Wednesday, March 31, 2010

God and the Arts

by: Bernard Bell
Within the evangelical world we are frequently told that we must be busily about God’s service. There are so many needs in the world and we must give God a helping hand to ensure that these needs are met. “If you don’t respond,” we are told, “who will?” Thus we are driven either by guilt or by genuine enthusiasm to a lifestyle of ceaseless activity in the service of God, spurred on by regular motivational speeches and books, and by assurances that God is using us mightily. Our God, it seems, is a utilitarian God—one who needs us, one who has redeemed us in order to help him, one who can’t get by without us.

But if we turn to God’s self-revelation in Creation, we find a remarkably non-utilitarian God. He places flowers on a thousand hills where no human will ever see them. He oversees the life cycle of myriad stunningly beautiful insects, unobserved by any human eye. He has placed millions of galaxies far beyond the limit of human eyesight, beyond even the range of the Hubble Telescope. A look at the Bird of Paradise flower or at the peacock should suggest to us that God is extravagant in his creation of beauty and wonder. What good do such birds and flowers play in the grand scheme of things, in the urgent task of evangelism and mission?

Turning to the Scriptures we find a similar delight in beauty on the part of God. Those urgent about the task of evangelism and mission would prefer a clear outline of the four spiritual laws or of the plan of salvation. The nearest we get in Paul’s “Repent and be baptized.” Instead, we find a great number of stories, which modern literary critics acknowledge are marvelous models of literary creation. Such stories cannot be quickly read and put into practice. They must be read slowly, audibly, preferably in community. They must be chewed over, reflected upon, tossed around and around in the inner recesses of the brain. They are distinctly unpractical, though we are ever ready to force the process in our search for quick application. But if we mull over these stories long enough we will find them to be immensely practical, not because they will make us go out and do things, but because they will transform us. All good stories, and the biblical narratives are no exception, have the capacity to be subversive. If they work long enough in our mind, they will perform a radical work on us, changing us. This is the transforming power of art of which Dorothy Sayers wrote.

Why does God delight so much in placing his artwork in Creation and in the Scriptures? I can think of several reasons. Firstly, God delights in making things that are good and beautiful. Beauty is an integral part of his created order. Secondly, God does not need our help. Just as man is gratuitous in his activity, so is God gratuitous in all his activity. He makes flowers bloom on a thousand hills not because he needs to but because he wants to. He surely made the peacock with a smile on his face. One can sense this delight on God’s part as he brought the animals to Adam to name. God does not need us: he was perfectly fulfilled within the Trinity but freely chose to bring mankind into being. He does not need to save us, but freely chooses to do so. He does not even need us for the work of mission and evangelism. The world is full of needs, the sum total of which is beyond the capacity of humans to meet. If we are driven by a sense of need, we will burn ourselves out, for this is not the way God has designed.

God even uses artistic imagery in describing our participation in his work. We are to be a fragrant aroma of the Lord Jesus Christ wherever we go, mediating his beauty to all around us. We have the perfect model in the Lord Jesus Christ. He was constantly surrounded by people in need, yet frequently turned his back on them and sought out solitary places. He drew people’s attention to his Father’s artistic beauty in creation, reminding them of the lilies of the field and of the sparrow. Through the way in which he lived he was a fragrant aroma of life to some, and an aroma of death to others. Yes, he was about his father’s business, but that business included much that we would define as distractions from the urgent task at hand. He told stories of great artistic merit, which defied translation into immediate action, for their meaning was deliberately concealed. If God chose to so act through his Son, should we not hesitate in our haste to rush into action?

Perhaps the greatest argument for the arts is that put forward by God himself in his questioning of Job (Job 37-41). From a utilitarian perspective, God’s answer was useless: he answered none of Job’s questions. But it was deeply subversive, for it subverted Job’s whole being. In a dazzling round of questions, God showed that he is completely non-contingent, that he delights in the bizarre things he has made. Is not this also the sense of Lady Wisdom skipping as a child at Creation (Proverbs 8)?

In fine, God is an artist who delights to make things for sheer pleasure. He does remarkably little to address the immediate task at hand, but through his constant subversive artistic activity he is bringing about an entirely new creation. Should we not follow suit in delighting in the glorious impractical activity of artistic creation, of telling our stories, of smelling God’s flowers, of mulling over Biblical narrative, and so find ourselves profoundly subverted, and find also that we are a fragrant aroma of the Lord Jesus Christ?

