The Folly of the Wealthy

Then the Lord Jesus spoke this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. ‘And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”  (Luke 12:16-21)

St. John Chrysostom comments:

Why are you so concerned about fleeting things that must be left here? Nothing is more slippery than wealth. Today it is for you; tomorrow it is against you. It arms the eyes of the envious everywhere. It is a hostile comrade, and you acknowledge this when you seek every way to bury and conceal it from view. While the poor are prepared for action, the wealthy wander about, seeking where they may bury their gold, or with whom they may deposit it. Why do you seek your fellow slaves, when Christ stands ready to receive and to keep your “deposits” for you. Those who receive treasures in trust think they have done us a favor. But with Christ it is the contrary, for He says He has received a favor when He receives your deposited treasures. For the guardianship he provides He does not demand a fee, but instead gives you dividends.

You are a stranger and a pilgrim with regard to things here. But you have a country that is your own in the heavens! Transfer there all that you possess…

Would you be rich? Have God for your friend, and you’ll  be richer than all men!

(Sermon: The Rich in This World, pp. 4-5, O Logos Publication)

Counsels on Confession

The person who possesses knowledge and knows the truth confesses to God not by reminding himself of things he has done, but by patiently enduring what happens to him.  (St. Mark the MonkCounsels on the Spiritual Life, Kindle Location 2664-2666)

As we move into the Nativity Fast, it is a good time for us to examine our consciences to see what is in our hearts, and to know of what we need to repent in order to follow Christ.  For basically repentance is removing all those obstacles from our hearts and lives that prevent us from being faithful disciples of Christ.  Confession occurs not just when we go to the sacrament, but daily when we admit our faults and failures to our Lord.  As St Mark the Monk notes above confession occurs daily when we realize that much of what happens to us is the result of our own choices and because we live in a fallen world.  When we recognize the effects of the Fall on our daily lives, we are admitting that the power of sin in the world is noticeable – both in how we behave and how others behave toward us.  The fact that life is not fair, that sin abounds, tells us this is the world of the Fall.  There is a reality that the only person we can change in the world is our self.   [This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work for justice.  It does mean that we must never cease struggling against the sin which is in our own hearts.]

St. Basil  the Great rejected any idea of predestination or pre-determination based on the inescapable power of original sin.  If everything is predetermined by original sin or by genetic makeup then indeed even efforts for justice, correction and reform are worthless since we would only be struggling against an all-powerful fate over which we can never win.  We are to wrestle with those parts of our self over which we actually have control – the only sins we commit occur in those things over which we have control.  Some in the Patristic age thought even doing something once did not constitute sin.  It is sin only if we repeat the action knowing it is wrong – doing it once is a mistake, repeating it is sin.   As St. Basil notes, it really doesn’t do any good for legislators to pass laws forbidding something over which a person has no control anyway.  St. Basil is speaking rhetorically, for he believes people do make choice, at least some.  Not everything we do is predetermined in us.

“If the origin of our virtues and of our vices is not in ourselves, but in the fatal consequence of our birth, it is useless for legislators to prescribe for us what we ought to do, and what we ought to avoid; it is useless for judges to honor virtue and to punish vice. The guilt is not in the robber, not in the assassin: it was willed for him; it was impossible for him to hold back his hand, urged to evil by inevitable necessity. Those who laboriously cultivate the arts are the maddest of people. The laborer will make an abundant harvest without sowing seed and without sharpening his sickle. Whether he wishes it or not, the merchant will make his fortune, and will be flooded with riches by fate. As for us Christians, we shall see our great hopes vanish, since from the moment that one does not act with freedom, there is neither reward for justice nor punishment for sin. Under the reign of necessity and of fate there is no place for merit, the first condition of all righteous judgment.”    (A Patristic Treasury: Early Church Wisdom for Today, Kindle Loc. 3624-31)

For St Basil the failure of predestination thinking is that it tells us nothing matters.  Not only can we incapable of  resisting sin – we also are incapable of change so repentance is impossible. Predestination means even goodness and success will only happen by fate, so no use trying to do good either.  No use planting crops or working hard since fate determines everything including whether there is food to eat.  Might as well just sit back and wait and see what happens.  But at this point even many predestination believers can see that it does matter if you try – there is food to eat only because people work hard to make it so.  There are roads, bridges, stores, internet and electricity only because people make the effort to make it happen.  Everything is not just unfolding by fate, people are making decisions and acting on them.  What we do matters and changes the course of human history.  The same is true about our behavior good and bad.

