Friday, December 31, 2010

A drop of Red

Perhaps someday I will explain to you about the Colors. But it's unlikely, truth to tell. I've spent snippets and hours explaining to friends and family my off-handed comments like "That's your red coming out" or "I need more yellow in my day" or "Sherlock Holmes and Moriarti are both green, like me, like my dad, like my brother." I've seen the Colors in Proverb 10, intricately woven through the movie Mary Poppins, in the isles of Home Depot, and, in fact, everywhere I look. God designed it, it's all there, He knew what He was doing. And it is so beautiful. But it's just too much to explain. For me anyway.

Leonardo Da Vinci wrote in his journal of his grand ambition to reveal the ultimate symmetry of Being - Man as microcosm of Earth as microcosm of Universe as microcosm of God. To prove it through science and mathematics. But I can't honestly say he accomplished that. What he did accomplish was a life, as a man that God made, a life like no other. What matters now about Da Vinci was not what he explained or even what he did but who he was. And I realize that that is exactly what matters about the man Jesus Christ, and what matters about every one of us human beings, His beloved people.

The fact that fleeting glimpses of DaVinci's vision can be apprehended through the various records and products of his life (the same could be said about Jesus I suppose) comfort me as I come to grips with a most difficult word and its truer expression. I'm hesitant even to write the word for fear of the accusations and incredulity that inevitably follow any individual's associating themselves with it. Perhaps I won't write the word. In fact I think that's the way it's supposed to work.

Why am I writing tonight? It started with a book. Well, more probably, it started with a forgotten dose of medicine - the normalizing potion that has kept me tethered to the world most humans spend their entire lives traversing. The world I left, for a time, a time of utter abandonment to Unknown, Unthought, Not Yet, im/Possible, and, in the most ultimate sense, to God. I've never been very tightly tied to this particular world but I'm coming to terms with it at last. It is necessary, after all, since it is where so many people live. As my love for God grows with it grows the love for those people - the bulk of humanity - thus the necessity of staying connected to them by means of the solid contact of feet on earth. Not to mention God's apparent desire to keep me alive. To please Him I must learn to traverse this particular world with measured confident steps - thus insuring my own physical, emotional, mental, financial and every other measure of well being, as much as it is under my own control. But it seems my loving Master has allowed me still to leap, here and there, to skip, to bound, to dance. In my dreams I still soar. And that is enough.

It is such a leap, a small one, just a drop of Red, that moves me now. Even as my new dose of medicine begins to anchor me back to the ground. I have to share something with you. I'm not quite sure what it will entail until I've written it. But it involves this book that I've been reading, a book that seems to change my life anew with each chapter. It's called "The Classics We've Read, the Difference They've Made". I wish I could buy it for every believer who, in being given the gift (*cough*) of the image of the Creator, struggles under the tumult of the two great forces in their life: the Faith, and Art. To say I can't recommend it highly enough would be a pathetic understatement. In reading these Christian writers' accounts of the writers whom God used to shape their paths, their unique callings, I can almost feel the hands of the great Physician gently rejoining the rent halves of my soul into a new and stronger whole.

I realize only a very few people will have any idea what I'm talking about. I can live with that. It's sort of characterized my life thus far and I fear it will only get worse. But the reason I can live with it now, as opposed to before, is because as I realize it is my life that is my art, not my words, whether or not people "get what I'm saying" shrinks to near insignificance.

I want to share with you a quote about a monk and a poet. I wasn't familiar with him but apparently he's well enough known: Thomas Merton. Now I will have to read his stuff. (Thanks to this book I have at least 10 other writers whose work presses upon me to be read. Good thing I got a NOOKcolor for Christmas.) Anyway, Thomas Merton thought he was giving up the writer's life to pursue a life of contemplation. His experience, and in fact the experiences of so many of this book, have helped me understand my own thoughts, feelings, and actions, especially of the past two years, and even offered insight into what God seems to be doing with me of late.

But before I share more about Thomas Merton, I have to recall to you something I wrote over a year ago, after summer camp, Austin, and my short-term visit to the Full-Time Training. Here is the post. I was talking about two vastly different places: Austin's Sunday Circus - a wild and weird land of color, costume, characters, uninhibition - and Anaheim's Full-Time Training: a sanctified, simplified school of the pursuit of God, structured to the max. The striking point was how utterly comfortable I felt in both worlds. That observation was a small arrow pointing toward what would become a vast dichotomy in my life, which, with the aid of Prednizone and overseen by God's providence, would help earn me a nine day stay at the hospital.

