to capture visually. I see someone whose entire world was spiritual. This is one of the marks of the emergence of humanity, the acknowledgment of connection with the spiritual realm(s).
I see a duality of vision – harmonious to be sure – wherein those early peoples could see both the living animals as well as their spirits at the same time. I neither know nor care what that looks like in literal terms. What I do care about is the fact of this dual vision they experienced and carried within themselves.
Somewhere, somehow, a person chose to celebrate and express that dual vision in imagery. Carving – even desiring to carve – and painting developed into a means of that celebratory expression. I want to know this selfsame celebration and expression – the primordial essence of what it means to be human and to make marks of meaning.
In my own parallel experience, my life has been deeply touched by Father God. He and I developed a relationship and to this day we live in that relationship. Because Father created me as an artist, something of our spiritual relationship rises up in me and will not be silenced or ignored. I must express and, yes, even celebrate, this relationship through my artmaking with Father. It is this celebration of relationship that leads me to see our artmaking together as an act of worship. If I’d been born as I am, millennia ago, I would have experienced this selfsame life, not of creativity, but of artistic expression.
As it is, I do chant and play drums as worship. I do paint and write as worship. The writing I am doing right here, right now, is an active celebration of my relationship with my Beloved Father God. In a way, I suppose I am that so-called caveman who has dire need to share, celebrate, and express his dual vision of the physical and the spiritual with the others of his tribal clan.
As I sit reading my new book, Still Writing, by Dani Shapiro, I’m thinking about my own level of craft in Father’s and my artmaking. I’m thinking about the creative journey we set out on 10-years ago. I’m thinking how Father and I go at some aspect of the art we make and how much I need to grow and learn in order to achieve the skills needed to make what we’re after.
One reason I have minimal respect for over educated creative people is because what they’re thrusting in my direction is their intimate knowledge of mere craft. They don’t compose. They’re not artists who compose. They may not even be artists at all. They’re interpreters and collaborators who are largely incapable of an original action of their own. They rely upon their knowledge of mere technique and method and have little or no inkling of personal expression.
Am I comparing myself to these artless technicians? Not at all. I am simply stating that method and technique, without a heart for deeply original creative expression, is no substitute – that’s all.
My wife and I were once gifted with tickets to a concert in which an arrogant little nitwit with thousands of hours of training stepped out to play Gershwin’s American in Paris. I love George Gershwin’s work and was very excited at this rare opportunity to hear this performance. I didn’t give a wit about this self absorbed kid who was going to play for us. I loved the music itself, and in the hands of an artist, the interpretation had all of the emotion of a hustling, bustling metropolis in sound. In the hands of an artist, Gershwin’s city had life and it can be palpable.
What I heard was absolutely nothing of what Gershwin had written on the page. The performance had nothing of what flowed from Gershwin’s artist heart. This kid beat all of the life out of this magnificent work of original music because he was only interested in showing off his technique. He was an insipid robot sitting there at the keyboard obediently hammering out each and every note with perfect technique and nothing more. I was actually somewhat depressed, certainly disappointed, at what I had been offered. In fact, I hoped that this person would either get over himself and play from his heart, or be drummed out of music altogether. I didn’t care which, but please don’t let this kid ever again butcher another great composer’s work of art.
Making art is far too precious a thing to be lorded over by mere craftsmen. It is a deep and abiding connection to the unseen, invisible universe where the artist draws something really special to bring back and share with the rest of humanity. Craft, while vitally important, is but a nest or foundation into which a new creative piece of expression is born.
This is one reason why I’m so proud of Father’s and my being self-taught. Yes, I certainly do need to develop a great deal more method and technique. I expect to be at this growth all of my life and beyond. What I don’t do however is hide behind a wall of method and technique as my credentials, nor do any of the many artists whom I admire so deeply.
