Living at the convergence of faith and art.

Creativity

Sunday: Relational-Faith

jonatan-pie-216311-skyIt’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.

Amen ~


Table of Making: My Prophetic Scroll

Peter by Rembrandt

Peter Denies Christ – Rembrandt

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.


Art is Spiritually Born

drawing-smlIn my recent two-way journaling with Father, we discussed the idea that all art is spiritually born. All art comes from a person’s relationship with whatever it is they place their faith in and worship. It may be the world’s values of ego, fame, and fortune. It may be in one’s political inklings, or socially meaningful pursuits. It may be one’s religion. Whatever it is we value and worship, there too is the dwelling place of our heart/art.

Father showed me that, in the same way that our tongue (what comes out of our mouths) reveals what’s in our hearts, so too does the art we make. No matter the medium, the art itself reveals what and where our treasure is. He has shown me that all art is born out of how we use the gift of creation and creativity, which He has endowed into the spiritual DNA of every human being from before His laying the foundations of this World. It is this sharing of the creative gift what makes human beings unique among all of His creatures. He went on to say that, in the arts, the use of the creative gifts has far reaching effects on history, on societies, on cultures.

Back in 2012, I was invited to a wonderful gathering of faith-driven artists. Some worked in music as a composer and a singer/songwriter. One was a recording studio producer. Several of us were visual artists. One created movement inspired works, and another shared views of the Earth and the Cosmos in breathtaking beauty. One was a director / producer of theatre. A few days before this wondrous gathering, we were all was asked to prepare a 15-minute presentation about where we had come from creatively, where we were at now, and where we saw ourselves going in the future of our art practices. The most startling thing for me was the process of preparing that presentation.

Father and I worked together to gather what I really believed about making art as a faith-driven artist. The single point I want to focus on here is that Father God revealed to me that faith-driven artists are sanctified in Christ, consecrated to His work, and are of the priestly tribe of Levi. Why the tribe of Levi? Because art is the second voice of the Church. We artists, through what we create and express, are able to connect and communicate in ways that no tract, no preacher, no teacher can. Through personal permission, the works are invited into the lives of those who choose to engage them. In that engagement, it is hoped that they find something special and of personal significance.

In these ways; the creative design of our spiritual DNA, the sanctification of our life’s work, and the consecration of our Destiny, all come together in the realization that all art is spiritually born.


Art From the Inside Out

Esther-01

“Esther” – Mixed-Media / 8.5 x 11 / Acrilycs, Color Pencil on Cardstock / (c)2013 Lewis M. Curtiss jr~

In my on-going creative life as a faith-driven artist, I’ve come to know that any art I make is the direct outgrowth of my relationship in Father God. Father and I co-labor in the creative process and, together, we birth creative expression. Without my deep, abiding, loving relationship in Him, my art would be a mere object, an artifact, to be sold in the marketplace of the world. It would lack any attributes of either Father, or myself.

I’ve come to understand that, in my work as a faith-driven artist, I need to work creatively from the inside out. The art I make is fully reliant upon my relationship with Father God, not on my skills, not on my ideas. Just as relational-faith works from the gate of First Love, from the inside going outward, so must I as a faith-driven artist. This spiritual direction is in stark contrast to the teachings of the spirit of religion, which says that we’re to work on the outside first and then move inward.

The spirit of religion is concerned most with behavior, just as the world is. Theologists taught me that I need to work on my spiritual actions and attitudes before I am acceptable to God and the church. Conduct, behavior, and beliefs become of first importance, perhaps even idolized. But in relational-faith, Father teaches me that the attitude of my heart is of first importance, and that conduct, behavior, and beliefs will follow as a result of my healing, growth, and wholeness. If I begin from within, in His Presence, all else, in living as Jesus does, follows.

Author and teacher, Ian Clayton teaches this reality in his work on our spiritual gates (see recommended reading below). We begin with our first gate, the gate of our First Love – Father / Son / Holy Spirit. We begin with our relationship with Father, in Father, dwelling in His Presence. If my art is going to be driven by my faith, and not a mere product of my life in this world; if it’s going to be formed and birthed by my relationship in Him, then this is where I must begin.

It’s something of a marriage, Father and me. In as much as husband and wife, in their love, birth a life together, so Father and I birth art together. The life which is born of marriage, a child, carries genetic attributes of its mother and father. In the same way, our art, Father’s and mine, is imbued and endowed with attributes of both of us with what you might call our spiritual DNA.

Madeleine L’Engle put it this way in her masterwork, Walking On Water: Reflections on Faith and Art when she said, The artist is a servant who is willing to be a birthgiver. In a very real sense the artist (male or female) should be like Mary who, when the angel told her that she was to bear the Messiah, was obedient to the command.” pg18. She says much more, but that’s the heart of the idea. My faith-driven art is the direct result of the depth, richness, and qualities of my intimate spiritual relationship in Father God, and that relationship begins at the deepest level, at the Gate of First Love.

