Friday, May 21, 2010

Baby-Making, Peace-Making, Patience & The Creative Process

Yesterday was the due date for the baby. For some nine months we've been waiting for that day to come and now it's gone and this morning it is raining outside and we can't take our  hour-long walk to help coax the baby further down into Susanna's hips. I've been joking about this darn nine month arrangement that God designed. Some actually argue that it ends up being closer to ten months, but I'll leave those details for Susanna and the midwives to discuss. My point is this: six months is hard; nine months is excruciating.

I'm starting to work on my final comprehensive paper for my Regent degree. I've been hacking away at this coursework for over seven years and now it is all coming down to one single 40-page paper. Of course I'm glad to finally earn my Masters, but I'm also sad. This is not something that I've waited eagerly to finish and be done with. I love being a student. I need the accountability of a syllabus, a classroom and an instructor to push my learning further than it could go by itself. I love the process of learning.

It has been three weeks since our final Sunday evening service. I've had some bits of work to do for Hope College, but for the most part, I've had access to large amounts of time. Yet, I haven't begun any work on the Ordinary Neighbors record. I know this is the final "push." I could be done with it in just a few weeks--done with this project that I've obsessed over for four years. Part of me is scared to be done, to let go of control, to call it finished. It's a typical struggle of an artist, to decide when the work is finished, to know it is ready for "publication." Another part of me is sad to be done with this particular creative process. I love fiddling around in the studio. I love fiddling around with these songs.

I've been reading through a couple books to get my mind and heart back into the flow as I prepare to write this final paper. Makoto Fujimura's Refractions: a Journey of Faith, Art and Culture is really nice in this regard. His first section has been lingering inside of me the past few days. He works off of some thoughts from Tolstoy on art:
"The task of art is enormous. Through the influence of real art, aided by science, guided by religion, that peaceful co-operation of man which is now maintained by external means--by our law-courts, police, charitable institutions, factory inspection, and so forth,--should be obtained by man's free and joyous activity. Art should cause violence to be set aside."
There is much to think about here about the relationship between art and peace. I want to dive into Nicholas Wolterstorff's work on justice. I heard him speak a few years ago about justice and art. I'd like to go further with Derrida on these things too. There could be a lifetime of reflection on these things. I like where Makoto starts his thoughts on this topic:
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God" Matthew 5:9
He explains that one way to translate "peacemakers," eirenepois, is "peace poets." Makoto comments:
"We need to seek ways to be not just 'peacekeepers' but to be engaged 'peacemakers.' In such a definition, peace (or the Hebrew word shalom) is not simply an absence of war but a thriving of our lives, where God uses our creativity as a vehicle to create the world that ought to be. Art, and any creative expression of humanity, mediates in times of conflict and is often inexplicably tied to wars and conflicts."
Why do people resort to violence in the first place? Perhaps it is because they are impatient with the other means that are at hand. Love requires more patience than violence. Peacemaking requires more grace than violence-making. It has occurred to me that my impatience with the baby coming is in its small way a kind of violence, a violence that brings anxiety, stress and even strife into my home and my psyche. It is easier to be short with Susanna and myself, with the dogs...with the weather. Patience and peacemaking are partners. When choosing peace and patience, we chose to trust something that is greater than our own powers and resources. If God is my greatest means, then prayer becomes my main priority.

Here is a broad speculation: I doubt that families prior to the industrial revolution struggled to be patient during nine months gestation of a baby. They were closer to the patterns of nature and didn't know any different. Today we are so cut off from the natural order of creation. Our machinery has made us an impatient society because it convinces us that we have so much control. My joke in the past month has been this, "Come on, God. Don't you know I'm an American?" I've learned patience in my learning process and in my own art making (okay, perhaps I need to be a bit more impatient with the music and just get it done), but this baby making has revealed in me a whole other layer of striving, an ache for control. That is why I like the story about the fish farm in southern Spain that I posted last (skip halfway through the video to get straight to it). This is a perfect illustration of the kind of "conversation with the land" that Wendell Berry advocates that I mentioned earlier.

To say all of this again more succinctly: as human creatures we need to learn how to live within the created order and not over and against it. If we can learn how to live within creation, then we will learn the peace making, joyful patience that will allow us to be effective stewards of creation, nurturers rather than exploiters. If I can learn this, then perhaps I'll be a more patient and loving father and husband as well.

So, there is of course a lesson of patience in this nine months. The next few days (post due date) seem likely to be long. I'm trying to love this idea that God, our Creator, is the most magnificent of artists as he fashions this child. I've said that I enjoy the creative process even in watching other artists work. I pray that I can continue to patiently enjoy this particular creative process. Here's one way to look at it: how many artists could consistently turn out work on a nine month deadline and have each piece turn out to be completely unique and original? What artist could do this several billion times?

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