What God did, ripping me so violently from the Full-Time Training, and what He is going on to do now, feels so parallel to what happened to Thomas Merton that I had to stop reading right there and speak the passage aloud to my dad. I still haven't even finished the essay. It's that profound. To preface, Merton has renounced the way of the writer to enter the monastery. Then he gets a visit from an old college friend who somehow wrings from him a manuscript of poetry that he goes and gets published. He comes back to Merton begging for more. In Merton's own words:
I did not argue about it. But in my own heart I did not think it was God's will. and Dom Vital, my confessor, did not think so either. Then one day - the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, 1945 - I went to Father Abbot for direction, and without my ever thinking of the subject or mentioning it, he suddenly said to me. "I want you to go on writing poems."
Now, the essay's author, John Leax, continues:
To adequately comprehend the force of this direction, which struck Merton almost like a blow, one must understand that he was then committed to what the early church called the via negativa or the Way of Rejection. This way, in Charles Williams' words, "consists in the renunciation of all images except the final one of God Himself...The order to continue writing poems meant to Merton the postponement of his deepest desire, which he described as "the voiding and emptying of the soul, cleansing it of all images, all likenesses that it may be clean and pure to receive the obscure light of God's own Presence.
This is why I chose the Training. Why I had to go. Again I would refer you to that post from August, 2009,  where after I describe the course of the summer I articulate my longing for the purity, the focus, of the Training, a place wherein to satisfy my deepest craving: God Himself, distilled, unmixed. It was not an ascetic experience or in any way self-flagellating, however I can testify - with no hard feelings mind you - that it is a place of deprivation of soul. Art, literature, movies, secular music, self-expression and more: gone. Removed. In the absence of that city haze, the true Light shines all the brighter. The being opens all the wider and receives all the more of the divine content. That was what I expected, that's what I was experiencing, and all was well, or so I thought.

Then what can account for what happened? On the one hand it was, and forever will remain, a mystery, yet this book, in an earlier essay, again helps account for my experience in the aftermath. This gem is found in Stephen Lawhead's discussion of the art of J.R.R. Tolkien:
There is a paradox of sorts at work here. How to explain it? Perhaps it is like a painter who sets out to paint a portrait of God. "After all," says he, "what could be more inspiring and winning than God's beautific image? It will move entire nations to worship and adoration. What more godly purpose for my work could I ask?" So he begins to paint with great religious fervor and zeal. But he doesn't get very far before he discovers that since no-one alive has ever seen the face of the Almighty there are no suitable references - no photographs, no sketches, no graven images of any kind. How then does he paint a subject that refuses to do a studio sitting? That is the question: How does one illustrate the invisible? It cannot be done. At least, it cannot be done explicitly. But an artist can achieve a satisfactory, even extraordinary result with an implicit approach. That is, he does not paint God directly. Instead, the artist paints the Creator's reflected glory - paints the objects God has touched, the visible trail of His passing, the footprints He leaves behind.
How does this help me? It tells me that as an artist (for that is what I am, not the whole of me - for no such word can sum up the whole of a creature as awesome as a human being - but largely), I depict the glory of God. Staring deeply into His eyes, metaphorically, has its merits, as does the study of His great letter to man, especially in its original languages, and the teachings of the Church to help grasp His dimensions - all of this can fit into the artist's comprehending of her subject matter. But when it comes to the rendering, what does she need? Tools, materials - paint and paintbrush, or guitar and mic, or computer keyboard, whatever the case may be - and the most surprising part: reference imagery. Where do I see God? Everywhere. Now, anyway. The very things - the material stuff and artifice of man that I used to shove impatiently aside, or run away from, to try to catch a glimpse of His face, now offer up clues into His being, dusky mirrors reflecting Him like tiny, imperfect windows into His soul.

A wise brother once advised a roomful of young people to put on our "Jesus glasses" and learn to see every positive thing in the universe as a shadow of the Reality which is Christ. He was basing his speaking out of Colossians chapter 2. I feel so privileged to have been in that room. The first part of that seeing involves seeing, really seeing, the objects themselves. Not impatiently swatting them away as distractions. Appreciating their beauty, their merit. Then going on to appreciate, through them, the vastly superior beauty, merit, of their Architect (or meta-Architect in many cases). God can and has spoken to me through the radio, through the TV, through colors and shapes and plays of light and shadow, through music and dance. I'm not talking about some creepy voice or secret code or image imprinted on the wall. I'm talking about the God-given power of the human imagination to connect the dots. The soul, joined with spirit, nourished by Word, strengthened by prayer and steadied by fellowship, and open to experience every beautiful thing, seeing and somehow conveying God in ways the world has perhaps never before encountered. This is the turn I see my life taking. This is a purpose which I fully embrace, in its season.

What I am beginning to see is beautiful beyond words. I'm so relieved that words are not necessary. God has not called me to reveal it all or to do some mighty work. He's simply calling me to live, so I will live, live in awe of the most glorious, genius Artist that was and is and ever will be. The fruit of such a life remains to be seen. Perhaps it won't be seen until long past the life's end. And I have little clue what shape the fruit will take. But it doesn't matter to me. I am happy, I am free. I am basking in the glory of my King. I am abiding in the Vine, and where there is abiding, there is fruit bearing. Oh blessed life.
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