Sometimes, we forget.
We wake in the morning and hope to find our way to the desk. We hope to hear from the manuscript in front of us that we are welcome, that our company is longed for, that the stroke of our hands will be healing and full of discovery. But maybe the sleep cycle got us, leaving us with dull brain, especially in light of the day before, with it’s logey, unproductive hours. Coffee doesn’t help, Facebook doesn’t help, the stale air in the house doesn’t help, and the fact that its Saturday doesn’t help. God’s busy, too busy to bother, and something’s wrong with the browser pages so that you have to choose between waiting and killing them. Sun’s blazing white beauty on the window sill, and all you really want to do is walk. The desk sits there, waiting, not giving a damn what you feel, which is pretty much true of most things and people. So you have you feelings, so what? Will the work get done? Will the work be served? Will words land on the page or not?
I pick up an old copy of Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art, that powerful little book by Madeleine L’Engle. Walking on Water was probably the very first book on the slippery interaction between Christian faith and art I encountered, given to me by a friend I eventually lost due to old-fashioned neglect. Whenever I pick up the book, I’m reminded of that loss, which means I don’t often pick it up. But this morning, there it is, and I reach for it, and L’Engle, wonderful writer and human that she was, immediately begins to remind me of what I’m doing.
This questioning of the meaning of being, and dying, and being, is behind the telling of stories around tribal fires and night; behind the drawing of animals on the walls of caves; the singing of melodies of love in spring, and of the death of green in autumn. It is part of the deepest longing of the human psyche, a recurrent ache in the hearts of all God’s creatures.
–Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water.
L’Engle reminds me, at the very top of the book, to listen to the silence. “When I am constantly running there is no time for being. When there is no time for being, there is no time for listening.” She goes on in that first chapter to give focus to that listening. “If the work comes to the artist and says, ‘Here I am, serve me,” then the job of the artist, great or small, is to serve.” She then quotes Jean Rhys. “All of writing is a huge lake. There are great rivers that feed the lake, like Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. And there are mere trickles, like Jean Rhys. All that matters is feeding the lake. I don’t matter. The lake matters. You must keep feeding the lake.”
It’s about listening, serving, and giving yourself over to the work.
When the work takes over, then the artist is enabled to get out of the way, not to interfere. When the work takes over, then the artist listens. But before he can listen, paradoxically, he must work. Getting out of the way and listening is not something that comes easily, either in art or in prayer.
–Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water
She also says, quite simply, that bad art is bad religion no matter how pious the subject.
Remembering what I’m doing….