The arts as new creation
In a sense, what I am exploring here is the drift of Brueggemann’s thought, that when the voice of the empire fails, when the voice of priestly authority fails, finally, God sends his poets. My only request is that you realise that I am neither a theologian nor philosopher by training, I am an artist, a writer.
Like anything else that bears the name of church, artist Christians stand as fallen humanity in a damaged creation and face the God who would heal all of it and fill it with his glory. We stand between hope and realisation, we stand with our feet in the mud and our hands reaching for whatever God intends heaven to mean, towards a new creation.
We stand facing God on behalf of his world and we face the world, in frailty and perhaps tentatively, in the name of its creator.
All artists have something of this intercession in them, whatever their faith or refusal of faith. All of us observe and experience, reflect, and in our reflecting make statements about what we see and feel.
In this chapter I want to propose a framework or a modal model of ways in which artists can engage in this intercession. Four modes are in mind, Doxology, Lament, Resistance and Wonder. A vast amount of artistic endeavour operates within these modes. That same art also operates from particular worldviews and mindsets. In other words, an artist might be operating from a thoroughly secularised, humanist or even atheistic worldview and still function broadly within these modes.
Don’t hang me on these examples, but I must try to give some hints as to what these things mean, and the best way to do this is to refer to known artists. My concern here is not about whether an artist is a Christian or not, nor even if their work is meant constructively. It is merely to suggest how the model happens in practice.
Doxology is probably the least recognisable narrative for the visual arts, but it is strong in music. John Taverner and Arvo Paart work from this centre, Messiaen made much of his music from within doxology. To say nothing of the vast catalogue made from within the conventions of church music. Doxology must begin in a faith environment. It is akin to saying that Christian artists generally need a strong creational theology in order to find their narrative starting point.
Lament, unsurprisingly, does not need a faith position to be valid, only if it is to be prophetic. It needs experience of life, and because of this it is probably the most active narrative mode in contemporary arts, especially if we include the early stages of lament, which are usually expressed as questions about the way things are.
Tracy Emin might obviously be telling a story with her tent and the names of everyone she ever slept with. Or at least, she was telling a story until the tent burned. But her bed is no less a story and as sad. It is a story told from the intimate interior of what it takes to be a woman in today’s world, or as Germaine Greer observed, the unglamorous story of what it costs a woman to frolic.
It is not difficult (but might not be correct) to read much of Emin’s work as a lament upon the events of her life and, increasingly, as wonder at it, and in the nature of her expression to declare her right, even the right to be wrong.
One of the first expressionists, Edward Munch was wrestling with the effects of a heavy church upbringing and with his own desperate relational wounds. Munch certainly understood lament with a rawness that is painful to see!
Anthony Gormley, too, embraces these tasks. The dignity with which he invests his works leads back to lament and forwards to wonder because the dignity is deeply aspirational. He has bemoaned the fact that his angels cannot fly! With Gormley, one might say that we have tension held not between doxology and lament but between lament and wonder. Compare, perhaps, the Angel of the North and Field and see if this becomes clear. His work is full of profound progressions, male figures, cruciform with arms outstretched, later morph into gliders, then angels. The crossover between lament and wonder, for me, becomes poignant to the point of pain in the field: thousands of tiny artless figures, made by thousands of unpracticed hands, standing in packed proximity, with the viewer standing high above them, and all you see is thumb-mark eyes.
Resistance is almost as strong a motive as lament. From the constructions of Karel Appel, who with regard to his work said ‘I don’t paint, I hit’, to the political cries of Diego Rivera, Picasso or Goya, or the powerful mixture of lament and resistance in Anselm Kiefer. The notion of resistance is probably the most complex to understand and develop. I would also suggest, if artist Christians find their voices, that resistance is the mode of work that is likely to attract the most controversy. But when resistance is mixed with something beautiful and dignifying, its subversion can be welcomed, take the photography of Sebastio Salgado for example.
Wonder is a wonder! You might think that it means something similar to doxology and you would be partly right. I do intend to make it close to doxology because I want to describe a cycle or process of interaction.
Andy Goldsworthy sees with different eyes. His work flings its arms wide and embraces a whole world, stands in awe of its detail and plays joyously within its colour and form. Goldsworthy summons us to wonder. Many have produced work that evokes wonder, not always intentionally, and certainly not in ways that make easy sense. What is it, I wonder, that makes a piece sublime, is it in the work, is it in us? What is that spirit that renders me silent, for hours, in front of Mark Rothko’s work, or Pollock’s. It cannot be just one thing because the sense of each is so different, with Rothko I go deep down, to a place of utter stillness, with Pollock I almost want to climb into the canvas and run around!