It is because our behavior matters and does affect both others as well as our self, that the examination of conscience and the confession of sins is important.  We are by nature relational beings, we need to consider how our behavior, thoughts and even our attitude is a reflection of whether or not we are guided by the Gospel commandment to love one another as Christ loves us (John 13:34).  Admitting our sins, faults and foibles is not failure but rather how we show that we recognize Christ’s lordship over our daily lives.  Confession is acknowledgment of reality, of what is in our hearts, as shameful as it might be, as reluctant as we are to admit it.

Do not conceal your sin because of the idea that you must not scandalize your neighbor. Of course this injunction must not be adhered to blindly. It will depend on the nature of one’s sinfulness.”   ( St.  John Climacus, Thirty Steps to Heaven: The Ladder of Divine Ascent for All Walks of Life, Kindle Loc. 1624-25)

St John Climacus recognizes that admitting one’s sins is a good thing, and yet it has to be practiced with wisdom and discretion.  Just a fear of scandalizing others is not in itself justification for concealing one’s sin (note he said sin, he didn’t say every thought that comes into your head, just your sins.  The behavioral sin might be obvious to others, but we don’t need to discuss with everyone every errant idea that passes through our minds).  However, as he also notes, he is not putting down an unbreakable rule – one has to use wisdom in knowing when to openly admit to one’s sins.  There are some things we do which it is not wise to tell everyone.  We need to confess those to our father confessors, to those who are better prepared to deal with humans as fallen sinners.  If we are honest to our self about our sins, we recognize also how our sins impact our lives and the lives of those around us – especially the ones we love.  Instead of becoming bitter for sin or blaming others regarding sin, when we recognize its power in our life, we can make an effort to correct it and to find the better way to love others or at least to own it and repent of it.

 

Finding the Hidden Lord

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Today in Orthodoxy we begin the Nativity Season.  Of course, in Orthodoxy the season begins with a fast that lasts 40 days and 40 nights.  All around us, cultural Christmas is gearing up its shopping season with sales, Christmas decorations and sweet treats.  We are supposed to stand with Christ.

St. Mark the Ascetic writes:

The Lord is hidden in His own commandments, and He is to be found there in the measure that He is sought.   (The Philokalia, Kindle Loc. 3420-21)

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Looking to gift wrap, presents, festal deserts and Christmas decorations will not help us find Christ.  He is hidden in His commandments.  So we need to seek the Gospel commandments of Christ to find Christ this Christmas season.  He will be found in those commandments to that degree that we seek Him.  If we seek first the Kingdom of God, we will find Christ first.  If He is last on our list, He will be hard to find.

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If we believe He is Lord, we will seek His commandments to do His will, and then we will find him.  To keep His commandments, we have to know what they are and where to find them.   Time to read the Gospels and go to church.   This is the first day of the Nativity Season and Fast.  We are just beginning the search.

As St. Maria of Paris said on the verge of World War II, living as a Russian refugee in France having fled the Bolshevik revolution :

8187082426_c5b1c05faf_n“... we must not allow Christ to be overshadowed by any regulations, or even any piety.  Ultimately Christ gave us two commandments: on love for God and love for people.  There is no need to complicate them, and at times to supplant them by pedantic rules.  As for Christ, he is not testing us at present by our deprivations, by our exile, or by the loss of our accustomed framework.  He is testing us – when we find ourselves deprived of our previous living conditions and our way of life, when we are granted our awe-inspiring freedom – to see whether we can find him there, where earlier we had never thought to seek him.”  (Pearl of Great Price: the Life of Mother Maria Skobtsova, p 73)

