2 More Books (part 2)

Walking on WaterI don’t know why I’m in the habit of trying to do 2 book reviews in one post. If tricks and old dogs are involved, I’m in trouble. In my last post I reviewed Makoto Fujimura’s Refractions: A Journey of Faith, Art, and Culture. The second book is Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle (author of The Wrinkle in Time). While L’Engle is a novelist, I think her views apply to poetry just as well. This book reads like a journal, and it takes her a little while to get to the point, but she admits early in the book that she was asked to write some reflections on faith and art, and she had no idea how to do that. On with the show:

When I am constantly running there is no time for being. When there is no time for being there is no time for listening.

*

This questioning of the meaning of being, and dying, and being, is behind the telling of stories around tribal fires at night; behind the drawing of animals on the walls of caves; the singing of melodies of love in spring, and of the death of green in autumn. It is part of the deepest longing of the human psyche, a recurrent ache in the harts of all of God’s creatures.

*

Christian art? Art is art; painting is painting; music is music; a story is a story. If it’s bad art, it’s bad religion, no matter how pious the subject. If it’s good art–and there the questions start coming, questions which it would be simpler to evade.

*

Generally what is more important than getting water-tight answers is learning to ask the right questions.

*

All art is cosmos, cosmos found within chaos . . . There’s some modern art, in all disciplines, which is not; some artists look at the world around them and see chaos, and instead of discovering cosmos, they reproduce chaos on canvas, in music, in words. As far as I can see, the reproduction of chaos neither art, nor is it Christian.

*

Obedience is an unpopular word nowadays, but the artist must be obedient to the work, whether it be a symphony, a painting, or a story for a small child. I believe that each work of art, whether it is a work of great genius or something very small, comes to the artist and says, “Here I am. Enflesh me. Give birth to me.” And the artist either says, “My soul doth magnify the Lord,” and willingly becomes the bearer of the work, or refuses; but the obedient response is not necessarily a conscious one. . . .

*

In art, either as creators or participators, we are helped to remember some of the glorious things we have forgotten, and some of the terrible things we are asked to endure, we who are children of God by adoption and grace.

*

The artist, if he is not to forget how to listen, must retain the vision which includes angels and dragons and unicorns, and all the lovely creatures which our world would put in a box marked Children Only.

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But when the words mean even more than the writer knew they meant, then the writer has been listening. And sometimes when we listen, we are led into places we do not expect, into adventures we do not always understand.

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I have come to recognize that the work often knows more than I do.

*

Many atheists deny God because they care so passionately about a caring and personal God and the world around them is inconsistent with a God of love, they feel, and so they say, “There is no God.” But even when one denies God, to serve music, or painting, or words is a religious activity, whether or not the conscious mind is willing to accept the fact. Basically there can be no categories as “religious” art and “secular” art, because all true art is incarnational, and therefore “religious”.

*

But to serve any discipline of art . . . is to affirm meaning, despite all the ambiguities and tragedies and misunderstanding which surround us.

*

We human beings far too often tend to codify God, to feel that we know where he is and where he is not, and this arrogance leads to such things as the Spanish Inquisition, the Salem witch burnings, and has the result of further fragmenting an already broken Christendom. . .Unamuno might be describing the artist as well as the Christian when he writes, “Those who believe they believe in God, but without passion in the heart, without anguish of mind, without uncertainty, without doubt, and even at times without despair, believe only in the idea of God, and not in God himself.”

*

Art is communication, and if there is no communication it is as though the work had been still-born.

*

The poet wrote the poem, no doubt. But he forgot himself while he wrote it, and we forgot him while we read. . . .We forget, for ten minutes, his name and our own, and I contend that this temporary forgetfulness, this momentary and mutual anonymity, is sure evidence of good stuff (quoting E.M. Forster).

*

But I am a story-teller, and that involves language, for me the English language, that wonderfully rich, complex, and oftimes confusing tongue. When language is limited, I am thereby diminished too. In time  of war language always dwindles, vocabulary is lost; and we live in a century of war. . . .We cannot Name or be Named without language. If our vocabulary dwindles to a few shopworn words, we are setting ourselves up for takeover by a dictator. When language becomes exhausted, our freedom dwindles–we cannot think; we do not recognize danger; injustice strikes us as no more than “the way things are.”

*

An artist is not a consumer, as our commercials urge us to be. An artist is a nourisher and a creator who knows that during the act of creation there is collaboration. We do not create alone.

*

Another problem about identifying what is and what is not religious art, is that religious art transcends its culture and reflects the eternal, and while we are alive we are caught within our culture.

*

All children are artists, and it is an indictment of our culture that so many of them lose their creativity, their unfettered imaginations, as they grow older. But they start off without self-consciousness as they paint their purple flowers, their anatomically impossible people, their thunderous, sulphurous skies. . .What looks like a hat to a grownup may, to the child artist, be an elephant inside a boa constrictor.

*

…[L]ie and story are incompatible. If it holds no truth, then it cannot truly be story. And so I knew that it was in story that I found flashes of that truth which makes us free.

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The discipline of creation, be it to paint, compose, write, is an effort toward wholeness.

*

Creativity opens us to revelation, and when our high creativity is lowered to two percent, so is our capacity to see angels, to walk on water, to talk with unicorns. In the act of creativity, the artist lets go the self control which he normally clings to, and is open to riding the wind. Something almost always happens to startle us during the act of creating, but not unless we let go our adult intellectual control and become as open as little children. This does not mean to set aside or discard the intellect, but to understand that it is not to become dictator, for when it does we are closed off from revelation.

*

If my stories are incomprehensible to Jews or Muslims or Taoists, then I have failed as a Christian writer We do not draw people to Christ by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.

*
Art is an affirmation of life, a rebuttal of death.

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