I'm interested in the intention of creation as an act unto itself. I feel that we are inspired, even compelled to create, because God is a creative being and He designed our beings after Himself. I find it almost magical, then, to put into action something that was birthed in me by the Master Himself. Of course not everything made by human hands is beautiful and/or reflects their original intent, but the simple act of pouring your heart into something that is a part of you but exists on its own brings a kind of satisfaction that nothing else does. I think there is almost more value in the act of creation than in the final product itself. That is why art is often more about the process. I think one of the best challenges we can give ourselves as artists is the one-a-day concept. I know that I'm not diligent at this at all, but I would love to one day be. To just pick something, and make one of them every single day for a set period of time. You would learn so much about process, time, ability, art as a changing phenomenon and even human nature. I think the longer you do this, the more you will begin to see yourself both in the artworks themselves, and as part of a Created network.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

We Are Made One with What We Touch and See

We are resolved into the supreme air,
We are made one with what we touch and see,
With our heart's blood each crimson sun is fair,
With our young lives each springimpassioned tree
Flames into green, the wildest beasts that range
The moor our kinsmen are, all life is one, and all is change.

With beat of systole and of diastole
One grand great life throbs through earth's giant heart,
And mighty waves of single Being roll
From nerveless germ to man, for we are part
Of every rock and bird and beast and hill,
One with the things that prey on us, and one with what we kill

One sacrament are consecrate, the earth
Not we alone hath passions hymeneal,
The yellow buttercups that shake for mirth
At daybreak know a pleasure not less real
Than we do, when in some freshblossoming wood
We draw the spring into our hearts, and feel that life is good

Is the light vanished from our golden sun,
Or is this daedalfashioned earth less fair,
That we are nature's heritors, and one
With every pulse of life that beats the air?

Rather new suns across the sky shall pass,
New splendour come unto the flower, new glory to the grass.

And we two lovers shall not sit afar,
Critics of nature, but the joyous sea
Shall be our raiment, and the bearded star
Shoot arrows at our pleasure! We shall be
Part of the mighty universal whole,
And through all Aeons mix and mingle with the Kosmic Soul!.

We shall be notes in that great Symphony
Whose cadence circles through the rhythmic spheres,
And all the live World's throbbing heart shall be
One with our heart, the stealthy creeping years
Have lost their terrors now, we shall not die,
The Universe itself shall be our Immortality!.

Oscar Wilde

Sunday, March 21, 2010

food for thought.

The music that really turns me on is either running toward God or away from God. Both recognize the pivot, that God is at the center of the jaunt.

::: Bono :::

Reason is powerless in the expression of Love.

::: Rumi :::

The true work of art is but a shadow of the divine perfection.

::: Michelangelo :::

Man can't do without God. Just like you're thirsty, you have to drink water. You just can't go without God.

::: Bob Marley :::

It seems that all of the good things in life are connected. And connected to God. I can't imagine life without the urge to create; this blessing coming from the heart of the Creator Himself.

Mark Rothko, Ochre and Red on Red

"here is the deepest secret nobody knows

(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)"

[from i carry your heart with me, by E.E. Cummings]

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

'bout ye? Happy St. Patrick's!

May those who love us, love us.

And for those who don't love us,
May God turn their hearts.
And if he can not turn their hearts,
May he turn their ankles,
So we may know them by their limping.
May you live as long as you want, and never want as long as you live.

(now that's just lovely, so it is! ha.. gotta love the irish!)

I drink to your health when I'm with you,

I drink to your health when I'm alone,
I drink to your health so often,
I'm starting to worry about my own

(haha.. i couldn't resist including this one)

Sunday, March 14, 2010

i read this for my birthday.. what a great passage!

Psalm 139, New Living Translation

  O LORD, you have examined my heart
and know everything about me.
  You know when I sit down or stand up.
You know my thoughts even when I'm far away.
  You see me when I travel
and when I rest at home.
You know everything I do.
  You know what I am going to say
even before I say it, LORD.
  You go before me and follow me.
You place your hand of blessing on my head.
  Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too great for me to understand!

  I can never escape from your Spirit!
I can never get away from your presence!
  If I go up to heaven, you are there;
if I go down to the grave, you are there.
  If I ride the wings of the morning,
if I dwell by the farthest oceans,
  even there your hand will guide me,
and your strength will support me.
  I could ask the darkness to hide me
and the light around me to become night—
  but even in darkness I cannot hide from you.
To you the night shines as bright as day.
Darkness and light are the same to you.

  You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
and knit me together in my mother's womb.
  Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
  You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,
as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.
  You saw me before I was born.
Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out
before a single day had passed.

