Celebration of Creativity, Worship Among the Art, March 3, 2019
Who makes these changes?
I shoot an arrow right.
It lands left.
I ride after a deer and find myself
Chased by a hog.
I plot to get what I want
And end up in prison.
I dig pits to trap others
And fall in.
I should be suspicious
Of what I want.
Water flows continually into the ocean
But the ocean is never disturbed:
Desire flows into the mind of the seer
But s/he is never disturbed.
The seer knows peace.
One who stirs up lusts
Can never know peace.
S/he knows peace who has forgotten desire.
S/he lives without craving:
Free from ego, free from pride.
The Peace of Wild Things Wendell Berry
When despair grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Nearer, My God to Thee arr. Dan Forrest Chancel Choir
Verleih uns Frieden gnädiglich,
Herr Gott, zu unsern Zeiten.
Es ist doch ja kein andrer nicht,
der für uns könnte streiten,
denn du, unser Gott, alleine.
In these our days so perilous,
Lord, peace in mercy send us;
No God but thee can fight for us,
No God but thee defend us;
Thou our only God and Saviour.
God has promised the believing men and women gardens beneath which rivers flow to abide therein forever, and excellent mansions in the gardens of Eden. But the good-will of God is the greatest; that is the grand achievement.
Luke 9:28-43 Scholars’ Version
Jesus took Peter and John and James along with him and climbed up the mountain to pray. And it came to pass as he was praying that his face took on a strange appearance, and his clothing turned dazzling white. The next thing you know, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and were discussing his departure, which he was destined to accomplish in Jerusalem.
Now Peter and those with him were half asleep at the time. But they came wide awake when they saw his glory and the two men standing next to him. And it came to pass as the men were leaving him that Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it’s a good thing we’re here. How about we set up three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah?” (He didn’t know what he was saying.)
While he was still speaking, a cloud moved in and cast a shadow over them. And their fear increased as they entered the cloud. And out of the cloud a voice spoke: “This is my son, my chosen one. Listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was perceived to be alone. And they were speechless and told no one back then anything of what they had seen.
It came to pass on the next day, when they came down from the mountain, that a huge crowd met him. Suddenly a man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to take a look at my son, for he is my only child. Without warning a spirit gets hold of him, and all of a sudden he screams; it throws him into convulsions, causing him to foam at the mouth; and it leaves him only after abusing him. I begged our disciples to drive it out, but they couldn’t.”
In response Jesus said, “You distrustful and perverted generation, how much longer do I have to be around you and put up with you? Bring your son here.”
But as the boy approached, the demon knocked him down and threw him into convulsions. Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father.
And everybody was astounded at the majesty of God.
Transcript of sermon from audio
I want to put two themes together.
So if I get lost we’ll come back together. And that is Creation Spirituality and the four spiritual paths, and the story of the Transfiguration.
Matthew Fox is a name I hope I’ve mentioned a lot here. Matthew Fox is a theologian who has influenced me a great deal. He is an Episcopal priest but he didn’t start out that way. He was a Roman Catholic but was excommunicated from the Catholic Church for his heretical ideas. He came up with an heretical idea in his book in 1983. And eventually he went on and battled with the Vatican but lost. That’s kind of like standing on a train track. Taking on a locomotive coming after you. That’s the image he used actually. He challenged the notion of original sin. He said it’s not that original. That the idea that the first thing we should say about human beings is that we are depraved or that we are sinful or bad or need redemption or are fallen or any of those things. He didn’t deny the reality of sin, this alienation from God. But he said that’s not the first story. The first story actually is blessing. We are originally blessed. That’s the fundamental primary aspect of what it means to be a human.
This beautiful world is a blessing. Here’s an example. Each of you today has broken your own personal best record. You have added today one more day alive to your previous record. Just today in terms of consecutive days breathing, you beat yesterday’s record!
That should be something worth celebrating. You call this first path via positiva. So rather than think of fallen and redeemed and all that stuff, he said four paths ,and one of those is the via positiva for celebrating the positivity of creation. You are a royal priesthood. You are royalty. We matter. We count and Jesus would say these things. He’d say to those people who felt that they were not on the team.
“Congratulations! You are blessed!” Being able to celebrate the via positiva is to celebrate life itself. Kurt Vonnegut said we need to spend much more time just saying, “Isn’t this nice?” We don’t spend enough time saying, “Isn’t this nice?!”
This is amazing creation that we have. This is amazing that we are alive. It’s the via positiva.