In the world of music, and as an example perhaps to Christian musicians who need to break out of the stereotypical modes of song, Bobby McFerrin, when he goes out into an audience, in front of millions of viewers, and lifts song from people who hardly know how to make a sound, is praying with them. For him song is an act of prayer and chant is pure engagement with God, and with the wonder of the spirit.
Although such a superficial listing does not carry the weight I should like to attach to this, perhaps it is enough as a prelude to the point.
We would like to think that we are true originators, but, as CS Lewis reminds us, "’Creation’ as applied to human authorship seems to me to be an entirely misleading term. We re-arrange elements He has provided. And that is surely why our works never mean to others quite what we intended; because we are recombining elements made by Him and already containing His meanings. Because of those divine meanings in our materials it is impossible that we should ever know the whole meaning of our works and the meaning we never intended may be the best and truest one."
Lewis, in my view, and surprisingly for a creative writer, underestimates what artists do, unless he regarded his books as re-arrangements of words. But his point is well made. Artists are creative responders. There is something in our makeup which tends towards intuition (even for those who work within pure physicality or mathematically, like Bridget Riley or, more recently of course, Tomma Abts) combined with a more or less refined sense of form, texture, colour, rhythm, tonality… a particular sensual palette that is accessible both to us in terms of our capacity for expression and to others in terms of communication. More fundamental than both of these, the artist, in that responsiveness, knows a drive to expression that is satisfying when achieved and uncomfortable, even painful, when frustrated.
In the film Frida, Diego Rivera responds to Frida Kahlo when she asks if it is worth her becoming an artist by saying ‘if you are an artist you will not be able to stop yourself from painting.’ This sentiment has been expressed variously, by many, with regard to every form of art. Writers might find writing hard, but not as hard, ultimately, as not writing. Dancers suffer when they are held still. Singers ache in silence. Deny an actor her stage and she’ll perform in front of a mirror.
This creative drive is where I want to start to explore the four narrative intentions. First I must expand on their meaning and show why I am suggesting that they form a cycle.
Doxology, in church tradition, is often taken to mean praise or worship of God. In the New Testament, however, the root doxa and its derivatives (in the Old Testament, abod) are unusually precise and consistent in their translation. Doxa and cognates are always rendered as glory, glorify and so on. Doxology is an act of attribution; we give glory to God. We give him nothing that is not already his, but we confess it and in this confession refuse to attribute glory (particular worth) to any other.
Of all the words of love, adoration, affection, devotion between humanity and God, none so thoroughly contains all of the meaning and mystery of that relationship in the way that doxa does.
Doxa ascribes and describes the essence of our relationship. Its roots are in the first three chapters of Genesis. Why? Because the creation story is doxology. Not only this, it is doxology done in a way that, for some people, is surprisingly common in scripture. It is down-to-earth political doxology. Genesis 1 and its counterpart is doxology written against Babylon’s pantheon of Gods. Genesis is the doxology of the one God and Father of us all. Just as Paul’s ‘Jesus is Lord’ is defiant doxology, as we shall see in a moment.
When the apostle John set out to do what the other gospel writers didn’t do, to contextualise his account of Jesus in the whole of creation and in heart of the Fatherhood of God, he begins with the Greek phrase en arch en ho logos. He begins with the doxology of the earth’s creation, ‘in the beginning’, precisely because what he is about to describe is the beginning of the new creation.
At the end of the book of Revelation a cry rises to Jesus to come with the fullness of the age to come, it is a cry to a King to embrace his kingdom, it too is doxology, ascribing to Jesus his place as King of creation and, at the same time, as the fullness of God’s intention for humanity. It is in this moment and in this act that God’s definition of what it means to be human is epitomised, in Paul’s terms, the ‘second man’.
But there is another aspect that is important: Paul’s gospel has to be brought in at this point. By this I mean simply the phrase ‘Jesus is Lord’. Familiarity with our heavily enculturated church narrative has reduced this phrase to a code for ‘preaching the gospel’. When Paul used this phrase it acted like a slap in the face to his audience. If you lived in Paul’s world you would often hear and see messages that meant or said outright ‘Caesar is Lord’. Paul’s cry was not an evangelistic sound-bight, it was a pointed contradiction to the competing claim about whose world this is. ‘Jesus is Lord’ is therefore doxology and resistance before it is anything else.