I once thought that it would have been wondrous to be born in the Italian Renaissance, but no longer. One reason I’ve lost much of my awe and wonder regarding the Renaissance is simply because it was largely peopled by competitive show offs. These were people possessing celestial gifts, and certainly they created many celestial works, but much of it was created in a world of mere arrogant show and competition between the artists and their patrons. What was seen as “great art” was often a measure of how many perfectly rendered figures could be crammed onto a wall, or how large the work was. Like so much of today’s modern film acting, much of the work is about how popular the actor is through the films they make. Whatever art there is in the work is often buried beneath the veneer of the various self-centric personae of the so called stars. At times it seems that deep creative expression shows up by mere accident.
Whatever is left of my once deep admiration for the Italian Renaissance remains in the works themselves, not the composer artists who created them. I receive the expression which is so often evident and available to me for engagement, but I could care less about the name at the bottom right of the work.
I deeply admire composers in any media who are self-discovering adventurers on a journey into the invisible realms of creative expression. I am in even deeper admiration of self-taught artists such as Vincent Van Gogh and Jack Vettriano. If you need to know of whom I speak, I invite you to look them up. And these are just two of a host of creative composers who buckled down and conquered whatever it took to become excellent at what they did and do.
In short, what I admire in the arts – all of them – is gumption, self-directed gumption. I admire those artists who collect their craft along the way, who don’t brag about whatever schooling they endured, or how much practice they put in. Show me. Show me what it is that you’ve nurtured in yourself. Show me your work, because in the end that’s all that really matters.
My son and I met a new friend at The Gathering Conference this Summer. Last night we all got to talking and the subject of story as reality came up. Now I don’t actually know fully what they mean by that. But my son has a better grasp than the three of us combined. Trying my best, let me say that it has something to do with the idea that, for example, the reader of a book is very often carried away into the world of the story when they read.
I know that this effect happens to me. When I read a visually stimulating novel, I often feel that I am almost in two places at once. I am marginally aware of the place I am sitting when reading and, as well, I can see into the world of the story I am engaging. For me that world is both alive and real, never mind the psychologist’s demand that it’s just in my mind. I’m not interested in what psychologists say about much of anything. For me the experience is real.
A similar thing happens when I engage in the spirit and see, hear, or travel in the realms of Heaven. Once it was entirely necessary for me to close my eyes in order to engage. Now I can often experience spiritual realities with my eyes open as well.
The difference between reading a book to experience another world, and simply engaging the spirit is that the book is giving me a context of story. The text of the book is feeding the experience and in fact often seems to disappear when I’m engaged in reading. I don’t see the book in my hands.
Engaging the spirit, on the other hand, is provided by the Heavenly realms – in fact by Father God Himself. For me these experiences are real, and I won’t waste my time trying to explain some monkey headed philosophy of what reality is. What I’m after here is whatever Beloved has for me in this idea of story as reality. Because if true, the idea that story is reality is an element of my experiences at the Table of Making.
Faith-driven artists commonly journey into the spiritual realm(s) as their source of inspiration. The Charashim of Father God venture into His Presence in the Heavenly realms, experience something significant, and return to create their best expression of that experience. In essence, through our art, story becomes reality.
In my case, Father and I work together to bring something back that will become a painting or a book. We spend time together in the Creative Slipstream searching, and at the Table of Making discussing. Together we search out a thing through experience wherein we apprehend something worth sharing. Father in His wisdom, and I in my craft and artistry, make something together in art, either in painting or in writing. In this way what Father and I do together is to make real something of story.
I suppose what intrigues me most is that when Father speaks, things come into existence. His very word, whatever and however, becomes the true reality of His Cosmos. In Genesis, for example, all of Creation came into existence through His living word. Never mind the wondrous forces and processes He employed to make it happen. He spoke all into being.
In a way I see a similarity with us as His Charashim. We take an experience from the unseen and by craft and art make a new reality. Father made us creative, in His image. We’re creative because He is creative and He is sharing that gift with one species on this Earth, human beings. It’s possibly the most powerful aspect of our being human. Through Father God we’ve all been endowed with some aspect of creativity, though not all of us are artists. We are all highly creative in what we do and make.
For artists this is the height of our mystic union with Father, the ability through His gift(s), to make story into reality and to share that story with others in this world.
