Creation :: Imagination – Becoming artists of our Days
Reflection by Dan Spragg & Martin Stewart
Dan: When I think of imagination, I immediately go towards artists. More often than not, I am amazed by an artist’s ability to see things which no one else sees, to create what no one else creates. I stand in awe at the great works such as Michelangelo’s David, or at the intrigue created by many of Monet’s works in their out of focus yet vivid presence. Political commentator types like the English street artist Banksy impress with their ability to connect with reality what seems ‘out of sight’ to the rest of us. There is skill here, no doubt, to create the whole while paying attention to each part in its turn. To take the abstract threads floating in between all of us and tether them to concrete and canvas, helping the rest of us in our making sense of everything, is the role of the artist is it not?
Art is of course, far more than painting, or sketching, or sculpture… musicians create, something I sought to do in the craft that became my drumming (forgiveness extended to you if you don’t see drumming as an artistic craft…). It was so much more than simply keeping time. As the drummer, I created landscapes that were platforms for others, gave permission to express emotion, provided energy, blended and distorted the lines between rhythm and melody, to name some of the work…
Artists: painters, sculptors, street artists, musicians… The work of imagination is not simply reserved for these though. I have noticed art, and a sense of craft in writers, baristas, accountants, teachers, parents, business owners, builders, tilers… the list goes on… in fact, I would argue that the list is in actual fact endless. To be an artist, to work at a craft – whatever it is, seems to me to be about presence and truthfulness. And, presence and truthfulness can’t be restricted to only certain activities. To witness someone who approaches what they do with presence and integrity is indeed to witness an artist at work.
John O’Donohue, the Irish poet, philosopher, said this: “Each of us is an artist of our days; the greater our integrity and awareness, the more original and creative our time will become.” I have a sense that this is connected to that nebulous and often tricky word, ‘vocation’. Certain roles throughout human history have attracted this title, some roles have become ‘vocations’ while others have remained simply, ‘jobs.’ I wonder if vocation is more about the way in which we approach our lives rather than being reduced to what we do. I worked recently on a new definition of vocation. I don’t know if this is original and accurate, or whether it is plagiarised, or way off track, or both, but I offer it here anyway. ‘Vocation: Reject the sense that it has anything to do with doing, and embrace the sense that it has everything to do with who we are as a person on a journey of becoming. It has everything to do with congruence, of authenticity. To be a fully alive, present, and whole human is your vocation. It will take work. You have to participate with it.’
Martin: Through this month we’ve been giving some focus to what Creation is and means for us. We’ve tried to look at it from a variety of angles – thinking about the elemental things, the connectivity of everything, the call on us to participate, and an offering from our young people about caring for creation. Today we are focusing on imagination and being co-creators or artists.
In the Genesis chapter one Creation narrative there’s a line we all know: ‘Let us make humanity in our image after our likeness.’ In the original Hebrew this is b’tzelem Elohim – in the image of God. What’s God’s image in us like? It’s immediately very hard to answer that when we don’t have any visual representations of God. How do we know what God looks like in order to see God in ourselves? To find our way here we have to use our imaginations. To live into the ways of God is the best way we can manage. We are to imitate. The Latin word imitari holds the root of our words image and imagination. Imagining their way into something is exactly what artists do. They are imitating what they see in the minds eye. Most of us do well enough operating out of our more obvious senses – we hear, we see, we taste, we smell, and we feel. But being an artist of our days requires tapping into other tools that we all happen to have at our disposal… things like perception, the will, memory, intuition, and imagination. These tools operate behind and around the senses and enable all kinds of opportunities. They go beyond what is seen and heard, they delve into or draw on the nuances, the possibilities, the potential, and the ‘as yet unknown,’ in order for us to craft something new.
Now I think I can hear some of you saying ‘that’s not me, I’m just not very inventive.’ But my response is ‘really?’ Think of the children you may have raised, think of some of the walls they hit as they were growing up and how someone (you!) needed to enable them to imagine alternative pathways to try. Dead ends are not the end, they are really an invitation to imagine other possibilities. Think of the tricky person at work who you had to find a way around. Maybe it was your boss who could be quite hard and demanding. How did you find a way to negotiate a way to shine and contribute? It required more than your senses – you had to draw on other tools in order to adjust. Think of a problem you had and how you despaired of ever finding a solution, but how the way through came from left-field or from beyond you.
Being an artist of your days invites you to tap into these kinds of possibilities – to find yourself where you are and to begin to paint a canvas of the day unfolding – to imagine alternatives, and to make them happen. Isn’t that how God works with us? Always making things new. Always with the promise of a new day to come. Forgiving us, so that we are no longer trapped in our dead ends. Reconciling things, so that we are trained in the possibility of what can yet be connected. Loving us, so that we are assured we are never lost. Calling from ahead, so that we might trust the paths we find ourselves on. We, made in God’s image, as soul artists, as followers of Christ, are called to imitate and imagine God’s world of possibilities for life where there are no dead ends.
Dan: What does being created in the image and likeness of God mean, anyway, if not to be a co-creator; taking what appears, abstract or real, and working with it, crafting it into something that adds meaning, life, and new insight? As artists we get to uncover truth, create new ways forward, bring things to a resolution, foster reconciliation – a bridge over troubled waters or being the key to unlocking a door that has until now remained shut.
Martin: Do you know, we are already in this God-given image and imagination simply by virtue of breathing. There is spark in us – we are the artists of our days – each day full of possibility for crafting and creating. For some this might literally be crafting – making things (clothes, drawings, meals), fabricating, writing, and assembling. But most of us might not sense that we are involved in such lofty things – yet, why limit imagination to what we have traditionally understood as the arts? Widen it! Can we understand the mission of the church as a form of art? The art of knitting together communities of people (that’s part of why we called our church The Village). All of us can do that. The art of practicing God’s abundant love in our homes, families, workplaces and neighbourhoods. Think of one or two isolated people you could contact each week – with a visit or phone call, just to show you care. Think of the people often left on the side-lines. Imitate and put into practice God’s capacity to break down the barriers between people. What about asking someone you have difficulty with to catch up for a coffee? The chances are that part of why they are troublesome is because they feel isolated or misunderstood. Don’t join in with the songbook of the crowd who push them aside, be creative, give them space! Widen things. Look around corners. Try to see things from a less reactive angle. Practice listening to God. Try sensing the winds of the Spirit blowing this way and that and join in the chorus of all that God makes new every day. Step into the simple imagination of what a smile on your face does to bring light to the faces of people you encounter. Compare that with what happens when you wear your grumpy face. You know what happens! Try stepping beyond how you might feel on any given day to bring light to the people around you. Be inspiring! Dan and I think that’s what people who are artists of their days are like! And we can all be such people! Maybe it is the higher calling of people of faith!