Friday, March 30, 2012

"Comes a light, life-charged"

Image by SBT4NOW

"Robert had little patience with these introspective bouts of mine. He never seemed to question his artistic drives, and by his example, I understood that what matters is the work: the string of words propelled by God becoming a poem, the weave of color and graphite scrawled upon the sheet that magnifies His motion. To achieve within the work a perfect balance of faith and execution. From this state of mind comes a light, life-charged." -- Patti Smith

I haven't written a blog post in 17 days. I beat myself up about that for 16 days. I fought to carve out time, failed to seize moments, tripped on what to say, blamed the cosmos, and read books instead -- one of which, incidentally, was Patti Smith's Just Kids, one of the most beautiful love letters to kindred spirit-ship I have ever read.

Compartmentalization was not in Smith's vocabulary. Life was art was love was friendship, especially with her best friend and one-time lover Robert Mapplethorpe at her side. Together they explored and experimented as artists, never judging themselves or each other, unless it was to say, "You can do even better." And though Mapplethorpe in particular desired acclaim, it was not his primary reason for creating. Creation compelled them both. It seemed expected of them.

But who exactly was doing the expecting?

The connection between spirituality and creativity has long fascinated me (see part 1, part 2 and part 3 of my earlier series on the topic). In particular, I wonder:

  • Does God engender creativity?
  • Does creativity engender God?
  • How does God define creativity?
  • Is all creativity a gift?
  • When (if ever) is creativity not ok? Do the darker shades come from God as well?
  • What makes creativity most fruitful -- free rein, or limits?
  • Are all of us endowed with creativity?
  • Is creativity a value? A moral? A moral obligation?

I think Smith's last two lines in the quote above are most thought-provoking for me. "To achieve within the work a perfect balance of faith and execution. From this state of mind comes a light, life-charged." 

Faith, in that you try to do it.
Faith, in that you can do it.
Faith, in that you should do it.
Faith, in that you want to do it -- or even if you don't want to, you do it anyway.

Execution, in that it comes out close to how you envisioned.
Execution, in that it comes out exactly as you envisioned.
Execution, in that it comes out as only you can envision.
Execution, in that it comes out as God envisioned -- or as you envision God.

Light, in that you see it.
Light, in that you follow it.
Light, in that you fulfill it.
Light, in that you live it -- and that it lives through you.

Prayer #204: Charged

You have imposed on me a responsibility as medium. You command me to be a conduit, exhort me to be the exhortation.

But then You take me one step further. I become more than the hand or the brush -- I'm the stroke on the canvas. I'm more than the pen or the ink -- I'm the word on the page. I'm more than the numbers or sketches -- I'm the invention itself.

And then comes the final moment, when I'm both display and viewer, producer and patron, the fruition of Your boundless imagination.

In such a triumphant moment, who is exalting whom? Does it even matter? Perhaps that is the great truth behind Your creation -- that act and actor are synonymous, and we need only recognize the beauty at hand.

Amen.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The text message of happiness

Holy text message, Batman.

In the waning days of winter, right before spring busts out what it's been concocting in the back room, I often slip into a little shift of melancholy. (See: last week.) And for a brief moment, I relish the wallow. I don't have to be happy. I don't have to rejoice. I can just grump around until something shakes me out of it.

This year, that 'something' comes via text. I signed up for daily, text-sized reflections from Theological Horizons a month or so ago, and since then have been receiving notifications about (from?) God on my phone, usually during staff meetings.

Aside from the fact that my phone now lights up with the word JESUS in front of colleagues every day, I've come to look forward to these contemplative reminders. They make me pause. They invite me to think. They give me space for a deep breath and a fast re-read.

Plus, they've introduced me -- non-theologian that I am -- to psalms, writers, and thoughts I'd not considered before. For example:

  • The phrase in Psalm 139 that isn't about being fearfully and wonderfully made (but perhaps does come across as mildly stalkerish): "Lord, you've searched me out and known me. You know where I am and where I go [...] you're in front of me and behind me; you've laid your hand on my shoulder."

  • The hitch-up-your-britches-and-go-get-em reminder from 2 Timothy: "... fan into flame the gift of God which is in you! God did not give us a spirit of fear but a spirit of power, love and self-discipline."

  • The feverish exhortation from English mystic Julian of Norwich, the chick responsible for the first book written in English by a woman: "The worst has already happened and been repaired ... all shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well."

Look at that: love, faith, and hope in a handy bite-size format. On your phone. In your hand. At the office. What's not to love?

Prayer #203: Text Me

When my data plan runs over
and my texting wears me out,

When the hotspot starts to cool off
and my thumbs protest and shout,

In those moments when I'm silent
(Which means I'm ignoring you),

Send a text of love and healing
for I promise, it gets through.

Amen.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Why I'm laughing in the face of Lent

Self-portrait this is of wind-styled Yoda ears. Taken in a silly moment.

This Lent, I gave up penance.

This is not my normal course for the season. Usually by this time I have aired out the hairshirt, polished the whip, and settled in for a long 40 days of repentance and self-mortification. (Apparently the Church doesn't consider falling off the treadmill mortifying enough.) The goal: to awaken recognition of my own sins, seek forgiveness, and start anew, underscored by a deep craving for whatever I gave up.

Not this year, though. Not in the midst of work stress, life decisions, election year news cycles, and not one but two cancer diagnoses in the family within a week of each other. Pass the chocolate AND the wine; surely God doesn't expect me to give up lifelines at a time like this.

But I'm not walking through this Lent empty-handed. When I put down penance, I picked up wonder. Because I forget, you know? I forget just how plain wonderful life can be sometimes.

I forget that daffodils can bloom two months early and that snow makes a quiet rushing noise when it falls and that mountain air cleans you out.

I forget that acting like a five-year-old takes a literal 20 years off your life and that the most unexpected people make unexpected jokes and that board games work because you're sitting around a table with others.

I forget that dinner parties are best planned with a fellow foodie and that writing in the quiet morning carries you to the evening and that just when you think you're forgotten, everyone remembers you in their own way.

Life is packed with wonder. And during Lent, I'm convinced it's just as important to ponder it as we do penance, as the gentle yin to an aggressive yang. To walk with a God who gives us wonder in spite of our imperfection -- isn't that as much an indication of grace and love as anything else?

Laughable, the Church might say. Stop smiling and go put on your hairshirt.

Laughable indeed, I reply, because that's what all this wonder drives me to do: laugh, grin, sigh, cheer. Maybe it's the improv lessons taking hold. I see fun a lot more places now. I see happy. I see good.

So there you have it. This Lent I'm smiling up -- even on days I really don't want to -- and concentrating on being wonder-filled. That's what I need right now, and there but for the grace of God laugh I.

Prayer #202: The Wonder Year

Put stars in my eyes and under my feet. Turn my specs the deepest shade of rose. Knock me silly, gift me giddy. Let me marvel. Let me stare. Let me love unabashed what You have given me.

Amen.