The meaning of the universe and our place in it is wrapped in doxology. The creation and the new creation, the new heaven and new earth, are bound up in doxology. The first Adam and the new humanity in the last Adam are inaugurated in this doxology. It simply isn’t possible to experience doxology with the mere idea of the existence of a god. Doxology has to surrender, as honestly as it can, to the Godness of God, to the way in which this God reveals God’s intention, passion, desire, and meaning. From this, let me offer another phrase that evokes the experience and meaning of Doxology, for people of faith, and particularly for our subject, artists of faith.
Doxology is our willing and passionate engagement with the dream of God.
Doxology and the eschaton are essentially and always together.
But what does this cursory description of doxology mean for us as artists?
Most fundamentally, however we go on to explore doxology, it means that our work as artists is about something, it has a context and it often has an object. This context, for us, begins with the most basic apprehension of the world we live in and the God we acknowledge and worship. Second, it means that this doxology embraces the intention of that God: his project, as some theologians call it.
Our work then is not and never can be entirely self-referential. We will in some way always be referring to the ‘otherness’ of God, his creation and his desire.
Does this mean that we preach through our work? If we do, we misunderstand doxology, but we misunderstand something else as well. When we talk about our work as artists we talk about the whole creative process, not just the outcome or the product. It is for dealers and galleries and publishers and producers to talk only about the product. For us to think about our work at all, let alone to think about it theologically, means thinking about the process of questioning, of ideas, of events and responses, and then of the making and only then of the outcome. I realise that this does not apply evenly across all arts. In some the process is almost instantaneous, in the performance of Jazz for example, or in improvisation in any of the performing arts.
So, doxology, or indeed any of the other three motifs, begins its work not in terms of our outputs but in terms of our processes. Doxology begins its work in us, in our thinking, in our motivation, in our inspiration.
I was going to leave this next paragraph until we had looked at all four motifs, but sense that it would be more useful here because there is so much more to be said about doxology than I am ready to include in a simple essay.
I said earlier that I intend a cycle or process in these motifs. This is easy to state superficially: lament, resistance and wonder are meant to lead us back to doxology, always (or it does if we are really captivated by the narrative of creation). It is because of what doxology does to us that when we encounter that which conflicts with doxa that we are drawn to lament. It is when we commit to what we learn through doxa that lament can be expressed concretely in resistance, but we only undertake resistance in the hope that doxology provides, hence we are drawn towards the wonder of the resurrection which then takes us back to our source.
Such a cycle is unique. Every school of the arts (i.e. school of thinking not school for training) has been located in just one or two of these motifs and remained there until it died out. Schools of arts usually die out because they are superseded. Each school has explored and engaged with a set of ideas, variously expressed, alongside other schools that are working from other ideas. They wax and wane but they rarely, except in the most superficial terms, lead from or to each other. They tend to be antagonistic to what goes before, swinging pendulum-like through phases of contradiction.
The unique point, and opportunity, is the coherence of the model for artist Christians. But we will only gain access to it when we engage simultaneously in both the microcosm of our work and working relationships and the macro-vision of doxological eschatology. To turn this mouthful into a morsel, we only get this when God’s bigger stories guide our little stories - when the passionate intention of the creator is allowed to form us and inform us.
How we approach this will largely be determined by where we are, individually, as communities, and culturally. If our mindsets are influenced by the surviving triumphalism of new church culture, we will tend to speak in our work of God’s intention as if it were already achieved or at least, achieved within the sanctuary. The weakness of this will likely be in the area of lament; we will tend not to address the way things are right now. If our cultural disposition is more Calvinist, shall we say, then the emphasis in our work will probably be a bit light on hope and wonder (wonder and T.U.L.I.P. are conflicted, even if the wonder of tulips is not!) If we come from a highly separatist tradition we might grasp doxology (at least in terms of defending God’s authority) and we might rail against the darkness (thinking this to be lament) but we would be unlikely to engage much in active resistance. If we come from a more sacramental disposition, wonder will be strong, lament might also be clear, but quite gentle, and again, perhaps, resistance might be a little light.
I drew a distinction between doxology and the ways that word are often understood. But worship and praise are inevitable partners with doxology. What I want to stress in this distinction is that doxology is not something that can be contained within religious forms; it is too big for that. Doxology in its confession of God embraces the cosmos, enfolds every human encounter, every war, every crime, every design, every plan. It is as potent within politics and economics as it is in church; it is as relevant in the boardroom as it is in the pulpit. As we engage with its confession we are simultaneously drawn in adoration and worship to the God who would fill all things and we are pushed out onto the stage of his drama.
