In this third chapter from Madeline L’Engle’s fascinatingÂ Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art, I was arrested by the fact that in my often vain attempts toward maturity, I’ve forgotten how incredibly freeing it was to be a child.
“All children are artists, and it is an indictment of our culture that so many of them lose their creativity, their unfettered imaginations, as they grow older.”
In one of those highly coincidental moments in life, these were the first words I read after finishing Matt Appling’sÂ Life After Art, a book that tackles our loss of creativity as adults and the need for us to revert to particular modes of thinking that came so naturally to us as children. Appling’s book is a great continuation of the conversation that L’Engle starts in this particular chapter. (Read my review ofÂ Life After Art).
“A lot of my adult life has been spent in trying to overcome this corruption, in unlearning the dirty devices of this world, which would dull our imaginations, cut away our creativity.”
If you’re not particularly creative, have you ever thought about why that might be? Can you remember a time as a child when you painted with abandon, wrote without fear, or sang without embarrassment? What stole that outlet from you? Even for artists that strive to better their craft every day, I think these are important questions to consider. As I read inÂ Life After Art, if we’re created in the image of God and God is a creative being, we must inherently be creative beings. Such creativity can take on a number of forms. Maybe you’re losing out on some of the joy of life because you’re not creating. I’d encourage you to take even baby steps toward regaining the creative spirit you may once have had as a child.
“So when I had read all the stories in my book case, the only way for me to get more stories to read was to write them.”
Elsewhere I’ve read that if you’re a reader and seldom find books that truly arrest your attention, you’re supposed to be the one to write that book. Additionally, this quote echoes the obvious: great writers are great readers.
“It was a shock when one day in school one of the teachers accused me of ‘telling a story.’ She was not complimenting me on my fertile imagination. She was making the deadly accusation that I was telling a lie.”
This is how those “dirty devices of this world” start gnawing away at the creative spirit of a child. If you’re a parent, indulge your children’s imaginations.
“Jesus was not a theologian. He was God who told stories.”
There’s a saying I often use for pithy sayings that could be expounded upon for hours: that’ll preach. These two sentences will preach. There’s so much wrapped up in these simple, declarative sentences that it’s likely fodder for a future post.
“We are listening for meaning, feeling for healing.”
This’ll preach too. As a writer, this is what I should be doing, but I often have trouble navigating to that subtle intersection of intellect and emotion.
“We cannot be mature artists if we have lost the ability to believe which we had as children. An artist at work is in a condition of complete and total faith.”
Yes, yes, and yes. An artist at work has to trust … in the work, in themselves, in their audience, and in God. Most children do this without even thinking about it. It’s not till fifth or sixth grade when they become too self-conscious to create art like they used to. I’d assume that few of us, artist or not, ever really get back to that point.
“In a very real sense not one of us is qualified, but it seems that God continually chooses the most unqualified to do his work, to bear his glory. If we are qualified, we tend to think that we have done the job ourselves. If we are forced to accept our evident lack of qualification, then there’s no danger that we will confuse God’s work with our own, or God’s glory with our own.”
If you perform a roll-call of biblical “heroes,” very few of them would have called themselves qualified for the tasks set before them. Abraham lied. Moses stuttered. Rahab slept around. David slept around andÂ killed. If these are our examples, we’re all equally qualified to the tasks set before us. L’Engle’s words here echo Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10:
“In order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christâ€™s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christâ€™s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
L’Engle builds on those biblical heroes:
“It is chastening to realize that those who have no physical flaw, who move through life in step with their peers, who are bright and beautiful, seldom become artists. The unending paradox is that we do learn through pain.”
That’ll preach too. For reasons that could take volumes to explain, suffering produces art. Rob Bell’sÂ book Drops Like StarsÂ does a fascinating job of describing why this is. How many talented artists do you know who haven’t endured some kind of intense suffering? I’m sure some exist, but history tends to side with the suffering creative.
So, which of the quotes above resonated with you? Why?
Or, what creative endeavor do you pursue?
Or what did you pursue as a child, and why did you stop?