  How precious are your thoughts about me, O God.
They cannot be numbered!
  I can't even count them;
they outnumber the grains of sand!
And when I wake up,
you are still with me!

  O God, if only you would destroy the wicked!
Get out of my life, you murderers!
  They blaspheme you;
your enemies misuse your name.
  O LORD, shouldn't I hate those who hate you?
Shouldn't I despise those who oppose you?
  Yes, I hate them with total hatred,
for your enemies are my enemies.

  Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
  Point out anything in me that offends you,
and lead me along the path of everlasting life.

It's amazing to think that we are completely known by God. It's a hard concept to fathom when we have a hard time getting to completely know ourselves. But the really great part is that God is gracious and merciful and has patience for us in our times of ignorance and not knowing, and even our times of not wanting to know and to just try things on our own. In a sense we need to know God first because that's the only way we will truly know ourselves. He made us, afterall.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

ok a few more words from annie dillard and then i'm returning the book to the library. it was so good. i highly recommend it.

from the end of 'the writing life'

"Rahm did everything his plane could do: tailspins, four-point rolls, flat spins, figure 8's, snap rolls, and hammerheads. He did pirouettes on the plane's tail. The other pilots could do these stunts, too, skillfully, one at a time. But Rahm used the plane inexhaustibly, like a brush marking thin air.

His was pure energy and naked spirit. I have thought about it for years. Rahm's line unrolled in time. Like music, it split the bulging rim of the future along its seam. It pried out the present. We watchers waited for the split-second curve of beauty in the present to reveal itself. The human pilot, Dave Rahm, worked in the cockpit right at the plane's nose; his very body tore into the future for us and reeled it down upon us like a curling peel.

Like any fine artist, he controlled the tension of the audience's longing. You desired, unwittingly, a certain kind of roll or climb, or a return to a certain portion of the air, and he fulfilled your hope slantingly, like a poet, or evaded it until you thought you would burst, and then fulfilled it surprisingly, so you gasped and cried out.

The oddest, most exhilarating and exhausting thing was this: he never quit. The music had no periods, no rests or endings; the poetry's beautiful sentence never ended; the line had no finish; the sculptured forms piled overhead, one into another without surcease. Who could breathe, in a world where rhythm itself had no periods?

It had taken me several minutes to understand what an extraordinary thing I was seeing. Rahm kept all that embellished space in mind at once. For another twenty minutes I watched the beauty unroll and grow more fantastic and unlikely before my eyes. Now Rahm brought the plane down slidingly, and just in time, for I thought I would snap from the effort to compass and remember the line's long intelligence; I could not add another curve. He brought the plane down on a far runway. After a pause, I saw him step out, an ordinary man, and make his way back to the terminal."
--pg 96-97

new site

there's not much there yet, but it's a start..

Etsy Alberta Street Team..check it out!

Sunday, March 7, 2010


eventually i'll finish "the writing life" and stop quoting dillard...but for now:

"There was no continental shelf; the island beach dropped to the deep and sandless ocean floor. The water was so cold throughout the year that a man overboard died in ten minutes. Once I saw two twenty-four-man war canoes race across a passage. Forty-eight bare-chested Lummi Indians paddled them, singing. Once I saw phosphorescent seas in a winter storm in front of the cabin; in the black night black seas broke in wild lines to the horizon and spilled green foam that glowed when the wind's pitch rose, so I wept on the shore in fear.
I lived on the beach with one foot in fatal salt water and one foot on a billion grains of sand. The brink of the infinite there was too like writing's solitude. Each sentence hung over an abyssal ocean or sky which held all possibilities, as well as the possibility of nothing. In June and July, the twilight lingered till dawn. Our latitude was north of Nova Scotia; the sun never dropped low enough below the horizon to achieve what is called astronomical night. The wide days split life open like an ax. When I sketched or painted the island shore, even with the most literal intentions, the work twined into the infinite again and dissolved, or the infinite assaulted the page again and required me to represent it. My pen piled the page with changing clouds, multiple suns, circles, spirals, and rays. I used the pages at night to light fires.
'I have been doing some skying,' Constable wrote a friend. I have been doing some scrolling, here and elsewhere, scrolling up and down beaches and blank monitor screens scrying for signs: dipping papers into vats of color, dipping paddles into seas, and bearing God knows where. The green line of photons forms words at the shore of darkness. Darkness empties behind the screen in an illimitable cone. Shall we go rowing again, we who believe we may indeed row off the edge and fall? Shall we launch again into the deep and row up the skies?"
The Writing Life, Dillard [pg. 89-90]

Shall we?

