So you may have noticed that the title of this post is a part II, so if you missed part I you might want to go back and catch up. I believe this will be my last post about Walking On Water by Madeleine L’Engle. I have really enjoyed diving deeper into the ideas expressed in that book. It has truly enriched me, as an artist, as a Christian, and just as a person so I highly recommend it!
Let’s pick up where we left off last time. We have established that, as artists, one of the most important things for us to do is to do the work and to serve the work which just begs the question – how? How do we serve the work? L’Engle answers for us.
“To serve a work of art, great or small, is to die, to die to self. If the artist is to be able to listen to the work, he must get out of the way; or, more correctly, since getting out of the way is not a do-it-yourself activity, he must be willing to be out the way, to be killed to self in order to become the servant of the work.”
It is a great paradox of the artist life that the most important thing for us to do is to do the work but in order to serve the work we have to be ready to relinquish our idea of control, we must let go of our self, and listen to the work, and let it tell us where to go. If we allow the work to move through us then we become cohorts with creation. That is what the work is all about. We are feeding the lake, we are fulfilling who we are, and we return to creation, and we create.
“The great artists, dying to self in their work, collaborate with their work, know it and are known by it as Adam knew Eve, and so share in the mighty act of Creation.”
L’Engle states that so beautifully. This is what creating is all about. As artists, we sense the desire and need to share in the act of creation. I think all art whether knowingly or unknowingly to the artist, poses an invitation to create and invites the viewer or receiver to “come and see”. Yes, the artist is sharing his or her’s work. But also, inviting. Picasso said, “An artist paints not to ask a question, but because he has found something, and he wants to share – he cannot help it – what he has found.” I agree with Picasso that the artist is not asking a question, necessarily, but I would argue that the artist is posing an invitation.
I shall end with this quote by L’Engle, which followed immediately after the previous quote so I went ahead and linked them together. I believe this summarizes what is happening to the artist when we create and holds out a promise for us when we have accomplished a particular work.
“The great artists, dying to self in their work, collaborate with their work, know it and are known by it as Adam knew Eve, and so share in the mighty act of Creation. That is our Calling, the Calling of all of us, but perhaps it is simplest for that artist (at work, at prayer) to understand, for nothing is created without this terrible entering into death. It takes great faith, faith in the work if not conscious faith in God, for dying is fearful. But without this death, nothing is born. And if we die willingly, no matter how frightened we may be, we will be found, and born anew into life, and life more abundant.”
Death brings birth to life. I cannot help but think of Fawkes, the phoenix bird from Harry Potter. Fawkes, dissolves into ashes in front of Harry’s eyes but moments later returns as a baby bird. Only by dying can the bird be reborn and that is how it is for the Christian and for the artist. Only by dying to the work can the artist give birth to the art that is longing to breathe. Only by dying to self can the Christian experience spiritual breakthrough. Life abundant awaits if we walk through death. Let us not be afraid. Let us walk forward fiercely.
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