Thursday, August 15, 2013

Art & Faith: Are We Chasing The Wind?

Yesterday, I talked about how sometimes I have the conviction that I need to let a piece sit for a little while. Let it simmer, not like something ugly that needs to be repressed; more like strawberry jam that needs a little more time to be delicious not just in taste but in texture. Texture is just as important.

Usually, when a piece I write doesn't seem quite right after looking at it from all angles, I realize that it's part of a bigger picture. It means I need to break it up into more than one post. Maybe even a series of posts. It sounds like an easy solution, but it turns into a whole lot more work. 

It is kind of like how baking a double batch of cinnamon buns takes all day and makes a ton of dishes while baking only a single recipe takes a couple of hours and does not take an entire day to recover from the exertion. Still, the double batch is worth it for the longer lasting supply of delectability. (I know that's not a word. Hush!) 

I know it's an imperfect analogy and that now all you can think about is how much you need a cinnamon bun; I made myself hungry for some. I know a blog post can't really be delectable; I just can't explain it better than that. Sorry.


This week, our focus in Story 101 class is on The Intersection of Faith and Art. My thoughts are messy, but here are some of them:

I have been thinking a lot lately about writing as art. As creatures of language, we create with our words. Yes. Words are art. Words are communication. Communication is art. Art is communication.

The human will to create and communicate is all about expression. Expression of and expression to. Our deepest truths calling out to the deepest in others.

It is all about relationship; about touching other people where they, too, believe they matter. Because we all do matter, and even the most despairing can be touched in a way that convinces them that they do.

So I wonder why it is that some of us lose the fire? Why we let others convince us that everything important that needs to be said has already been said? Why we think our stories are less significant than those who have had the good fortune to be published?

Why do some of us give up on the beauty of the telling, written or spoken?

I think I have a clue, drawn from an old saying that is still used in our conversations today. It is a saying that, when isolated, looks like a terrible truth we might have to accept as fact. It is an ugly passion from the lips of a king who thought he had it all, and found no meaning in it.

"There is nothing new under the sun." Ecclesiastes 1:9 (ESV)

We hear this expression a lot. Sometimes it is used as a vindication for our self-judged art; we apologize for not being perfect or perfectly original.

Consider this: “There is nothing new under the sun” is not, in fact, a timeless truth. It is in actuality a timeworn rampage of despair. A despair that even gets into the hearts of kings. If we allow it to be rooted in our vision, it can mar the brightest and most certain of dreams. It is a lens that feigns the authority to command us to throw our hands in the air; to say our actions, or our very lives, count for virtually nothing. We are matter that does not. Vanity.

"There is nothing new under the sun." Ecclesiastes 1:9 (ESV)

Do you know what this is? It is a lament from someone who claimed to have it all; one who considered himself an authority in accumulation. While he may have gathered earthly treasures and wisdom, he had, in reality, lost touch with Creator. That deepest part of the soul that calls out to the deepest in other souls had been lost in the memory of childhood.

He knew the way out. He knew the way to conquer the futility of life was to return to the Creator he had been in touch with during his youth. He urged his son to dwell there, in that moment of secret delight, before the weight of the world’s troubles burdened his soul.

“Remember your Creator in the days of your youth.” Ecclesiastes 12:1 (ESV)

Remember. Your. Creator. Sometimes it helps to finish a book before we take to heart a quote from Chapter-the-First. It puts things into the intended perspective.

Tomorrow, I will share with you the rest of the thoughts I have been pondering on art, faith, and our expression of it.

I'll understand if instead of reading it, you somehow find yourself elbow deep in flour and sugar in the kitchen.

"The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." Lamentations 3:22-23 (ESV)


  1. Jamie, this is good stuff. I can't wait to read the rest of it! (Why did you have to use the cinnamon bun analogy? I might just have to make some soon. I'm sure no one would complain!

  2. I might be a little bit evil. Or a little bit hungry. You be the judge. ;)
    I should have waited a few more weeks, hmm? Maybe you'll want them again by the first weekend in September?

  3. Sure, we'll make sure to have some when you come!

  4. Good thoughts, Jamie. I think of "nothing new under the sun" as an acknowledgement that we're all capable of the same things: art, love, success, despair, murder. I think of it as saying, don't be surprised by some madman's evil or impressed by your own genius, because someone, somewhere, sometime has done or experienced the same thing; we all have the same nature and relatively similar environments.
    That may or not be a good biblical interpretation, but I find it helps me, strangely, feel more positive, rather than more melancholy, about the human condition, and, in this context, the meaning of art. Because it doesn't have to mean "Your experience/creation is a meaningless clone of everyone else's," but instead can mean "Your experience/creation is a way to connect with other people who can relate." Does that make any sense?

  5. I've never heard it used in such a positive light before. That is definitely a less traditional, more redemptive approach to the saying. (The way I've heard it used is more along the lines of "life is going to the dogs but we should expect it because nothing new yada yada..." And as far as artistic endeavors go, I've seen it used to prove we can't be original.)
    I don't know that the author of Ecclesiastes would disagree with your interpretation; it just took him longer- about 12 chapters- to process out of his funk and arrive at that conclusion, lol! Thanks for sharing.


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