Freedom and Creativity
I have, in past posts, written about creativity and spirituality, now I would like to explore the notion of freedom in creativity as a spiritual path. It might be more accurate to state it as freedom is the goal and the substance of the spiritual path.
Having been a minister and even more pertinent to this discussion, also being an extremely flawed person, I have spent much time thinking about the concept of sin and its effects on people. Please don’t let me lose you at the mention of this overused and misunderstood word, it does, however, hold a place in this discussion. Also, when you read the word sin, please try not to think of it as most have come to, or you will miss the point. Remember, I am not reffering to morality here. Please allow its definition as it pertains to this little work to unfold naturally as you make your way through this post.
I remember spending quite a bit of time studying and thinking about sin, oh, not specific sins like so much of the church is obsessed with, but the concept of sin itself, as a reality we must deal with and how it affects us.
Over the years I have come to the understanding that sin is at once a smaller and a greater problem than it is given credit for. However, what sin does do is to restrict freedom to the extent it is allowed to hold sway in one’s life. Again, remember here I am not dealing with specific sins that people call out, and usually concerning others but a concept and a power, something within us that is actively attempting to keep us tied up and become less than we were created to be.
The Greek word for sin in the bible refers to missing the mark. This is interesting to me as it has taken on a far more sinister role for so many. They really can’t put their finger on it but they know it is bad, and it is, but usually in different ways than they think.
The mark that is missed is a person actively participating in the pulse and power that is actively working within, behind and through the entire universe. The bondage that we are seeking to be free of is that impulse within us that attempts to prevent this participation. The very definition of freedom is this participation. The participation I am referring to is deeper than the idea of a mere 'working in cooperation with'. It is more akin to Barfield’s idea of participation where in essence our being participates in a more mystical sense, approaching the idea of what the mystics called contemplation. Again the common usage of the word contemplation does not work here but it is easily researched.
So I guess I ought to get right into it. Again, this is not about specific sins, at least in the way many think of them, but an overall understanding. It is also more about how it affects us as persons and what we might be able to do about it.
For those who actually understand the Christian message of what Jesus Christ did for folks, it is the start of the journey toward freedom. Although if one looks at the actions of so many of these people, it sure doesn’t appear that way. In the Christian message, the power of sin has been defeated in Christ, as has the bondage that goes with it. However, it may take years to realize this in one’s life to an ever-increasing degree. So many people never do, mainly because it may never have occurred to them that the possibility exists. If they did recognize the reality that this bondage may be remotely possible to overcome, they are stuck within a religious ethical system that seems not to care about this aspect of freedom. Far too many are focused on the prohibitory nature of the way sin is viewed in our society.
Okay, sin, as I pointed out, means to miss the mark, and when someone sins or is in sin they are called to repent. This is another word that has had its meaning change over the years. It is often true that familiarity breeds contempt. The Greek word that is translated as repent is usually understood with the meaning to turn, to walk away from, and this is correct. However, the word also has a literal meaning of with yourself. The Greek word metanoia is used widely in psychological studies with an understanding of integrating one’s personality in a healthy manner.
While it may seem so, my intent is not to build an entire theology on the back of these two words, that would be absurd. However, taken along with everything else, they give us an interesting view of humanity. We are not free. The Bible speaks of humans being captive, and the good news, coming to set them free. I am sad to say that a misunderstanding of this entire concept has led to a great deal of misconception concerning the nature of sin. Consequently, this misconception focuses our attention on sin itself, which has intensified our bondage, rather than entering into the power of the true message which leads us to freedom.
Beyond the tendency of people to mistreat each other, the bondage I am referring to is personal. To a varying extent, it gets in the way of everything we might attempt to accomplish. It is this bondage and the freedom from it that I am interested in here.
Sin is the great lie that has brought about the creation within people of what has been called the false-self. You will find this understanding in the writings of the great Christian mystics and in a great deal of Psychology. The stronger this false-self is, the more constricted the true personality becomes. This must be recognized before one can begin the journey toward freedom from its tyrannical rule.
A number of years ago I had the opportunity to train in martial arts with Vladimir Vasiliev one of the founders of a Russian art called Systema. One of the first things you notice about Vladimir is the way he moves, it is amazing. You try to strike him and he seems to always be just out of reach. No matter how close you might get to him, he seems to melt away from your strike.
I asked him how he learned to be so relaxed and fluid and he said, “ I am not relaxed, I am free.” This stuck with me. Relaxation is something you can learn, freedom, however, is a state of being. So much of what we do is hampered by being bound up, tight, self-conscious and it shows up in our movement, our art, in everything we do. We may work hard and become very good at something, but freedom is an entirely different animal. Everything improves in direct proportion to the freedom we gain.
