Timeless Art & Deep Faith
Creating timeless art that resonates with audiences for years to come, does not come from being vague, but from the specific exploration of our own personal experiences in life and if you are a Christian, from your deep faith. Anyone can write about sunny days and eating ice cream, without ever touching the emotions of the reader or inspiring your audience. It is counterintuitive, but the more personal your art becomes, the more universally it will be experienced. Why? Because, as Solomon said, “There is nothing new under the sun”,(Eccl. 1:9) and we are all striving to understand the trials we face and to enjoy the blessings we have received. Thus people look to artists to help them reframe their mindsets, to change their perspective, and to help them see the beauty in life, and to feel like they are not alone in their experience.
Novelty and The Psalms
Humanity can only distract itself for so long with commercial distractions, gimmicks and shallow sentiments. We long to understand ourselves and the world around us, so we long to connect with something deeper than what is on the surface. Well, unless we are avoiding life through nostalgia. We were made to ponder the depths of our soul, our longing for hope and heaven, and to yearn for a deeper, more honest community. The problem is that there are not short cuts to deep spirituality.
If you want to write stories, poetry and music that last a hundred years, consider the poetry and lyrics which have already lasted for two millennia. Recognized as one of the great works of art in history is the poetic work in the book of Psalms. Contrary to other religious texts, it is not one dogmatic idea repeated over and over, but a range of emotions laid bare in the midst of deep philosophical and theological questions. It offers an endearing invitation to explore every emotion and to ask the heart-breaking questions.
Deep Faith is Timeless
Unflinching content that probes the hard questions and explores the depths of our spiritual life transcends culture, race, time and economics. It reaches down into our soul and expresses what is common to all men and women. It has the power to awaken us from trivial distractions and remind us of our deep humanity. There is a place for simple pleasures, and a time for distractions but men and women cannot live on shallow, simple experiences alone. Such a diet would starve the soul. We need more than bubble gum, quick text message relationships and snapchat filters on our phones.
Deep Faith vs. Emotional Rabbit Holes
Contemporary culture has flattened the distinctions between that which is emotional and that which is spiritual. Artists gain accolades for merely expressing frustration or vomiting up their feelings. As my son and I were discussing on Sunday, so many movies about depressed people never give us hope that there is life beyond depression. To be fair, there are many things with which may lead someone toward depression or make them frustrated. However, mere exploration of depression, or shocking art will not feed our soul. We need something more soul searching than a temper tantrum or mere spectacle. The soul was made to be fueled by hope, not to be entertained.
Emotionalism leads us down the sentimental candy cane lane to the world of saccharine Kitsch. It is a cheap trick to arouse fond feelings, but fails to provide sustenance. If we care for ourselves, our children and our neighbor we will jettison cheap substitutes. Our heart aches for more.
The Dark Night of the Creative Soul
If we begin moving beyond the surface of cheap substitutes, we will discover the Dark Night of the creative soul. This is the place where God invites us to face our soul-wrenching questions. It is often disguised as discouragement and depression. It is where God invites us to deal with our own hurts, pain, abuse and destructive coping mechanisms.
It brings us to the edge of ourselves and invites us to face our fears by facing our real relationship with God. We cannot move forward until we face the lies we have believed about God. They may be lies we have never said out loud. Whether we privately think he doesn’t really care about our personal suffering or that He can’t love us because of something we have done, we need to see God’s grace and love amidst the pain and suffering.
I faced my own depression for the first time in the middle of seminary. I was relieved to discover many great leaders struggled with depression. From David Brainerd to Charles Spurgeon. The book that caught my imagination the most was by St. John of the Cross called, The Dark Night of The Soul (paid link). It is a classic book for anyone dealing with these spiritual struggles. It journals the process and the way through the dark night.
It is not easy, but it is God’s invitation into a deeper intimacy with Him. St. John warns the reader that many will avoid the dark night. It is not for the faint of heart, but God will be there in the silence and in the darkness if you lean into it, trust his word, and begin to be more open and intimate with God as you discuss your fears, anxieties and longings. God is not surprised by any of it, but there is something profoundly intimate about sharing those deep, dark, private longings we avoid sharing anywhere else.