Racism, Prejudice and the Good Samaritan

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“Orthodoxy condemns in an irrevocable manner the inhuman system of racial discrimination and the sacrilegious affirmation whereby such systems claim to be an in agreement with Christian ideals. When asked “who is my neighbor?”, Christ answered with the parable of the Good Samaritan. Thus, He taught us to demolish all barriers of enmity and prejudice. Orthodoxy confesses that each human being – independently of color, religion, race, nationality or language – is a bearer of the image of God, is our brother or sister, an equal member of the human family.”  (from The 1986 Chambesy statement, found in For the Peace from Above, p. 82)  

See also my post Feeling the Sting of the Good Samaritan Parable

The Significance of Vespers

“…the recovery by the Church of the true spirit and meaning of the liturgy, as an all-embracing vision of life, including heaven and earth, time and eternity, spirit and matter and as the power of that vision to transform our lives… For, as we have seen, the only real justification of the parish as organization is precisely to make the liturgy, the cult of the Church as complete, as Orthodox, as adequate as possible, and it is the liturgy, therefore, that is the basic criterion of the only real “success” of the parish.

Let the Saturday service – this unique weekly celebration of Christ’s resurrection, this essential “source” of our Christian understanding of time and life, be served week after week in an empty church – then at least the various secular “expressions” and “leaders” of the parish: committees, commissions and boards, may become aware of the simple fact that their claim: “we work for the Church” is an empty claim, for if the “Church” for which they work is not primarily a praying and worshiping Church it is not “church”, whatever their work, effort and enthusiasm. Is it not indeed a tragic paradox: we build ever greater and richer and more beautiful churches and we pray less and less in them?…

All conversations about people being “busy” and “having no time” are no excuses. People were always busy, people always worked, and in the past they were, in fact, much busier and had more obstacles to overcome in order to come to Church. In the last analysis it all depends where the treasure of man is – for there will be his heart. The only difference between the present and the past is – and I have repeated this many times – that in the past a man knew that he had to make an effort, and that today he expects from the Church an effort to adjust herself to him and his “possibilities.”

(Fr. Alexander Schmemann, “Problems of Orthodoxy in the World,” St. Vladimir’s Seminary Quarterly, 1965, pp. 188-189)

Christ with Everyone

I shall not be jealous, my Son, that You are both with me

and with everyone. Be God

to the one who confesses You, and be Lord

to the one who serves You, and be brother

to the one who loves You so that You might save all.

(Ephrem the Syrian, Hymns, p. 149)

St Ephrem writes that God the Father recognize that Christ is with every human being.  The Father wishes His Son to save all.   St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:22
that he has “become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.”   It isn’t God’s wish that only some be saved (see for example Ezekiel 18:23, 33:11).
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people”  (Titus 2:11).

St. Paul Living On Earth as In Heaven

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into Paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. Though if I wish to boast, I shall not be a fool, for I shall be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me. And to keep me from being too elated by the abundance of revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I besought the Lord about this, that it should leave me; but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”  (2 Corinthians 12:2-10)

St. John Chrysostom writes about the Apostle:

“For this Paul, who stripped down to his flesh, renouncing his body, and almost naked, encircled the whole world with his soul, having exiled from his mind every passion. And imitating the apathea of the bodiless powers, and living on earth as if in heaven, and standing with the cherubim above, and taking part in their mystical song, he easily bore everything – enduring, as if he were in another’s body, imprisonment, chains, arrests, scourgings, threats of death, stonings, dunkings, and every other kind of punishment.”

(Letters to Saint Olympia, p. 78)

The Woman With a Divine Touch

Who touched Me?

Today, in our society the question implies sexual overtones and misconduct accusations.  Not long ago there were clear lines about what was “proper” touch, even in dancing.  But as our social mores continue to change, lines can become both blurred and sharp.   There is still good touch in our society, people do know how to be tender and affectionate with one another.  There are medical massage people and nurses who understand the importance of touch in healing, as do many compassionate human beings.  But it is true that our current generation is “wrestling” with what constitutes good and proper touch, and numerous celebrities have felt the sting of improper touch, whether as victims of it or the perps.