The sin of the via positiva is not noticing life and its beauty and the lives of our own selves and our beauty and the fact that we are here and isn’t this amazing! And so part of the spiritual path, part of being nearer to my God is acknowledging the beauty of creation itself and the beauty of our own creation and the creation of others.
So in a sense that’s what Jesus was showing to the disciples in their slumber as they woke up. Which is another wonderful spiritual expression. They woke up and see Jesus and Moses and Elijah dazzling white. Now this story isn’t unique to Christianity. Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita reveals himself to Arjuna. He opens his mouth and Arjuna sees within his mouth all of the universes. One after another, after another, so as it was a revelation, a manifestation of what is really real. That is this amazing life. Life is really real. We kind of get into a fog of not recognizing how amazing it is to be here.
So Jesus is doing this amazing thing. He’s standing up there and he’s dazzling white with Moses and on Elijah. It’s the via positiva. And it’s so cool.
The first thing, of course, out of the apostles’ mouths is, “Well let’s camp out! Let’s build some tents and keep this going forever!” As I mentioned during the announcement time when I came to church my favorite part of the art show is being here alone and being able to see this beautiful artwork and spending time here. The beauty of this is that it’s here right now and it is really incredible.
The Buddha used to teach people by picking up a glass. In this case it’s a mug.
And he’d say, “Look at this beautiful mug. I’m happy with this mug. It’s beautiful. It holds liquid, maybe tea or coffee, maybe water. But there will come a time when this mug no longer exists. One day it will shatter into a thousand pieces.”.
I hope not while I’m holding it right now.
So I’ll put it down.
One day it won’t be here. It will go back to its elements. In a few hours, this beautiful creation of this Art Show 2019 will actually be put away and people will take down the artwork and those pieces that have a red dot on them will go to some other home and they will start that creative process. They’re like stars that explode and they end but the elements of those stars actually create something new. And so that’s the ongoing creativity. And so that second aspect of Creation Spirituality or the positive path is the via negativa. And it isn’t about being negative it’s simply letting go of what is. There is creation. And then it also dissolves back. So the first conscious thought that human beings had was.
“I exist!” Followed directly by the second conscious thought, “I won’t exist.”.
And that second conscious thought can be felt as sad, grief, fear. In fact it can even lead people to want to build tents and stay or deny the fact that it’s going to happen. But it happens.
And so letting go, being able to let go of the beauty of creation because it will change is also the second path of Creation Spirituality. It’s recognizing impermanence and that’s a hard one because it doesn’t feel necessarily so good. Grief is love that’s lost its object. The sin of this path is to deny it. It is to try to prevent it, to try to stop the change.
But our beautiful art show in a few hours will be folded up into a different thing. Right now it is here and we are here in this moment and we can appreciate the goodness of that and we can take that moment into wherever we go including into the letting go of that.
And so we have the disciples then who need to come down off the mountain after their mountaintop experience and go back into life again. And while they go down the mountain they find the demonic, a person with convulsions by demons. I don’t know what you think of demons or the demonic. I think it’s real and I would define the demonic as fear that has metastasized. Fear that has taken on a growth of its own and has become in itself something. It’s the absurdity of what’s happening with poor Pakistan and India, both nuclear powers. What will happen with that when fear metastasizes, when leaders operate out of fear? And it’s a very dangerous thing. And it requires of us a great deal of courage and creativity not to allow fear to rule in our hearts or to be able to find a place in our collective community such as our state or our nation. And that’s where creativity comes in.
Matthew Fox also said that every one of us is an artist. That creativity. The via creativa is also a part of us. It is also what each of us is and the sin or the denial of that is saying, “Oh, I’m not an artist.” I’m denying my own creativity. But what we’re doing is we’re denying the image of God within us. We are the image of God and we have creativity. And creativity is just wild. It’s a tree, a Cottonwood, and it sends off all of its seeds like cotton all over the place. All the seeds, they go and most of them, the vast, vast, vast, vast, vast, vast majority of them don’t produce another tree. It’s just explosive creativity. But that is also who we are and that is the amazing creativity of life that responds to the letting go.
Now I don’t know how many of you who perhaps contributed art to this art show just woke up Monday and just said, “I want to create a masterpiece.” And then just did it.
My hunch is that type of creativity, at least it is for me, agonizing. You wake up and you don’t have a piece and a lot of it gets thrown away and you don’t know when you’re gonna get your creative muse again. And it takes a while, because creativity comes from the crucible of letting go. It comes from the crucible of grief that comes from the crucible of life. But it also comes from the crucible of also having a healthy via positiva. Both of those together.
