News from a country we have never yet visited.
Updated: Jun 11, 2020
“Art is a diverse range of human activities in creating visual, auditory or performing artifacts (artworks), expressing the author's imaginative, conceptual ideas, or technical skill, intended to be appreciated for their beauty or emotional power."
(The New Oxford Dictionary of English)
In a sermon that C. S. Lewis preached in June 8th 1942, he explored the desire or longing for that which is undefined, that we all have but find it hard to articulate.
“In speaking of this desire for our own faroff country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you—the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both. We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name. Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter.”
I would tentatively like to suggest that art is the expression of, or the engagement with this human condition of longing: longing for that which is other. That as we engage in the creative, we are essentially expressing that internal dialogue with our own longing for an expression of this mysterious desire that C.S. Lewis seeks to articulate and calls beauty.
As a Christian I would suggest that this indefinable longing/ feeling/ want/ inner voice (call it what you will) that we draw on as we are engaging in the creative process, is actually a longing for complete union with our creator - God.
That the perfect expression of beauty, and the place in which this longing is fully satisfied, is in the arms of God, in our being embraced fully by our creator. We can know and enjoy in this world what it means to experience communion with God in all three persons, but as Paul describes, this experience in this world is imperfect. The complete fulfilling of our desire for complete unity with God will be fully fulfilled in heaven.
“For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears... For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Cor 13:8)
The places we can look to to engage with this longing for beauty (as C. S. Lewis describes it) can be in the arts, but C. S. Lewis goes on to say that, while the arts are expressions that provoke and engage us in this communication of our own longing, they ultimately will not satisfy it.
“The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshipers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”
In essence, we are longing for paradise, or if you will: heaven. We are created to be citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20). In the words of Jesus:
“...they are not of the world any more than I am of the world.” (John 17:14-16)
It is natural therefore for our souls to be longing for that which we know but cannot express. That of which we are from, but cannot articulate.
C. S. Lewis goes on to say that we are conditioned in this world to not engage in this internal dialogue of longing for that which we have lost, and that which it is our task to find.
“Almost our whole education has been directed to silencing this shy, persistent, inner voice; almost all our modem philosophies have been devised to convince us that the good of man is to be found on this earth.”
What I want to say is that...
In our worship within Christian community we should be engaging in all the arts in order to express our love of God.
If art is in fact the engagement with our inner expression of our longing for God, why are we not employing all of the skills that the creatives in our midst have to hand, in order to engage collectively within worship? If we are not doing this, we are seriously missing a trick. We are limiting ourselves to an expression of worship that is far more narrow than God intended it to be. We can and should employ all of our senses and our sensibilities in our engagement with God.
As a society we have taken great pride in, and understood the value and importance in training people to a very high degree in articulating and engaging in the pursuit of artistic expression. Why are we not employing all these skills into our corporate worship?
As Jesus-focused creatives we should be influencing society and culture, not hiding from it or trying to reflect it.
It could be argued that we as Christian creatives are nearest to the source. We know in part, but we have a closer and a more sustained engagement with the source of all beauty, with the ultimate creator - God. Our expressions of art can and should be the defining expressions of what art is. We should be dominating the conversation. We should be creating art that is coming from our engagement with and our citizenship of heaven. This art should be traversing our own Christian community and influencing the world. I believe it is high time for this to be the reality.
The old boundaries of sacred and secular are no longer relevant to younger people who are unchurched. They don't care. They only care if it is authentic, real and if it effects them meaningfully.
All people have that internal longing as referenced by C. S. Lewis. When we present an expression that comes from our direct relationship with the actual unrealised focus for that longing, we will blow their socks off. We will change lives. Our art (in all its forms and expressions) will be an invitation into relationship with Jesus.
We don’t need to be scared of being artistic.
When we know that the focus of our attention is God, we do not need to fear our attentions being misdirected away from worshipping Jesus. We can employ the arts to enable us to worship Jesus and engage in the presence of God. There is a danger in losing sight of the real thing in the pursuit of artistic excellence, but that is really a question of character and motive. It is possible to be fabulously talented and equipped as an artist in any field and at the same time have a heart of humility and service, and want to lead others into the presence of God. We don’t need humility or excellence. We need humility and excellence.
Inviting those who do not yet know God to partake in the creative within Christian community is profoundly exciting.
I recently listened to an interview with a long standing American worship leader called Leonard Jones. He commented on the fact that he was around during the time of the Jesus movement, and that as lots of people became Christians and started attending churches, there was a massive explosion of new creative expression in worship in the church. How exciting is the potential of seeing musicians, artists, those engaged in the media, come to faith and be allowed to inject all their talent and wisdom into the church’s expression of worship and its communication of God’s beauty.
What should we be doing about it?
We should be honouring and encouraging the creatives in our midst to realise the God given ambitions they have to bless and enrich the church and the world beyond.
We should set a culture of honour where we are modelling, and encouraging greater use of all the arts within worship.
We should be praying for an influx of creatives to come to faith and then be ready to equip them to use those gifts in communicating who God is and in worshipping him. We should expect this to have world changing implicaitons.
We should not fear ‘being artistic’, we should harness it in our pursuit of worship. We should put high value on genuine heart-felt, real expressions of worship and on those expressions being excellent. Not only comparable to the quality of secular art and music, but transcending it and setting the tone and conversation of our wider culture.