Recommended reading;

1 – “Gateways of the Threefold Nature of Man”, by Ian Clayton.

2 – “Walking On Water: Reflections on Faith and Art”, by Madeleine L’Engle.


From The Table of Making: A New Series

Peter by Rembrandt
Peter by Rembrandt

Peter Denies Christ – Rembrandt

I’m going to begin a new series of posts relating to my creative journey, From the Table of Making. These last few years have seen huge breakthroughs in my art practice as I’ve been growing ever closer to Father God. That closeness has come as a direct result of my relationship with Father, of getting to know Him, and of falling ever more deeply in love with Him.

Some time back, maybe two years ago now, I was in my silent time with Him, I was meditating in His Presence, and suddenly I found myself standing in a huge room way out in the Cosmos. The floor and walls were clear and I beheld the stars and galaxies of His Creation. There in the middle of “the room” was a very large, clear, boardroom table. Jesus sat at the other end.

Welcome … this is the place from which you and I will commune in the process of your making art. This is The Table of Making.”

I was jaw dropped, and I remember having a few questions, not many, because my spirit trusted in whatever was going to develop in our creative relationship from this place.

These days I go there often, and after just a few visits, when I showed up, there sat Michelangelo, VanGogh, Rembrandt, DaVinci, and many others. I then understood that I was among some very creative company, not because they’re famous in this world, but because, in some way, at some point, their own art-making was faith-driven. What they made, what they “saw” in the midst of their creativity, was driven by the relational faith they had with Father God, and now here I was, enjoying close, intimate, creative pursuits in the Presence of my Creator.

This creative relationship with Father and the journey we share is the stuff of this series of posts.


Truth Through a Lens

  lifethroughalens This evening, I watched a film (80 mins) on photographer Annie Liebovitz, Life Through a Lens. It’s aptly titled because following her early career to today, it’s an historic walk through the 1970’s, 80’s, 90’s, and now. We revisited San Francisco and the sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll era. We wandered through several decades of Rolling Stone magazine, read by anyone wanting social and cultural change. We moved on to her current work with magazines, Vogue, and Vanity Fair. It was 40-years of American, New York cultural history and influence.

What struck me most was how so many up and comers find their creative expression in such destructive lifestyles. She talked about her incredibly close friendship with the late Susan Sontag, singer & visual artist Patti Smith, and her engaging work in the lives of a vast array of celebrities. This film is a whirl wind tour of the back half of the twentieth century all seen in the tumultuous context that is artistic New York.

This morning Manuel Luz, singer/songwriter and author wrote a wonderful post. In Science, Hendrix, Banned Books & Brokeness he spoke of how truth is so often found even in the midst of lives of death and destruction.

Angst is real. It’s a part of what is true. So if you’re wanting music or any art form that is true, you go for truth, regardless of where it comes from. I think Jimi Hendrix was doing something that was actually really true. Now he was coming from a sense of brokenness, and I feel bad for that because he never was able to reconcile that. My faith is what has helped me to reconcile…”

So many Christians in this season – and it’s becoming less so, praise God – keep ugliness and unpleasantness at arms length simply because it is unpleasant and ugly. They’re not really looking for God’s Truth, but merely a quiet, pleasant life. When it comes to their kids being seduced by pop culture, or secular humanism, their tendency is to wall themselves off with their families lest they be contaminated. In this way, these Christians are operating from a posture of fear and are allowing themselves to be neutralized by their enemy, the Liar. To them God isn’t very powerful, and evil must be battled even here in the physical / material realm. Folly this.

This is perhaps the main reason the institutional church fights to manage artists who are Christian; much Truth is found amid ugliness and unpleasantness. If the artists are forced to seek Truth in stringently clean, fully Christianized contexts, well then, it will be not only beautiful, but pleasant. However it will contain absolutely no Truth.

Because artists are open, brave, and receptive to the world around them, their lives are often lived as loose cannon, rolling around the deck of life and doing “damage”. Christians who wall-off and shelter themselves from unpleasantness and ugliness seek peace and order, something that life has very little of, and in so doing endeavor to present a Theology of Aesthetics. In effect these wall builders seek to dictate and control expressions of beauty and the arts. Therein lies much of the basis of the centuries old friction between the institutional church and artists.

This is why I am creative outside of the church, and in The Church (Body of Christ). I do not allow any institution to dictate to me what I will or will not produce as art. If the creative person is censured, there is little or no Truth in the work, just Christian propaganda; yet another reason why 1-million Christians are leaving the institutional church every year and seeking God in person – directly and relationally.

And all of this was triggered and unpacked just by a documentary film on the greatest cultural photographer of our times.    Amen ~


Process, Process, Process

Sojourner by Lewis M. Curtiss jr~

SOJURNER – Dry Pastel – 11×14 / LM Curtissjr

When I was a youngster, I was just like all kids seem to be. I was energetic and impatient. When I was supposed to do a “project” I’d rush through it as fast as possible. I’d then gather up my “creation” and toddle off in search of praise despite the dripping glue and paint.

