Saturday, November 19, 2011

2011.11.23 Leaps of Faith

I’ve returned to reading some literary classics like To Kill a Mockingbird and Brideshead Revisited.

Contemporary work pulls me along all right but its prose is slick, speedy and often dependent on contrived plot twists. Fine-tuned prose with nuance is slow and deliberate ushering me INTO the drama rather than floating me along on top of it.

I've long believed that the arts—all of them not just the fine arts— can save the world. I’m supposed to be saying that God saves the world but salvation requires human hearts and minds and limbs—and leaps of faith.

Evelyn Waugh gives an example of the intricacy of the creative process and its spirituality from the point of view of a painter.

“I had the perspective set out in pencil and the detail carefully placed. I held back from painting, like a diver on the water’s edge; once in I found myself buoyed and exhilarated. I was normally a slow and deliberate painter’ that afternoon, and all the next day, and the day after, I worked fast. I could do nothing wrong. At the end of each passage I paused, tense, afraid to start the next, fearing, like a gambler, that luck must turn and the pile be lost. Bit by bit, minute by minute, the thing came into being. There were not difficulties; the intricate multiplicity of light and colour became a whole; the right colour was where I wanted it on the pallette; each brush stroke, as soon as it was complete, seemed to have been there always.” (from Brideshead Revisited)

For brush stroke, substitute word, step, breath or note.The creative process when it takes over is deliberate AND random all at once. Inordinate time is spent to perfect each stroke, word, note, step, or action, but in the end one must risk the plunge toward something new. Think how risky it feels to fill in a pencil sketch with paint you know you can't erase. An act of creating is like jumping INTO your soul, INTO God.

When I was eight I paced the high diving board, coming right to the edge, looking down in terror at the waters of Long Island sound below, sure to swallow up my small earnest body forever. I’d been told I’d be OK; I could swim; the waters were deep enough. Still I paced.

I’d like to say that a lovely spiritual moment of faith helped me leap, but in truth it was spotting a teen ager climbing the ladder. I was more afraid of being thrown in with mock and toss than I was of the waters, so I grasped my nose tight and leapt. Sure enough the waters caught me and buoyed me up. I can hardly remember a more triumphant moment. Later I’d boast, maybe feel grateful, but for now I just burst with pride and I was totally myself, soaking wet and safe.

It takes the same boldness to step onto a stage, write words on a page, sing notes out loud, participate in religious liturgies and rituals when you have no idea what they mean, pray without inhibition, hurling your words at an invisible Love, preach to high heaven, even though Ms. evil eye sits in the pew grimacing with her arms crossed over her chest—the body language from hell.

Like Waugh's artist you leap IN anyway. Whether your work is worthy of critical acclaim or not you have given something of your soul and so been saved

God is like that,leaping INTO creating with abandon—like a kindergartner with finger paint—faithful, free, flambuoyant, and pleased to bursting with the effort.

God is like that, leaping into Mary's womb, letting go into a scary new process—completely faithful, free, flambouyant,flawless—and pleased to bursting with the new life her womb will labor into being.

The sturdy graces of Thanksgiving are at your back. Lean on their memory as you leap INTO Advent to create something new.