Evocative. I have never encountered a writer who can stimulate the senses and stir up such wordless emotions all in one breath-taking passage.

And to spice things up; a poem from a Canadian Christian magazine, WindsorReview:

The Saddening Green, by John. B. Lee
~inspired by a U.E.L McQueen graveyard in Port Dover

Sometimes in the earth
there exists
such a saddening green
on a grave in the rain
with a sorrowful sun
gone grey as a shadow on stone
in the drab of the land
with the name on the stone
worn away [are we meant to be remembered beyond the grave?]*
as it leans in the fading of moss
and is blackened
by lichening life
and the withering weather of spring

see how
they've sunk in the yard
these heroes of time
these tablets of yesterday's love
this oldening loss
this reverent vanish of bones
like the burning of branches to ash
a streak on the marl
or a mark on the sand
where the hand
holds death to its breath
or a face
wore the dust as a mask
as it slept in the language of prayer

who went on this journey
of souls
with the nesting of roots
through the mind
once kissed
with the fever of touch
once held
to the warming of dark
once dreamed
and remembered in youth
such a fathering mothering blue
from the promise of dawn
to the dimming of dusk
to the startling brilliance of stars
how the mystery comes
to us all [it truly is a mystery, death... who can explain lack of existence? is that why we fight so hard to be remembered? because we are afraid of the unknown? of being unknown..]*
when we carry the light
like the lake, like the moon
like the well
too deep for the cup

*my words.

I was actually thinking about death lately. I guess being human forces us to face our mortality at least on occasion. I was more specifically thinking about cremation. My mom wanted to be cremated, for a few reasons. But one of them was that she wanted her funeral to be less hard on us; without a casket and pall bearers and a grave-side service. However in some ways, I think having someone cremated, as much as it seems like the logical thing to do (ashes to ashes, dust to dust), is a lot harder to cope with. When I think of a loved one who has been buried in a casket; I can picture them lying there as an entire body. But with mom we took hand-fulls of what used to be her, and spread them into the wind. So it's strangely final. Her human life being over. I know that when you're dead you're not going to be whole on earth ever again; but I guess there's a small comfort in one being still intact when they're dead. I don't think I would have thought much about this if I hadn't faced it myself.  I don't know why it ends up being so hard coming to terms with death and loss, but I guess it's because it's the opposite of what we fight so hard to do and be all our lives. Alive. Vibrant. Thoughts?

Friday, March 5, 2010

more from dillard

"One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things will fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impluse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes." (The Writing Life, pg.78-9)

I think this could quite-well be very insightful advice for living. It carries over to other dimensions of life: Spiritually, relationally, (probably not the best idea with actual finances..), etc. Score one more for Annie. Why not put our hearts into what we do? It only makes sense. We're really only here for a short while.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

hump day. whata glamorous name for this middle of the week day.

i arrived at work this morning to be greeted by the evacuation alarm. so i put my coat back on and headed outside. i can handle a work day like this.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

the writing life

i've been reading the writing life by annie dillard lately, and as much as she dispels the romantic notion we sometimes have about being a writer, she has still managed to inspire me. inspired me to be a more consistent, more interesting, more powerful and meaningful blog writer. inspired me to move to a small hut somewhere on the beach and finally, seriously undertake writing a novel.

some favourite quotes from her book thus far..

oh and just saying... i love the smell of old books, nothing better. and new books, depending on where you get them. it's those in between books you have to look out for! ha.

ok quotes...

"Every morning you climb several flights of stairs, enter your study, open the French doors, and slide your desk and chair out into the middle of the air. The desk and chair float thirty feet from the ground, between the crowns of maple trees. The furniture is in place; you go back for your thermos of coffee. Then, wincing, you step out again through the French doors and sit down on the chair and look over the desktop. You can see clear to the river from here in the winter. Your pour yourself a cup of coffee.
Birds fly under your chair. In spring, when the leaves open in the maples' crowns, your view stops in the treetops just beyond the desk; yellow warblers hiss and whisper on the high twigs, and catch flies. Get to work. Your work is to keep cranking that flywheel that turns the gears that spin the belt in the engine of belief that keeps you and your desk in midair."

I love that. I wish my desk at work was in midair. Sadly it is painfully grounded.

"I have been looking into schedules. Even when we read physics, we inquire of each least particle, What then shall I do this morning? How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time. A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order--willed, faked, and so brought into being; it is a lifeboat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living. Each day is the same, so you remember the series afterward as a blurred and powerful pattern."