What, given doxology, is our response to the conflict that we find when we walk onto that stage? Let me explain…
If I had used a different model of motifs, I might have chosen Law, Sin, Atonement and Sanctification, how does our current model direct our response to creation and society differently from that model?
Had we begun with Law, the conflict we would be addressing might be sin, or rebellion or any of its binary opposites, and our response would be somewhere on that spectrum of theology between vengeance and forgiveness, depending on where we wanted to go in the third stage.
I chose our four motifs for two reasons, neither of which I can put upon you. First because they have grown out of my past, my work and thinking. And secondly because, when it comes down to it, from within prayer and worship, these were four words I believe the Spirit of God spoke to me. And this piece of work is my first exploration of what those words might mean.
So, given doxology as my starting place, how do I react to the denial of doxology in the world? How do I respond when, desiring and expecting the glory of God, I find the degradation and sorrow of sin?
At a philosophical level, doxology takes us, and very quickly, to a point beyond language and even beyond comprehension. When we speak of the Glory of God, we reach our limit because we are attempting to speak of the ‘Godness of God.’
How then, does the Godness of God respond to that which is UnGodly? In other words, how does God respond to the reality of his own disappointment, to the sullying of his own image in his own image bearer, to the corruption of his own perfect creational intention?
Does he respond as a judge might respond to a crime, as he might in the legal model? Or does he respond as a Father might, in anger at a drug dealer who damaged his child? Is it not more understandable, in simple human terms, to think that God’s primary response to sin is grief rather than rage or the cold judgment of a crime?
The theologian’s task is to ask if it is valid to do exactly this, to answer such a question in ‘simple human terms’? (anthropomorphism) I, to cut an otherwise very long section down to size, would answer yes for two reasons. (Which apply most profoundly to artists)
First, ‘human terms’ are the only terms we have and any attempts (and there have been many) to find alternatives have failed usually by resorting to some form of absurdity, and in particular the absurdity of being incommunicable. All the descriptions I have ever heard of such answers have always been made in human terms. The legal metaphor of the judge is not only anthropomorphic it is specifically socialised. Which is to say that it has two layers of metaphor. (And it commonly produces misreadings of important scriptures)
Second, and most importantly, a resounding yes because this is precisely what the Bible claims that God does. When he makes what appears as his ultimate attempt to make himself known, he expresses his full panoply of invisible qualities in Christ. In the last resort, God incarnates, effectively anthropomorphises - not so that we might think that we have in some way embraced the full understanding of the Godness of God, but that we might comprehend, embrace and relate to what he wants us to know of him.
Am I talking like this because I feel like being polemical? I raise these things because when we think about lament I want us to understand that the action reflects, and for the Christian must be held as a reflection, of the heart of God.
I realise I am being quite demanding with you but we must press through and yet again ask why this matters, why this distinction between what lament is and what it should be? After all, lament is an entirely natural human response to pain, to disorder, to disappointment and as such is entirely valid, but in this it is not in any necessary sense prophetic. The commonest, and perhaps the biggest example is that of bereavement. We lament death; we lament loss. But does God lament death, and if he does, is his lament one of loss?
I heard a lament a few weeks ago about child labour in a developing nation. But the complaint was based simply upon the fact that those children had not had the opportunity to complete a state education up to their mid-teens. As such it became a cultural lament. It perceived exploitation and injustice, but on the basis that the system in use was not the western one. It did not acknowledge any other form of education; neither did it accommodate the distinctions between the western economies and the needs of a small agrarian community in a nation that was itself being exploited. Ethical lament is a profoundly complex issue and all too often reflects more cultural disposition than ethical thought. I return to our main question, how can lament become an expression of God’s heart in our hearts?
The answer is the same as it was for doxology. Lament must first make its mark upon us. When this happens, when we learn it in more godly ways, we find in lament an intercessory role. We no longer merely moan, we embrace, and we lift our lamentation to God. This will not always be lament over ethical wrong, it will be compassionate lament, lament that is for self and for others, it will be lament for the fallen state of the world. Fundamentally, it will be lament for the absence of doxology.
