I’m, by a nature, an outdoors person. Whether I’m walking, running, kayaking, hiking, canoeing, or sitting, I love communing with my God through my heart and mind within the sanctuary of nature. The dialogue is soulful and nourishing. It is cleansing as He helps me filter the day’s thoughts and activities as He speaks to my soul using the natural and supernatural world.
I am also by nature a stream-of-conscious blogger. Like a good walk, I like to wander and meander and allow my thoughts to follow suit. After a recent walk, I began to ponder the relationship of truth and beauty in the church and the relationship that the church and the Christian has with art.
I am blessed to live along the boundary of a nature preserve. I walk it often, enjoying its vibrant and teeming ecosystem. It is here that my mind will often wander as my eyes, ears, nose, and skin observe, sense, and take in the abundance of truth and beauty surrounding me. Nature is perfecting balance of order and chaos, of function and form, of truth and beauty. Nature is God’s artwork.
Art, generally speaking, provides an emotional and/or reflective experience for an observer because it is typically birthed from a bed of emotion and/or thought within the artist. Creating an artistic expression is an inner collaboration of the artist’s heart and mind. This process eventually leads to the act of creating. Whether writing, singing, painting, sculpting, choreographing, etc. the act of creation involves the artist’s physical body. More simply put, an artist is compelled to get the inspiration from the inside of self and to put it outside of self in order that someone else can experience it.
Within the faith community, I believe that the public presentation of any artistic work should be compelled by an intentional desire to promote and/or achieve a higher purpose/greater good within the hearts and minds of the individuals within the community. Art’s highest and most potent power is found in its keen ability to speak to our spirits, to provoke and elevate our thoughts and to provide us with behavior-altering understanding that illuminates the Creator and our status as either lost or redeemed sons and daughters of the Creator.
For me, art that fails to splice together truth and beauty should be held in the strictest suspicion before it is used in or for the faith community. Too often, I’ve been suspicious of presentations/performances that appear to be the result of self-infatuation; an inner desire to achieve personal pleasure through self-promotion. Such experiences are a vapid and hedonistic use of sensorial influences. I believe that such art has abandoned Original Design and is pandering to and promoting self-love. Self-love destroys Christian community. And I usually sense an abundance of self-love during a community’s corporate worship of the Creator; by those on and off the platform of the church. We desire for our artistic experiences (aka offerings) to be confined to narrow generational and cultural values. Within the narrowest of times and boundaries, we then attempt to weave together narratives of timeless limitless truths. If the cocktail of style is off the self rejects the content. What has happened to truth and beauty in the community declaring to have been transformed by the Gospel of God? I have tired of the lack of dimension and depth within the local church and within her adherents.
Historically, the Church is a veritable treasure trove of artistic works displaying God’s presence and pursuit throughout human history. By simply broadening our awareness, we can discover that the Church boasts a rich legacy of creating beautiful and meaningful art that tells the Creator’s story through the senses of those who have been blessed to experience Him and to connect with Him. These ancient and modern artistic works should be seen as altars for us all. They are altars of remembrance of God’s grace, mercy, and presence in our lives. This art is an effectual gift of God to us. How many times do we hear songs, or read poems, or view images that result in an edifying “flashback” of interventions in our lives we know to be the work of God? And to experience art from the 1st century that was inspired by similar interactions with the Creator has the power to strengthen the church’s faith and resolve. Encouraging the use of art without the condition of generational/cultural/stylistic values not only works to PRESERVE a culture of heaven on earth, it also inspires additional works that present a timeless present LIVING Creator.
Lastly, it should not be the desire of the artist or the worshiper to offer one another, or to offer our Creator, the same songs, the same offerings, the same gifts over and over. There needs to be “new” mixed into the “old”. If there is never any fresh inspiration or any new challenge to learn, participate, then our activities in worship begin to cost us nothing in spirit, thought, or effort. Such a practice is the result of a lazy application of Truth, an absence of effectual relationship with the Spirit of God, and is a recapitulation of self-love. In the Old Testament, we find that offerings presented in worship were offered, left on the altar, and consumed by fire. Returning to worship again meant to return with something new. It meant to return with something that was the result of purposeful effort, process, preparation, and thought. The New Testament believer would do well to consider this mindset and practice in the light of their relationship with the Spirit of God.
Though I do believe that the arts connect us with our grander history and story, we should be careful not to reject the works of the present because of a misplaced view of the works of the past. It is important to always recognize the significance of TESTIMONY. No act of God is disposable and, therefore, no work of art conceived from His intervention in a believer’s life should be either. Consumable? Yes. Disposable? Absolutely not. Though we know His mercies are new every morning, yesterday’s mercy delivered the morning to us.
So what does all this mean? For me, it means that I need…that I MUST…approach my Good Creator, the Creator of Love, with an awareness of the value that He places on function and form and on truth and beauty. Despite the order and chaos of my mortal life circumstances, I should bring Him something of beauty because He is completing a work of beauty within me.