Friday, October 17, 2008

Radically incarnational: time and beauty meet real life

Let me go a little deeper with a reflection that I began yesterday about a spirituality that is radically incarnational. I continue to be awed when great artists help me both see and experience the truth of real life more deeply. I am mostly attuned to this in music but also find it happening with dance, the visual arts, poetry, deep thinking, gardens, forests, children, acts of compassion, lives lived simply for justice and on and on...

This photomontage by Scott Mutter is one example of such integration of head with heart - and both have to be present for me if I'm going to engage a work of art - because one without the other is only half a truth which some say is a lie. (I think of listening to most of John Coltrane's later recordings; intellectually I am fascinated and appreciative of what this master is doing with time and sound but... these anti-melodic songs fail to grab my heart. Likewise with most fun pop music - "I give it an 85 Dick cuz its got a good beat and easy to dance to" - for they usually fade away fast even when the tune has been a quick blast of fun. Contrast that with "Like a Rolling Stone" by Bob Dylan which I am still listening to 40 years later - same with early Miles - for they integrate head and heart.)

I have the same visceral and intellectual reaction to this sculpture by Mary Temple who has taken an ordinary American room, watched the way shadows move across the walls and then painted these shadows upon a manufactured wall in such a precise way as to evoke a reactions that is simultaneously beautiful and disconcerting.
"Isn't this REALLY a picture?" I kept asking myself as I encountered this creation - trying to find where the projector was hidden - when, in reality it is truly a sculpture and painting of profound beauty and skill.

Both creations take me deeper: Mutter into the assault of that lonely little business man fighting his way across a dangerous sea only to have to go up the escalator of his work place that overwhelms him in every way; Temple in how the ordinary can be extraordinary if there is time and perspective to see what is always right beyond the obvious.

Now one of the biblical stories that people wrestling with a spirituality of the arts point to when considering the importance of beauty and creativity comes from Exodus 31: Bezalel and Oholiab. The One Who is Holy tells Moses that both these men have been filled with the divine spirit in order to create beauty.

I've filled Bezalel with the Spirit of God, giving him skill and know-how and expertise in every kind of craft to create designs and work in gold, silver, and bronze; to cut and set gemstones; to carve wood—he's an all-around craftsman. Not only that, but I've given Oholiab... an aptitude for crafts and the skills to make all the things I've commanded you: the Tent of Meeting, the Chest of The Testimony and its Atonement-Cover, all the implements for the Tent, the Table and its implements, the pure Lamp stand and all its implements, the Altar of Incense, the Altar of Whole-Burnt-Offering and all its implements, the Washbasin and its base, the official vestments, the holy vestments for Aaron the priest and his sons in their priestly duties, the anointing oil, and the aromatic incense for the Holy Place—they'll make everything just the way I've commanded you. (Peterson, The Message, Exodus 31)

Preacher Maren Tirabassi has noted that "God asked Moses to set aside and consecrate Joshua's nephew Bezalel and his friend Oholiab because of their gifts of stone-cutting, woodwork, metallurgy, and fabric arts... and then five chapters of Exodus are devoted to the details of their crafts." Two insights come into focus from this for me:

+ The connection between beauty, creativity and the Holy Spirit.

+ The use of ordinary things - rock, wood, wool and time - to fashion lasting beauty.

I am also struck by the observation that five chapters of Exodus are given over to this creative process: it takes time, yes? Time to create and explore, time to ripen and mature, time to notice and want to notice. Henri Nouwen once spent time with Mother Teresa: he was frought with anxieties and confusion and spilled out his chaos to her one night during a conversation. "What am I to do" he pleaded to which the old sage said, "Spend an hour each day adoring God, never do anything that you know is wrong... and you will be fine!" Take time to be centered in God's love and beauty - pay attention and share compassion - and everything else will work out.

The Cowboy Junkies understand this connection between time, beauty and cultivating a non-anxious presence in life and they share it clearly in their music. Their remake of Lou Reed's "Sweet Jane" is just incredible. Now, don't get me wrong, I LOVED this song the first time I heard it with my girlfriend back when WNEW-NY was cutting edge. But I find I listen to the Junkies version over and over because it is nuanced and true. It is for me a moment of meditation amidst the waters of the flood and the threat of the escalator.


delaferriere said...

man The Cowboy Junkies really take me back.

Have a great weekend

p.s I've linked you

delaferriere said...

*linked here

RJ said...

thanks so much, new friend... i've linked you, too

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