It’s Sunday … all day … and I’m thinking about how differently I used to think of Sunday say, 15-years ago. Sunday was a day that anchored the week. It was a day of going to church, of meeting a bunch of people who politely smiled and shook my hand. It was a day of mere religion and social etiquette. It was a day of doing what I was “supposed” to do. In my heart, it was a day of seeking Him but never finding Him, and I used all of the religious processes and procedures I’d been taught in order to corner Father and have a close encounter of the personal kind.
Today, Sunday is just another day of the week for me. I was thinking about why Sunday no longer seems set apart nor is particularly special. Father God, just now commented, Sunday is no longer any different from any other day of the week for you because now you and I are together all the time, 24/7. You no longer use Sundays to merely come visit Me. We’re in love with one another and we’re infinitely close, at the Quantum level in fact, and beyond.
For me, so much has changed in this last decade. The single biggest change has been in my relationship with Father God. I now dwell in what I call relational-faith. This is a faith which is based on our spirit to Spirit mystical union. That’s how He and I “talk” to one another, spirit to Spirit. That’s how we journey through the Cosmos together, and discover things of significance and wonder. We are a relationship. We are together, whether asleep or awake, no matter what day of the week it is, or what year of life it is. My beloved Father and I are together all-ways.
Jesus, my dearest Brother, Savior, and Counselor, has made this union possible. His blood, shed for my redemption, sanctified me – made me Holy before God – and His death ripped the veil between Father and me. Because He loved me first, while I was still a sinner, I now have full, unfettered access to His Divine Presence. I can approach the Throne of Grace unafraid and can enjoy His adoration and love, as I adore Him and love Him. Thank You, Brother Jesus. Thank You, Prince of Peace, Immanuel.
Sundays … these Sundays, are not even a shadow of the former days. The life transforming relationship I experience each day with Father God is intimate, somewhat messy, lavish, and always filled with our love for one another. In these days, I worship Him more deeply, more often, more powerfully than I ever have in all my many days. In these days He and I meet at the Table of Making to venture out on the journey of creativity. This new and wondrous relationship I live with Him, who made me, who saved me, who loves me, is the very fuel of our life together. It’s already an eternal life even as I walk this wondrous Earth He has provided.
For me, at least, Sunday is like all of the other days of my week. It’s another day of wonder, filled with love and discovery with my Father God.
I am remembering a recent spiritual encounter. I was on a journey in the spirit. I don’t recall where it was I went, but in this vision, I received my Book of Destiny from Father God. What I received was an infinitely long scroll, a large and wide one. When it was given to me, it unrolled off into the distant heavens. On that scroll I saw dozens of images which I perceived to be the artworks that Father and I would be making in the forever more. Suddenly those images rose up off the face of the scroll and began a storm of pictures flying round me. It was as if I was in a gentle tornado of art encircling me. The images slowed and finally stopped. They just hung there in space. At the bottom of each image embers began to form and to slowly consume the artworks, right up to the top. The images vanished each in a beautiful glowing line of embers. Then I saw a fragrant smoke rising up from the artworks, rising above me to Father God. I suddenly knew what this vision meant. Father was speaking to me, spirit to spirit, while I was in that vision.
The scroll, instead of a book, was a sign of an eternal journey. Father and I will now be on an eternal journey of creativity. The images, of course, are the art that He and I will birth and release unto the world, and quite probably the heavens. The rising of the images from the face of the scroll represents their release. Once completed, they are released unto Father, and unto the world. Their burning was a deep reminder that the art, in the end, is a gift of sacrifice to Father.
Just as Bezalel, Oholiab and the other Charashim (artisans) completed their work, they quickly disappear from God’s word to be forgotten. There is a very good reason for this. The work wasn’t about Bezalel. It was about the people’s relationship to and worship of Father God. At God’s command, Bezalel was chosen, filled with the Holy Spirit, and created a body of work comprised of Heaven on Earth, just for Father God. We know it as the Tabernacle in the Wilderness.