Our modern sensitivities about touch, a necessary society-wide examination of our behaviors, values and morality, do not enter into the picture presented to us in the Luke 8:41-56.  There is a lot of touch going on in the narrative, but the lesson is focused on one tiny touch which though inappropriate by the standards of that society was neither sexual nor evil.

In the Gospel lesson, Jesus is being jostled by a crowd and then suddenly stops and asks:

Who touched Me?

Each person in the crowd is shouldering his or her way in the throng, trying to get close to Jesus.  Elbowing and butting their way to be right next to Christ, to get a hand on Him.   The text implies they are crushing Him.  And, when Jesus asks “Who touched me?“, quite humanly everybody who is pushing and shoving to get next to Jesus immediately denies that they touched Jesus!  “Wasn’t me!” could be heard all around.  Peter sees the absurdity of the situation (perhaps is even nervously embarrassed for the Lord for asking the question) and points out the obvious – every single person there is pressing on Him.  “We are all squashing you and sticking to you, sorry.  Are you being facetious in asking who touched you?”

Jesus, however, is not asking who was jostling Him or elbowing Him or banging into Him or grabbing Him.  He particularly wants to know who gracefully touched Him in faith?   Who, in other words, has the divine touch?   Jesus knows the difference between being poked and prodded on the one hand, or, on the other hand, touchingly making a human connection – a holy touch. {And many of us know what it is to be truly touched by what someone else does for us}.  Jesus recognizes the difference between an accidental touch and one done with the intention of making a human connection.   Jesus tells this person that her faith healed her – Jesus felt her faith.   Interesting because with everyone else bumping into Him and pushing against Him, what he feels is the one who touches the hem of His garment, but not His body.  He doesn’t claim He healed her, He really is saying it was her touch which brought healing into her life.  This women neither bumped into Him unintentionally as part of the crowd’s pushing and shoving nor grabbed Him or grasped onto Him to get Him to pay attention to her.  Jesus could feel that difference – He felt Her faith in Him and His power flowing into Her.

The 3rd Century theologian and biblical scholar Origen insightfully comments that it is this woman who has the divine touch:

The outer human being has the sensible faculty of touch, and the inner human being also has touch, that touch with which the woman with a hemorrhage touched the hem of Jesus’ garment (cf. Mark 5.25-34 parr). She touched it, as He testified who said: Who touched me? (Mark 5.30). Yet just before, Peter said to Him: The multitudes are pressing upon you and you ask, ‘Who touched me?’ (Luke 9.45 parr). Peter thinks that those touching are touching in a bodily, not spiritual manner. Thus, those pressing in on Jesus were not touching Him, for they were not touching Him in faith. Only the woman, having a certain divine touch, touched Jesus and by this was healed. And because she touched Him with a divine touch, this caused power to go forth from Jesus in response to her holy touch. Hence He says: Someone touched me: for I perceive that power has gone forth from me (Luke 8.46). It is about this healing touch that John says: Which we have touched with our hands concerning the word of life (1 John 1.1). (Treaty on the Passover, p. 72)

It is spiritually possible to be in the crowd pressing against Jesus and not be touched by Him, nor for Him to be touched by you.  If we want our Lord to be touched by our prayer, we need to learn from this woman how to approach Christ- not grasping Him so that He must pay attention to you, nor unintentionally bumping into Him by mindless, scattered prayer, but rather by complete, self-effacing humility and focused faith.  Seeking to touch Him as your Lord not as your servant in order to be healed by Him, not to prove one’s worthiness or to be able to boast of one’s blessings, but rather in recognition of His being Lord, God and Savior.  The woman didn’t seek to make Christ her servant, she didn’t try to alter or interrupt His mission.  She did not see herself as worthy of His attention.  She faithfully wanted His healing holiness to flow into her life without bothering Him at all.  She doesn’t grab a hold of Jesus, no graspingness in her at all, but in touching His garment she connects with Jesus.  This woman’s touch creates a union, communion, with the incarnate God.   That is what we seek in prayer.  It is what we should be seeking when we receive Holy Communion – connection with Jesus Christ our Lord.