Avoidance or Shallowness
There are those with a stiff upper lip who avoid their emotions as long as they can, saving up what is pent up until their emotional damn breaks. Eventually we hope the psychologist, the therapist, or the camp counselor are there to catch the deluge. There are those who live in the shallow world of kitsch. They pretend all is well, surrounding themselves with sentimental art and YouTube cat videos, or maybe a hefty dose of sarcasm to pass the days. They avoid the pain in their heart. Eventually they become emotionally disfigured, or their heart breaks through the surface and runs for deeper waters.
Either way, the dark night is waiting for us, as God invites us to spiritual maturity. God is clear. There are no short cuts. If we fail to endure the night, we will be unable to create art or even live our life with the depth God longs for us to possess. He is with us in the valley of the shadow of death as well as in the dark night of the soul. That is our comfort but health is not found in the escape hatch.
Deep Faith & Scripture
Human emotions are powerful. They drive us to consider our death, and the questions of life after death. We can feel these questions surging through the spirit of the musician Heman, who wrote Psalm 88. Not only is our God unafraid of our questions, He invites them.
Consider the lyrics from Heman in verses 3-7:
“For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to the grave.
I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am a man who has no strength,
like one set loose among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave,
like those whom you remember no more, for they are cut off from your hand.
You have put me in the depths of the pit, in the regions dark and deep.
Your wrath lies heavy upon me, and you overwhelm me with all your waves.”
Our Good God & The Life of Job
A God who welcomes such honesty is not a God of triviality. He is not the God of the prosperity preachers. He is the God of the broken, the wounded and the discouraged. These verses often remind people of the book of Job. Job suffered immeasurable pain and loss – from the loss of loved ones, land and animals to the loss of his very health.
Job’s friends blamed either God or Job for his circumstances, insisting one of them did something to cause such suffering. Job poured out his frustration to God and did not hold back. In chapter 13 he pours out his heart to God saying, “Why dost thou hide thy face, and count me as thy enemy?”
Why did God approve of Job, and not his friends? Job offered his frustrations as prayers, not judgments. Job could ignore his suffering, but he chose to pour out his heart to God and to plead with God rather than judge God. Our culture leads us to “Rage against the Machine”, to pour out our anger and dissatisfaction on leaders and people with whom we disagree. The God of the universe is inviting you to bring all those frustrations and pain to Him!
Suffering and pleading with God is often where we grow the most. We have to ask ourselves if we will worship God when there is no immediate benefit. Are we loving God for what he does for us this week, or for who he is? When we honestly wrestle with these issues we enter the dark night of the soul as we start to love God for more than his benefits. This is where the musician Heman is inviting us to go. He wants us to move beyond a childish faith, and love God amidst the heartache of life. To take it all to Jesus, and to identify with Jesus in his sufferings (2 Cor. 1:5)
Deep Faith & Our Dear Savior
Jesus was no stranger to affliction. All for love, he endured pain, betrayal, and suffering. On top of that his father turned away. In that moment he cried, “ My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The soul piercing pain was endured by Christ so that he could sit with us in our pain and offer comfort and hope. As Tim Keller stated in a sermon on Psalm 88,
“Jesus was truly abandoned so that you will only feel abandoned.”
Jesus meets us in our pain, our anguish and our sorrow. He does not belittle our pain, ask us to suck it up, or tell us to be quiet and simply obey. He steps into our world to comfort us, as one who fully understands.
Conclusion: Deep Faith and Deep Art
Our culture is longing for more than spectacle and selfies. We long for community where we can be honest about our joy and our pain. And we long for a place where we can mourn, celebrate and ponder the hard, thought-provoking questions. (Here at AEM that community happens in our Artist Forums.)
Remember, we cannot offer to others something we do not possess. In order to speak deeply and profoundly to the culture around us, we must lead by facing the pain in our own heart, and taking our own fears before God himself. When we feel the freedom to explore the toughest questions in the presence of God, we can create room for others to explore those same topics, and let them smell the aroma of Christ in our work… no matter how obvious it is or how curiously embedded it may be.
When we are able to have that kind of deep spirituality, we will be able to speak profoundly to our culture, to other cultures, and to generations to come. Consider the artistic contributions of Heman, and ask God how your talents can be used to bless others for centuries to come.
Copyright © 2021 Joel & Michelle Pelsue. All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission.
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