With this in mind, think again about the examples I used, of Emmin, Munch and Keiffer, imagine others, and in that context meditate upon those passages of scripture that express the heart cry of the prophets, the psalms, the very cries of God, of Jesus. It might take a bit of work to do this because we don’t always get the tone of voice right when we read scripture, and we can miss lament, mistaking it for anger. There is such rich material for us to work with, especially when we remember that the Bible has as much to say about the absence of God as it does about his manifest presence, when it speaks as directly about failure as it does success.
Hear the lament in Eden when God comes and calls for Adam, it is a lament because Adam was no longer really there, he was out of place. Hear the laments of Jesus, ‘Oh Israel, how often would I have gathered you…’ Hear all the cries against hardness of heart, the lament against the abuse of power, ‘it shall not (let it not) be so among you’, even, ultimately, the lament of surrender, ‘Father, forgive them’.
The effect of lament upon our work will be profound but it will not be miserable! I have stressed it so much because the first effect it has is something that artist Christians often struggle with. The primary effect of lament is that our work genuinely faces up to the way things are! And it becomes redemptively prophetic when it is the lament of love.
Lament should keep us honest. But I emphasise it for another reason as well. Lament is something that triumphalism cannot abide, and the humbling that seems to be happening especially among the new churches at present needs to find expression. But if we have lived and worked in a culture that yields to triumphalism, many artists are simply going to lose their voice unless they discover a richer and more mature vocabulary. Triumphalism, in the way that I mean it, is religious kitsch, and kitsch, as Milan Kundera put it in The Unbearable Lightness of Being, is the absolute denial of shit.
Such a denial, by artist Christians, would also be a denial of the passion of our God, his compassion for humanity and his desire for the whole of creation. Our difficulty, perhaps, comes when we seek to discover and express the admission of darkness without merely sniping at it from the snug sanctuary. Lament is never mere criticism. It might be outrage, it might be grief, but it is never, if it is godly, smug or superior. Lament under God, wherever I have seen its loveliest expressions, has always been identificational. It always speaks of ‘us’ rather than ‘you’, rather than ‘them’, rather than ‘it’. Lament that truly identifies often seems to adopt responsibility even where fault is not attributable.
Developing that earlier description: If Doxology is engaging with the dream of God, Lament is facing up to the loss of that dream.
But in the last resort, and in the most important way, lament is an indispensable step in our role to be expressions of God’s incarnation in Jesus. It was, I think, the Mennonite theologian Norman Kraus who described the incarnation of God as ‘a monumental act of solidarity’ towards humanity. We owe each other and God’s world no less.
If lamentation is doxology facing reality and yielding it back to God, then resistance is that same doxological engagement with reality, reflected back to the powers. If lamentation is facing truth, resistance is telling truth.
The primary function of comedy was, in Greek theatre, exactly such a resistance. Comedy functioned as a mirror, reflecting back to society and especially the powers, their foolishness and foibles. We all know how this carried forwards through different cultures, through the function of the jester, the king’s fool, who alone was permitted to tell him the truth, right the way through to the modern satirist, the impersonators and so on… to say nothing of Adbusters and Banksy!
Other tools of resistance, avoiding crude protest, are often metaphoric or allusive. In 1952 when Joseph McCarthy was re-elected and gained control of the Senate Subcommittee on Investigations, Arthur Miller was quick to respond with The Crucible. (1953) Hardly a subtle metaphor, but then he didn’t intend it to be, and even the profoundly unintelligent senator got the point, and reacted true to type.
Resistance lends itself particularly to dramatic arts, but it can be just as powerful through visual arts, although it does tend to push the artist towards narrative. Picasso’s Guernica, for example, is unusually narrative. Today, of course, resistance is deeply interventionist, and subversive. The Web and the street are pretty much an open canvas, particularly for dissent (Andrew’s piece on "The Art of being Church" shows this well).
I mentioned earlier, in the context of resistance, the work of Sebastio Salgado. One reason I like his work so much is that he comes at it not just as an artist but from a background in economics. He shows that passionate work crosses categorical boundaries. I like his work too because just one of his photographs can mean more than a hundred pages of statistics or political polemic. He makes it impossible to be detached from the human conditions expressed in the very numbers in which he used to deal. He has a penetrating eye for dignity, finding it where few others would see it. The respect with which he treats his subjects seems to draw from them the recollection that they are, however brutal or degrading their situation, still children of God. It would be going too far to say that he captures the image of God in their faces, but the thought is tempting.