For the woman with the hemorrhage, she would not even be able later to boast about what happened to her, for her very presence in the crowd was religiously immoral and anti-social, disrespecting everyone around her.  She would have found herself even more shunned by angry neighbors if she told them what she did – they would see her as defiling Jesus, not being healed by Him.  What she was hoping would happen to her was something nobody would believe later if she told them.  They would not believe that God would heal a person in the moment she is violating the Law and contaminating everyone around her with her uncleanness.  She didn’t belong there bodily by rule and ritual.  So amazingly, she could be there only spiritually by faith, hope and love.  It was her spiritual presence that was holy and connected her to Christ.  If we want Christ to hear our prayer – to be touched by our prayer – we have to make ourselves fully spiritually present to Him.  Not just bodily present – but fully present in soul and spirit, heart and mind.  And this union with Christ and this prayer can be offered anywhere at any time even when it otherwise seems inappropriate.  We can always be seeking Christ even in a crowd, even when in a hostile situation, even when we are someone who is unwanted by all those around us.

She came to touch God but discovered that she had the divine touch!  It was her inner self and disposition which had allowed God to enter into her life and open her to the healing grace of Christ.  The divine power in Christ was at home in her, so readily flowed from Him to her.  Unlike the chosen Apostles, she didn’t seek to sit at the right hand of Christ in order to rule others.  She was content to receive Him into her life, but He pointed her out as a model of faith, capable of receiving divine peace.

Jesus said to her, “Daughter, be of good cheer; your faith has made you well. Go in peace.”

There is also  an entire Scriptural background to this narrative.   In Leviticus 15 we are given the commandments concerning a woman with a flow of blood whether normal menstruation or due to some medical condition.  In part the Law reads:

“When a woman has a discharge of blood which is her regular discharge from her body, she shall be in her impurity for seven days, and whoever touches her shall be unclean until the evening. . . .  If a woman has a discharge of blood for many days, not at the time of her impurity, or if she has a discharge beyond the time of her impurity, all the days of the discharge she shall continue in uncleanness; as in the days of her impurity, she shall be unclean.  . . .  But if she is cleansed of her discharge, she shall count for herself seven days, and after that she shall be clean. And on the eighth day she shall take two turtledoves or two young pigeons, and bring them to the priest, to the door of the tent of meeting. And the priest shall offer one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering; and the priest shall make atonement for her before the LORD for her unclean discharge. Thus you shall keep the people of Israel separate from their uncleanness, lest they die in their uncleanness by defiling my tabernacle that is in their midst.”  (Leviticus 15:19-31)

Anyone who touches a woman with a flow of blood is made unclean by that contact.  But what happens if someone unclean touches something that is holy?  This menstruating and thus, at least by the religious standards of that day, ritually unclean woman wants to touch Christ in order to be healed.  She has a faith which goes way beyond what the Scriptural Law dictates.  No one is to touch her, but what happens if she touches someone?  The Prophet Haggai offers this (Haggai 2:11-13) :

“Thus says the LORD of hosts: Ask the priests to decide this question, ‘If one carries holy flesh in the skirt of his garment, and touches with his skirt bread, or pottage, or wine, or oil, or any kind of food, does it become holy?'” The priests answered, “No.” Then said Haggai, “If one who is unclean by contact with a dead body touches any of these, does it become unclean?” The priests answered, “It does become unclean.”

Holiness and uncleanness seem to flow in one direction – if you touch the garment which has holy flesh in it, does the holiness flow into you so that you become holy?  The priests answer: NO, holiness does not flow in that direction.  However, uncleanness does flow from a defiled object to the thing the unclean touches.

Interestingly enough in the Gospel lesson we see something new transpiring.  The need for the Law is changing.  Something greater than the Law is now present in Israel.    The women’s uncleanness does not spread to Christ or to the crowd.  But Christ’s holy power does flow to the unclean women.  Something new and holy is present in Christ.  What the priest’s in Haggai’s day thought impossible has come to pass.  Christ is not made unclean by the touch of the menstruating woman, but that woman is made whole and holy by touching Christ, the incarnate God.  Christ as the new High Priest of the new revelation shows the emptiness of the Levitical priesthood.  The Levitical priests were powerless to bring holiness to others.  Christ reveals His power in that He makes all things Holy. [This entire Gospel lesson also tells us it is proper for menstruating woman in faith to receive Holy Communion.]