There’s one final piece. There’s a saying in the text that actually isn’t in the text from Luke but is in the story of the Transfiguration in Mark’s Gospel. In that version, after the person is healed, the son who had the demon, the disciples are sitting around they ask Jesus. They say, “Well why couldn’t we do it? Why was it that we did not have success casting out this demon?”
And Jesus answered, “This one takes prayer. And that’s pretty profound. It does take prayer or whatever it is that you think of prayer, but prayer is “Nearer My God to Thee.” Prayer can be the creative aspect of creating art. It can be anything. Prayer helps us recognize that it’s not all about me. It’s bigger than me. There’s more work in this universe, than in this church, in my own self than just me. And it does require prayer. Because when we are overcome by fear and it becomes metastasizing, it takes divine intervention.
When I was in Iraq this past fall I was there for about two and a half weeks for the pilgrimage to Arbaeen which has really just started within the last few years. And I asked the person who led the tour about it and he said, “It just happened. It has never been like this before. People just started walking. A crass example; it is kind of like Forrest Gump. He just took off and that’s what happened. People are just going and they’re walking.”.
But this whole two-week period that I was there was one that was constant prayer. It was all in a language I didn’t understand, in Arabic or Urdu or Farsi or Persian or any of these amazing languages but it was constant everywhere you go.
They were telling the story of Hussain the grandson of the Prophet and his great sacrifice. It’s a cosmic battle of good versus evil and it was constant prayer and mourning and one of the things that I saw often was beating the chest. Sometimes with two hands. It’s called matam. They would say, “Ya Hussain” and they would beat their chest and I asked, “What does that mean? What are you doing?”
And he said, “At the Battle of Karbala, when Hussein and his 72 companions were surrounded by Yazid and his army of 30,000, the army, of course, won. It was a cruel battle. It was good versus evil. All the cruelty that didn’t have to happen, and the suffering, and the bravery, and the sacrifice of Hussain and the 72. It was Truth versus Falsehood. Well at the end of the battle, falsehood wins. Yazid’s Army had won and they started beating victory drums.
Boom boom boom boom boom boom boom boom boom boom boom boom boom boom boom boom boom.
And that was more devastating to the women and the children who were left from Hussein’s camp, the drums of the victors, was more devastating than even the loss itself.” And so he said,
“When we are engaging in the matam, this mourning, we are actually beating victory drums because the story isn’t ultimately that Yazid won. We’ve forgotten him. What we’re doing, we’re talking about the victory of truth that continues on in all of us.”.
I do get emotional about that. Now I’ve seen that experience happen. Not only there but in my own Christian circles. It’s a story of death and resurrection that the death and the disease–that matastasized fear–looks like it’s winning but it isn’t, because the witnesses, those who are bearing witness to life and to hope and to creativity and to compassion, are beating the victory drums. And that’s why they do the matam. And they do it loudly to show that the real story is the victory.
And that’s the fourth path. The via transformativa is the way of justice-making, the way of compassion. That’s where our art ultimately takes us. Tikkun Olam. It’s a beautiful phrase from the Jewish tradition. It means healing the world. We are engaged in Tikkun Olam, healing not only the world but also healing our own hearts. From the grief of loss, or whatever it is including what we haven’t felt that we’ve done or our own pain or our own shortcomings.
Those are not permanent either. And we do engage in this ongoing healing, this ongoing justice-making, this ongoing transformation of the world and ourselves. That is the final story that we have in the Transfiguration which Jesus rebukes the unclean spirit, casts out as I interpret it, that metastasized fear. Healing begins.
Matthew Fox said that we are all artists. We can never shirk our responsibility for our own creativity or the joy of that. We are all prophets, too, meaning that we all are called to speak our truth, to say what it is that we feel is true and right and good and to share that. To bear witness is the phrase I love to use. To say, “This is what I see. This is what I hear.” We say it regardless of what it is, because it may be the thing that we need to see or hear or say or hear from another that can actually lead to our salvation and to our healing.
And each of us as well as being an artist is also a prophet. Also a healer. And that’s where this art show always leads me to go. It just has me be real philosophical. Because it really is the power of creativity and the power of humanity together to image back the beauty of this world, also the pain of this world, the pain of this world transformed into healing. I hope that each of you will experience that this day and for many days to come–your whole life long. Amen..