Even in college I was still working fast because in this American culture of ours; fast is rewarded. In my work in film & theatre, there were time crunches and budgets to maintain. The mentality was for high quantity, and the quality just needed to be “good enough” for the job at hand. My creative work was always pressed by either a budget, a deadline or both.  It’s no wonder students of the creative arts are always asking the “old pros”, “So, where do you get your ideas?” The pressure to produce continuously is enormous.  But alas, I digress.

Years later when I was in theatre leadership, I was the Production Designer for the company and its primary builder as well. I took my time on the designs because I had to enhance the context of the story.  A good set does that, but our low-skill novices needed to be able to assemble it quickly.  So there’s the dichotomy; meaningful beauty in a matter of a few hours of intense construction.

In these current years of not working for others, not working in a production context, I’ve slowed down a great deal. I’ve gradually moved from impatiently wanting to see the thing done, to actually savoring each and every stroke of brush, pen, or pencil. It’s been a wonderfully long journey that takes further steps every day.

The majority of this shift has been a movement away from a paradigm of quantity over quality, to the reverse; quality over quantity. I savor quality (or qualities) over quantity any day. I’m no longer a tin can being kicked along the road by the driving forces of production.  For me quantity is so meaningless that I simply won’t tolerate it in myself.

As recently as this year, I’ve even stopped making quantities of Coptic-bound journals; why? because in the end it’s nothing more than a pile of product about which I have little care. What enjoyment did I get from that experience? Well, I enjoyed the collection and processing of upcycled papers and paste-board. I enjoyed ironing the paper and cutting it into sheets, and then folding them into signatures. I enjoyed the design elements I’d use on the covers; covering the boards and folding each corner with a binder’s fold. In short, I loved the process. But in the end, I was left with a pile of journals that I liked, but very few people wanted (or would buy). It was pleasant, repetitious, and productive. And while I’ve ceased making them for sale I still make all of my own journals and sketchbooks for personal use mostly. I don’t buy journals or sketchbooks anymore.

Instead, I make art books – that is books as objects of art. These are one of a kind, filled with meaning, and certainly not repetitious. With these “books”, anything goes, and I’m no longer making them for others. There’s no pressure to “produce” quantities of “product”. Each is filled with meaning and story.

The beautiful collage quilt blocks I used to make were also product.  I began making single blocks, having researched thousands of quilt block patterns, and while each was unique, it soon became a production line effort.

It wasn’t until I began reincorporating story into my work that a far deeper satisfaction emerged.  It’s what I was creatively hungry for but had so quickly forgotten.  As a faith-driven artist, I just couldn’t see much of my relationship with God in the quiltblocks.  I’m not knocking quilts or quilters, I love both.  I’m simply saying that quilts just aren’t my medium, whether made in paper on masonite or in fabric.  What I am knocking is my own impatience, and lack of savoring each moment of making.  I was rushing to get the thing done and missing the point along the way.

How is it that I allowed myself to be pushed and shoved into a production mindset?  What is it that I temporarily let go of?  What did I forget about myself, who I am, why I make art, and for Whom?

I’ve had to relearn why I got into this “art-thing” in the first place.  I’ve had to return to the foundations of what I’m doing and why I’m doing it.  That’s why I remembered that I’m into story – I’m a storyteller and that is the kind of art I need to be making.  I needed to quit listening to the “good advice” of well meaning others, and remember who and what I am before my Lord God.

I’m drawn to art that contains story.  At minimum the work must contain some evidence of human beings.  I don’t care if it’s a paring knife on a plate with a half-eaten apple, there’s a story in it.  Someone’s been there.  This development of story in my work has caused a dramatic slowing in my making.  I “listen” more to the materials, to the piece being made, and to God’s insights in the making.  I’ve come to the point of savoring every brush and pencil stroke; every knife cut and trim; every architectural element to be included in the work.  I’m even savoring the mental planning process of thinking through how it’s going to be assembled; something of an old friend from my scenic design and stage directing days.

For me process, the acts of making, of thinking about making, of considering the meaning of what’s being made all merge into a kind of meditation or at least a contemplation.  That’s the major reason I’ve slowed so much, and savor each moment of process so much more.  I don’t want to miss anything, not a “flavor”, or a “smell”, or the whisper of insight God’s Spirit might share with me.

To my mind art, like faith in God, is not an intellectual/mental “thing”.  Making, the process of making, is intimate, dynamic, deeply personal, uncertain, “messy”, but oh so precious.  God and I commune in process. I worship Him in process.  Sometimes I even feel a bit like John the Revelator who, being taken away in the Spirit, was shown things, deep things, and told to share what he’d experience with the world.  It’s a privilege, a celebration, a joy.

It’s all in the process.