What can an artist take from the story of what Christians call “The Day of Pentecost?”
In Christian teaching, the day of Pentecost is the day on which the Holy Spirit of God first took up residence in the hearts of those who follow Jesus Christ. This same “Spirit of God” is the one who hovered over the surface of the deep when the earth was “null and void” in the initial creation story, and He (in Christian teaching this Holy Spirit is not referred to as an “it” but with a personal pronoun. The Holy Spirit is a “person” in the sense of having will, personality, cognizance, rationality, creativity, and those other aspects of life that define “personhood”) is the creative and moral force that generated the life within Jesus, the power through which the Christ lived and worked on the earth. He is also, according to the Apostle Paul, the agency by which Christ was raised from the dead.
Paul also makes an enormous claim, one that, among Christians, is often cited, then, in practical terms, ignored. Paul says that with the residence of the Holy Spirit inside those who follow Christ (and it’s a gift, and nothing but) comes the very power of resurrection.
Resurrection alive in the person of the believer.
On the day of Pentecost, those who believed in Christ were waiting, as per his instructions, in Jerusalem, for what Jesus had described to them as “power from on high.” As they waited together in one place, a “violent rushing wind” came into the space and they received “tongues of fire” and began to proclaim the Christian message of Christ’s love and power in such a way that lots of people thought they were drunk. But, evidence clearly shows what happened that morning changed the very history of the world.
For just a moment, I want to extend this metaphor to the life and role of artistry and creation in all our lives. The story of beginning with null and void, then ordering chaos into beauty, traveling on into suffering and loss, finding faith through a death to self, illusion, and falseness, and finally, waiting for and receiving creative energy by which to move dynamically in the world; this is the story of the artist over and over again. It is the process of creation writ large over the history of humanity. Life emerging, chaos (or as Pressfield has it in The War of Art, Resistance) pressing in, the artist struggling to push back, praying (sometimes literally, sometimes not) to find a heart guidance to be able to identify the dross and the gold of the work, dying to the false impressions of what we thought was good and beautiful in order to discover true goodness and beauty; and finally holding our spirits in stillness, hoping and praying that whatever it is that humans have always called inspiration will show up and guide.
Ultimately, this artistic process is not for artists only…it is the ongoing way of creation and life as it is actually lived.
The message of my reading and thought-life these days seems all of one piece: the waiting is over. There is a time to wait, and there is a time to move, to respond to the rushing wind that announces the arrival of the Spirit. “When will the Spirit arrive?” is a false canard of a question. Is there ever a day in which the Spirit is not arriving? Is there ever a day when the hand of God is not willing to pour strength into muscles that are actually in motion?
We go in faith. We make in faith. We trust that the Spirit has arrived, is present, is speaking, is leading, and is gracious. Eric Maisel’s Coaching the Artist Within tells me this morning that artistic work must be done “in the middle of everything”, come war, divorce, death, hell, or high water. Stephen Pressfield’s The War of Art tells us we have to make war with Resistance, which is out not just to stop our creative output, but to destroy us. The book Deep Writing says we have to “hush” the demonic voices inside that tell us we are worthless, shameful, and without any worthy words to say.
What artists can take away from the story of “The Day of Pentecost” is that we are not alone as we climb into our battle chairs to do the work. The Power to go to the end of the human process has arrived, and in the work (as in life), heaven and earth are colluding to make the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. Into the world the Spirit of God comes pouring, breathing life into our bodies and spirits as He did in the beginning, and there is work to be done. There is a language to speak that only He knows, and if the work that is in us is to find incarnation into the world, then mind and muscle and material must come together, and bind themselves together day by day by day.
In gratitude and grace, the waiting over, do your work…