So too am I to be forgotten by men, but not by Father. You see, it is Father God who is to be seen, praised, and worshiped through the art, not the artist. My artmaking is not for my personal fame and fortune. It is not about me at all. This art Father and I make together is all about Him and the relationships He wants to establish in the lives of those who will encounter that art. It’s as if His Spirit speaks to those who engage the work. It’s as if the work is somehow a window into something Father wants to share with us as individuals, a personal message from Him.
I do this work because I love Father. I love our relationship. What I do, who I am, what I become is all a gift from Father. Those gifts are then returned to Him with interest. I am one to whom much has been given and from whom much is required. There is nothing I can be offered in its place that I would value more.
I will always remember that vision. I will always ruminate upon its elemental, relational significance. I savor it because my Lover has chosen me, has honored me to become one of His Bezalel artists, one of His Charashim. I am one who dwells in His Divine Presence 24/7. As one of His believer/tabernacles, as all believers are, I am filled with the Holy Spirit. I have a hard-wired spiritual connection with Him and together we co-create in that Mystic Union to give birth to art.
I am floating and feeling somewhat disconnected. I am not lost. The floating is perhaps a number of things. I know that part of it is Father’s liberation from the strict laws & rules of theologist / institutional religion. That kind of floating is awesome and wondrous. I love that. I also know that some of the floating is Father’s liberation of my art. That too is free of the legalism & marketing forces of the gallery / museum / so-called art-world system. Father God has liberated both sides of my destiny, those of my faith, and of my art.
I sense that this disconnection I feel, this floating, is also a huge time of opportunity for me. Father has lead me to believe that stuff like loss, dislocation, change, adversity, etc., are in fact opportunities. They are difficult, maybe painful openings in life which allow for something new to be planted.
We plough the Earth, literally rip it open, in order to prepare it for new seed. I’ve come to grasp that my life is sometimes ripped open by situations and circumstance of loss, change, or adversity, and yet, even as I grieve in those times, I know that I’ve been ploughed open so that my loving Father God can plant new seeds of opportunity in me.
So often I’ve found myself tight fisted against these painful events and forces. In my youth tumult was a daily visitor and I wanted no more of it. But in my new life of relational faith, I’ve found at first a comfort, and now a joyful desire for the new seeds Father wants to bless me with. I’m not afraid anymore. When the plough of change comes roaring through, I now reel far less in the pain of adversity, loss, and change. Yes, it still hurts, I still grieve, but no where’s near as much as it used to. I think that’s because I know a new planting of opportunity is coming, and Father is making preparation(s) for it. I embrace my Father God and His plans for me and my destiny. I want them because in them I become more of who and what He has designed me to become, and in this way I bring Him glory, my life brings Him glory.
For me, feeling a sense of floating and disconnection is far less about the absence of safe ground beneath my feet. It has become more of a life-posture of being available to being drawn by Father into whatever He has written into my destiny. I need to say that a destiny is not a carved in stone mandatory program. We are not biological robots that Father plays around with. That’s Greco-Roman pantheon thinking. No, we are masters of our own lives because while Father has written a destiny for each of us, we are entirely free to go our own way. We have freewill, and that’s another subject for another time (see the teachings of Steve Harmon).
I willingly take up this posture of availability to Father’s will and ways, of desiring with all my heart to step into my identity and destiny. I willingly embrace the plough of adversity, of change, of loss, and of grief because my joy is in my Father God. He has plans for me, plans to prosper me and not to hurt me (Jeremiah 29:11-13). My Father loves me and I can trust Him to surgically alter my life, just as we see in the Chronicles of Narnia, when Aslan cuts Eustice from his dragon self, setting him free.
I love feeling as if I’m floating with the only certainty being my relationship with and in my Father God. I am safe. I am blessed. I am lavishly cherished, as Graham Cooke might say. I am being brought into infinite prosperity. I am led to lay up all of my treasures in Father’s Heaven where they’re available forever (Matthew 6:19-21). My sense of feeling as if my life is floating is grounded in my complete trust in Father, in His infinite, divine, and lavish love for me, and in my relational faith with Him.
The grieving of change and of adversity are all opportunities just waiting to be planted in my ploughed up life where, under the care of my Father God, they will blossom and bear fruit of unknown consequence forever and ever.