This is merely to note that while any of the arts can function in any of the models, the four motifs do seem to attract specific arts. Doxology does resonate immediately in music, resistance with fictive writing and drama and so on. From Orwell through Bradbury and Golding to Attwood the fine art of dystopian novels still has a place. The obvious resistances of Animal Farm, Fahrenheit 451, Lord of the Flies, the Handmaid’s Tale are more powerful and haunting than any documentary, even those of Michael Moore. Moore’s medium can shock, but shock by its nature is short-term, we have defence-mechanisms that kick in and shield us from shock. We are less immune to being haunted by narrative images, voices, and events. I can still smell the flames in 451, thirty years after reading the book. I can still hear the thoughts of the handmaid; I still feel the terror of the conch.
And in our developing analogy this translates as Resistance being our insistence upon the dream of God in the face of its denial.
Just as doxology reaches forwards through lament and resistance, wonder reaches back. But where doxology begins in the truth of God and his intention, wonder begins in the discovery or rediscovery of the goodness of God, even in those places where lament and resistance also exist.
Each of the motifs has a particular emotional palette, although we should be careful to remain open to the rich nuancing of those ‘moods’ that is possible under the Spirit. But if, in general terms, the emotional palette of lament is compassion and grief, the palette of wonder is essentially joyous. And in the current climate of art criticism, it is wonder as much as resistance that will get us into trouble. Lightness of spirit, purity of sight, and simple joy are all said to be unworthy arenas for artistic exploration. In today’s critical climate wonder is likely to be greeted with contempt. Tomma Abts, recent Turner award pieces were said to have ‘all the depth and meaning of 1950’s wallpaper’. The writer, of course, demonstrating his overwhelming interest in having all the originality of an art critic. (That’s called irony, by the way, and it’s driven more by my dislike of critics than it is any great affection for Abts’ work)
But what is the difference between wonder and that kitsch niceness that artist Christians so often feel compelled to express, and regarding which I was so dismissive a while ago? Quite simply that there is nothing kitsch about wonder. Wonder is not a denial of reality, nor is it a romantic wistfulness in the face of disorder. Wonder is where, in the moment of last resort, we return to the truth of doxology. Wonder knows that even death no longer has the last word but it often has to be in close proximity to death before it realises.
Wonder remains receptive to the presence of God even within contradiction. In terms of eschatology, wonder is the ‘already’ of the age to come that leads us to the ‘not yet’ of the doxology of the Kingdom of God. For some, wonder is the poppy breaking through the paving slabs, the sunlight falling through the prison window. Put another way, wonder is our ongoing capacity to receive from God, to live in the hope of God’s future. It sensitises us to the kiss of God upon a wounded world, the same kiss that gave humanity breath, the kiss of life. Perhaps this is why the unspoken doxology of creation inspires us still.
Follow this through, in eschatological terms, and the ‘already’ and the ‘not yet’ of the kingdom of God gain a vibrant new partner, one particularly powerful in the hands of God’s artists. Follow it through and we get the ‘As if’ of the kingdom.
There are times when I feel full with wonder, and of memories of its impact. We all have these, richly, and would do well to stir the memory of them. For me it is in the friendship of my sons. It is in the sight of a twenty immaculately uniformed schoolchildren emerging from a putrid slum early one morning in Madras. It is in that little piece of heaven that Arvo PÃ¤rt called Fur Elina. It is in the way that blue mist clings to the valleys in North Carolina, it is in a thick fog on the King Charles Bridge in Prague as the sun rose and broke through suddenly to reveal the castle high above me. It is, more than anything, in the smile of my dearest friend, a man once able to make or fix anything mechanical, sitting in his wheelchair while cerebral ataxia eats his brain, and as he smiles at me with Jesus’ eyes. It was at the funeral of Jody, that gorgeous eleven year old bundle of mischief and resistance, as we scattered her ashes in a poppy field, in that moment when the world went silent and skylarks appeared from nowhere and began to sing, high above us, as they circled tightly, their song diminishing as they soared away, beyond reach of our senses.
Wonder prevents lament from becoming despair and compels resistance to be redemptive. Ultimately it is a work of the Holy Spirit: his constant wooing of our impoverished imaginations, his relentless call to look deeper, listen more acutely, trust more profoundly. And this call is the energy of our work as artists because it is the one thing that turns us from hardness to that vulnerability without which we would never begin another piece, never write another word, dance another step. But we do, we keep coming back, keep trying, keep making, keep hoping, and this in itself is pretty wonderful.
So the cycle is renewed and wonder becomes the recovery of the dream of God.