Years ago, Darla was commissioned to paint a portrait of Jazz great, David Friesen. I remember talking to him at his house and we got onto the subject of spirituality and music. He told us that he had been asked why he did not play for God, which really meant, why didn’t he play in a church? He said that he had responded to that person by saying, that every time he played he was playing for God. How could that not be true? God puts the music or art in us and when we act according to the nature God has given us, we are doing so for Him. This is true for all the gifts we have been given. Well, as long as they are used in truth.
David talked about making the space he was in sacred, whether it was a hotel room or concert hall, it would be the same. I have to admit, I have been working on that one for years, trying to get to the depths of it. I was too young and inexperienced at the time to fully understand its implications.
David was asked in an interview whether his concept of Jazz has changed, grown, complicated or simplified over the years. His answer was very interesting. “Simplified is a good word. All this has given me the ability, the confidence, the strength, the mobility and the authority to give up my own way and follow the music.” This is profound.
He was speaking of freedom, a freedom that can only truly come after a lifetime of work. It is not a false or fake freedom seen in so many young artists, (rarely are they free), but real freedom, a freedom that lives and breathes life into art. This is a transcendence of the false-self, and it is living and working in the true self. The true self exists with in the divine nature that we find in all creation, and especially in us, as it has been placed there. It is here that life and art take on a different dimension, one of truth and beauty, of revelation, moving us beyond the prison created by our egos.
I recognize this battle within myself taking place in my photography. The photographs I like best are spontaneous, I see and feel something and do my best to capture it. It is fleeting but if caught it brings a bit of that moment with it in the image.
Where I get into trouble is when “I” decide what I want to do and then begin planning it out. I am not against planning, as it is necessary for success, especially in a professional shoot. It is when I force my plan onto the flow of the shoot, that I may miss that creative moment, which seems at times, to have a life of its own.
I think one of the problems we have run into beyond a culture that seems to celebrate the ego or at least the false ego, is the idea that art is a mode of self-expression. Of course, it is and it will be, but which self is going to be expressed? I have watched so many young artists create hideous things in the name of being avant-garde and so often an ignorant public eats it up.
I personally think that it is cheap and easy to create shock value by deliberately offending for the sake of offending. Yes, offensiveness can be used as a powerful tool but for its own sake is lifeless and confining. I hope you understand what I mean here.
I am writing about a person who is hell-bent on self-expression. And this person has never done the work to develop a self (or has not even considered asking the question) if they have a self that is worthy of expression. I get it that many of these artists are attempting to break away from a societal idea of what they should do. But they are falling into a trap. It is still their false-self seeking acceptenance, albeit from a different society that has rules more ameniable to them.
This is not freedom but willfully running headlong into the abyss of deception, and doing so with such a false vitality that they drag a multitude of equally deceived people with them.
When we as artists begin to allow the art, ( what ever it may consist of, writing, painting, poetry, music, photography or what have you) to flow from the deepest determining part of our being, where we are connected to creation, we shall move into that new life that contains the very creative power of the universe.
We need to get past telling ourselves to do this or that, and past others ideas forced upon us because we have brought God into the equation. Piggybacking on those ideas, are so many fears corresponding to and fueled by their notion of who God is or isn't. When accepted as truth either consciously or unconsciously, these fears ultimately cause us to create for ourselves a world governed by precepts that are dictated by what we believe we should or should not do in accordance with these fears. It is only when we can move beyond these notions and fears that we begin to let creative freedom flow. It is then that art, which is born from freedom, begins.
Our true-self becomes a part of something greater than ourselves, and the lines between us blur. We are still ourselves but also much more, and we connect with the infinite. This is one of the things provided for us by the Holy Spirit.
I have asked so many pastors a simple question, "What is the gospel?" They usually have all the normal answers, "I am saved," "I am going to heaven," and so etc, all of which are a part, but there is so much more. Jesus told us of this mystery when he said: "On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you." Bishop Brent called this interpersonal interpenetration. Through Jesus, we are brought into a vital relationship with God, and thus with all creation.
Art is one way we can help ourselves to see where our false-self gets in the way, and the more we can remove its influence, the purer our art can become, and consequently, the better persons we become.
So, for the spiritual artist, our art is not only the goal but the method, process, and co-recipient of the benefits of the freedom we seek.
The key to unlocking all of this freedom is love. We were created in, by and for love, and like the Skin Horse,in the Velveteen Rabbit, it is love that makes us real. After all, becoming real is the true purpose of our existence.