The Levitical Law made it clear  that there is a need to keep the unclean separate from the rest of Israel because uncleanness present in the midst of the people will make the tabernacle in their midst itself unclean.

Thus you shall keep the people of Israel separate from their uncleanness, lest they die in their uncleanness by defiling my tabernacle that is in their midst.” (Leviticus 15:31)

But when Christ is in their midst, tabernacling with them, He is not made unclean by contact with the woman, but rather holiness flows from Him into the woman and heals her.  The tabernacle is no longer defiled by the uncleanness or sin of the people, but rather God’s holiness is now flowing from the incarnate Christ into the lives of the people and even the unclean are being restored to Israel.

In Genesis 3:3,  Eve expressed a thought that even if they were to touch the Tree of Good and Evil, they would die.  Holiness is taboo and deadly to the touch.  She apparently did not believe creation was a means to experience and know God.  The Woman with the flow of blood on the other hand believed in the life-giving nature of God, even God in the flesh.  The Law of her day also opposed her touching Jesus or any human.  But this time, the woman’s touch is divine and holy for it connects her to God rather than separating her from God.  Christ has not only opened Paradise to us, for in the incarnation He made it possible for us to touch God.

The Church is the Body of Christ

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many.

If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the organs in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single organ, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”  . . . If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.    Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.   (1 Corinthians 12:12-27)

Peter Kreeft comments on being a Christian and a member of the Body of Christ, the Church:

“I am I whether or not I am a part of a party, a club or a nation.

But this is not true of members (organs) in a body. Remove heart, lungs or kidneys from the body and they die.

A member of a group has a life outside the group; an organ in a body has no life outside the body. An eye removed from the body and put on a plate no longer lives. It is even no longer an eye. It cannot see outside the body, it loses its identity.

This is how we are related to the Church. The Church is not essentially an organization but an organism. The Church is not Christ’s society but Christ’s Body.

The Christian has no life or identity apart from Christ (and therefore apart from his Body). If I were to die and discover that there was no Christ, that Christ was dead, that Christ was not God, that I was not alive with his life in his Body, then I would not be I, I would be another person.

(Christianity for Modern Pagans, p. 319-320)

Most interesting insight into being a member of the Church – “The Church is not Christ’s society but Christ’s Body.”  Each member is indispensable to the Body, and no Christian can claim that he or she does  not need the Body of Christ.   The Body is essential to the life of each Christian who can remain alive only as part of the Body.

Creativity: Revealing the Truth or the Self?

One thing I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after . . .
to behold the beauty of the LORD…  (Psalm 27:4)

Then Elisha prayed: “O LORD, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the LORD opened the eyes of the servant, and he saw . . .   (2 Kings 6:17)

In 2008, I decided to purchase a camera for myself.  I certainly had no ‘philosophy’ of photography which was driving me.  I wanted to take pictures of things I enjoyed looking at, and my first interest was the trees.  I was then and am now a walk-by shooter.  I take photos of whatever catches my eye.  Excuse the pun, but I have no focus in my photography.

I discovered however that photography changed me.  It made me pay more attention to nearly everything – from color to light, from the smallest of things to the big picture of landscapes.  I became more alert to sounds and smells as well as shapes, shades and sizes. Patterns interested me and texture, and I realized that sometimes photos told stories.  I realized that unlike language which one has to know to communicate, photos are a somewhat international language which people can understand and appreciate no matter what their native tongue.

I’ve never even risen to the level of being an amateur photographer, for the root of that word means “a lover of …”.   And I know that while I have enjoyed photography, I’ve not loved it so much as to study it or learn how to improve my skills.  I do a lot of trial and error and don’t remember the lessons.

