“I view creativity in general and the creative arts in particular as a kind of ‘mid-wife to spirituality.’ Spirituality is essentially a matter of our being born into God; creativity as a Divine gift is essentially a matter of allowing God to be born into us and through us into the world.” Howard Martin
Last summer I was reflecting on the strange elasticity between aesthetic — and ascetic. In my mind the strength of the Celtic monastic movement was that it combined these things, living in the radical middle. It was not truly ascetic because it had a robust love of creation. And it wasn’t merely aesthetic because it recognized that God was imminent but also radically transcendent. Celtic spirituality, at least in its Christian centuries prior to the dominance of Roman Catholicism, was NOT a romantic movement.
We need to embrace that tension again if we are going to find a holistic and biblical spirituality that is both Trinitarian and transforming. It’s the dynamic tension of Word and Spirit, a walk in the radical middle, incarnational living that is reflective and rooted in rhythms and relationship. And I like the connection all the way back to Irenaeus: “the Word and the Spirit as the two hands of the Father in the world.”
It is a tension, and it’s easy to fall off one side or the other. On the one hand, like the slogan says, “We must give up what this world has to offer.” On the other hand, “we must embrace God’s gifts and learn to celebrate and dance!” I think Cavanaugh’s treatment of Augustine in Being Consumed is brilliant. According to the Buddhists, attachment is the problem. Cavanaugh responds with something similar to Brueggemann’s assessment in The Prophetic Imagination. In reality, detachment is the problem: detachment rooted in overwhelming abundance and constant stimulation. Detachment is rooted in the dualism we inherited from the Greeks, and the same dualism we quickly baptized via the Enlightenment and our resulting emphasis on an other-worldly salvation. “The world is not my home.. I’m just passing through.” So what matter my stance toward possessions?
Combine this position with a right understanding of suffering and we have a nasty stew: yes, the poor and developing nations suffer in our market economy. But.. they’ll have their reward in the next life. We neatly absolve ourselves of responsibility for incarnational engagement and no longer hear the biblical call to “love justice.” (This is not explicitly in Cavanaugh and is my interpretation). And so we neatly escape from the incarnational stance of Jesus: “Your kingdom come.. on earth…”
But the problem of detachment is much larger and more nuanced, and its implications are profound. They relate to the fragmentation and mobility of our western world, our lack of stability and our uprooting from “place.” We need to rediscover the theological category of land and its relation to covenant and creation. We need to become rooted in our neighborhoods as the place where God is at work. Some of us need to quit commuting to gathering places across our towns and become rooted and invested where we live.
In terms of a broader spirituality, we need both the “yes” and the “no,” the apophatic and the cataphatic, the via negativa and the via positiva. Maybe we just need to get comfortable with paradox.
In November, 2006 David Fitch wrote,
“I believe incarnational must involve the manifestation of His beauty out of our organic life in worship and life together. By this I do not refer to the beauty that is achieved through “production excellence” as is so often sought after in the mega church. So often this results in the production of a simulacrum beauty detached from our every day incarnational life. Rather, in the way we worship and in the way we live, art is birthed on the canvas, with the camera, in the children’s class, on the graphics arts screen that points us to the reality of God revealed in all his beauty around us and in everyday life. In this way, music, dance, and the arts are part of what it means to be present as a witness to the beauty of the Lord. Hopefully this art will adorn our homes, our places of conversation, and in our worship gatherings. Otherwise we fall into the dichotomies of beauty versus the sublime, the truth as rational yet not visible. And worse, truth becomes Gnostic, not embodied for all to see.”