Making Worlds

We encounter the world through our senses.   Light hits the eye’s photoreceptors and the optical information starts its split-second journey toward the visual cortex in the occipital lobe, then on to the frontal cortex, and perception begins.   Same with sound, smell, taste, and touch; the various systems involved in each leap into action as stimuli enter our field of experience.

What in the world do we do with all that information?

We “make” a world.

I have questions.   Anyone who knows me knows that I am constantly in a state of questioning, and because of that, am also constantly hovering near crisis.   That’s overstating the discomfort I cause myself with all these questions, but questions are, without a doubt, bothersome.   While they may be doorways to new understanding, opening all manner of new possibilities, they may also be uncomfortable because new answers, or even the suggestion of new answers, can lead to a re-telling of the stories on which we base our lives.   And new tellings of stories call the old tellings into question, and what in the world do we do if the story we thought we were in isn’t the story after all?

What if we’ve been telling it wrong?  Or maybe not wrongly, but poorly?

For over 25 years, I’ve been thinking about Christian faith and the odd activity we call art making.  My thoughts began with experiences in theatre and music, moved on to include painting, sculpture, and other plastic arts, then expanded to include all craft-making, and finally, expanded by implication to the making of anything at all.   The fact that we are “making” creatures (beings that constantly reshape material and spiritual reality to meet ongoing desire and need) is, in my mind, profound.   The expression of the self, the flow of market economies, the connecting of cultures through the study of artifact, the theoretical (as in, built on hypothesis and testing) chase for knowledge in science—all of these are the result of the “making” function of the human.

At least, that’s the story I tell.

We encounter life through experience and perception, and we must make something of it.   Hence we replay the move of Genesis 1, discovering the chaos of this onslaught of information that comes at us each day, and we hover over it, and work with all our heart and mind and body and spirit to might sense of it all, to bring it to light, in some way that causes us to finally exhale and say, “It is good.”

In recent years, “beauty” has risen to the surface of this conversation, catching my attention like a late blooming flower.  I have a vague notion of what I mean when I say the word, but “beauty” too is a confusion, an invitation to all kinds of misunderstanding, perhaps even destruction, depending on who’s calling what beautiful.   But still, the word keeps after me, and I think it’s time to begin to chase it down with more clarity, more heart, and more commitment.   But not just “beauty” but the whole conversation.

I often tell people this is the book I have to write before I die, so I’d better get started.

Maybe I should open-source the whole thing.

Here’s a question:  if you were to pick up a book about Christian faith, art, beauty, cosmos, and any number of other words you can supply here, what would that book have to contain?  I have my own ideas and biases, but I’m sure I’m missing some things. Fields of study that have to be explored, ideas that I ignore to my own peril, and non-negotiable disciplines that must be given their due.  If you’d like to weigh in, please do so.

I’ve got a pretty extensive bibliography (I’m really thankful for all the work that’s gone on over the past 25 years), but I’m sure there are books out there I don’t know about.  If you’ve read a good one, one that maybe even changed everything you thought about this stuff, let me know.

I’ll be blogging about all of this off and on all year, and we’ll see what comes of it.

We’ll see what we “make” of it.   What story will be told.

I like the phrase “original glory”…

3 Comments

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    • Jeff, I have a topic suggestion for a chapter in your future book on faith and art. I would love to read some thoughts on faith the artist and work. When I say work, I’m not talking about artistic work, I’m talking about labor. Most artists have to support themselves doing some other kind of work other than their art. We all lament this situation and pray with all of our might that we might one day be one of those lucky few that is able to spend all of their time and energy writing, acting or painting.
      The pastor at my church once included a poem in her homily by the poet Thomas Lynch, who is also an undertaker. He writes about the subjects of life and death in a way no one could if he or she didn’t have to face it every day. I heard a reading by another wonderful poet (I hate that I can’t remember her name) from Alaska who works in her family’s meat shop. She wrote a wonderful poem about her coworkers. So often artists treat the non-artistic labor they do to support themselves as a curse. I would love to read about more artists like the two poets above who have incorporated their labor into their art and I’d love to read an exploration of the role faith plays in this. Although we often look at the lives of full-time artists and think that this is the way the life is supposed to be for anyone who pursues the arts passionately. Perhaps this is not the case and not even what God intends for us.

      • Julie,

        This is awesome. Exactly the sort of thing I’m looking for, and exactly what I needed to hear personally. Challenging the assumptions in ways that are truly transforming. Thanks as always…

        Jeff

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