I read Jan Phillips’ book, GOD IS AT EYE LEVEL, with the hope of gaining insight into how to be a better photographer, but realize I probably will always be the walk by shooter and will never take the time to learn the art of photography or the science of the computer which the digital camera is.  I was intrigued by Phillip’s comments on art and creativity, somewhat because I do not share a lot of her values or experience about life, art, photographs or photography.  She writes:

“A creative act is a process of conjuring up something visible from the invisible, of transforming a thought or experience into a form that can be perceived or encountered by another.  Creativity is a universal human urge.  We each yearn to express our experiences in such a way that others can know them vividly and sense their significance.  Art emerges out of this urgency to share our lives, our visions and voices, fears and passions, and every work of art reveals something intimate about the artist.

Her words above are different than my inner life.  I remain an introvert and shy.  I have no yearning to express my inner experiences, no urge to be creative and show off my ‘art.’  I’m amazed when anyone pays any attention to what I’ve written or photographed.  My works are not original, but trying to frame what I see and hear and read – things that stand out from the world around me and all created by someone else.  I find her image of “conjuring up something visible from the invisible” intriguing, but see myself only drawing attention to what is visible, but perhaps overlooked.

Phillips writes:

When I look into a mirror, I see my face, my body, the form of my being.  When I look into my images, it is my soul that I find reflected, parts of myself that cannot be revealed in language.  I could tell you about myself in puffed-up words, exaggerating my abilities, emphasizing my strengths, leaving out my flaws and failings, and you would walk away with a certain notion about who I am.  If, instead, I handed you a box of my photographs and said, ‘This is the essence of who I am,’ your understanding of me would be truer, undistorted by language and interpretation.  My photographs are a direct line to my inner world.  They are the shortest distance between my soul and yours.

While I believe what she says is true, my photos do say something about me, I don’t see them as revealing me as much as they show to what I pay attention.  I’m far more interested in the world outside of myself.  Every one of my photos is an enigmatic photo of me exactly because I’m not in them.  I like to be invisible and so prefer being the photographer than the photographed.  And unlike Phillips, I think even photographs are interpreted so they are always seen through the lens of the experience of the beholder.

Again Phillips writes:

Even more important, my photographs are a direct line between my soul and me.  As much as an image speaks of the things seen, it speaks also of the person who photographs it.  In Photography of Natural Things, Freeman Patterson writes that ‘the finest images- the images that stir our souls- combine documentation of natural things with a sense of what they mean to us.’  My take on a desert dune or a redwood forest is not only different from any other photographer’s but reflects where I am emotionally and spiritually on the day when I’m shooting.  If I am feeling fearful in the face of an oncoming storm, my image will contain a sense of that.  If I am standing on mountain top, awed by the grandeur, my awe will be reflected in the photograph I make.  I listen for what my subject is saying to me, and once I know that, I can make a photograph that expresses both what it is and who I am as I see it.

The above comment is definitely one way in which I fall short as a photographer.  I don’t always think about what the subject or the scene means to me or what I feel about it.  I’m certainly guilty of allowing myself to view life only through the camera and not enjoying or experiencing what is right before my eyes.

I don’t try to capture awe or fear in my photos though I think the idea is right.  I am not as convinced as her that my take on a subject is all that different than others.  I’ve seen the photos of my family members of a given place or event which we all experienced.  We often focus on the same thing, though granted there can be variation on what each was trying to capture in the moment.

Minor White said that the goal of the serious photographer is ‘to get from the tangible to the intangible, to render the image in such a way that it becomes a metaphor for something else- usually the photographer’s state of mind.'”  (Jan Phillips, GOD IS AT EYE LEVEL, pp 91-92)

I wonder, can I see myself in my photography?

It seems to me that for Phillips “art” as just an expression of what is in the person, individualism, the person creates the art.  My sense of art is that it reveals what is there to be seen, especially the beauty.  Is that just another dandelion – another pesky weed, or is there something beautiful that we can see?    Can we see beyond the visible to the invisible Creator of beauty?  I think we can.

The difference in how we see the world is the difference in understanding  between a Transfiguration in which Christ suddenly reveals His divinity like a nuclear blast to His disciples, or one in which the disciples are the ones transformed  – everything that prevents them from seeing reality is removed from their eyes and now in the transfiguration they finally see Christ as He always is.

Phillips in her book writes about “self-discovery” and what a thing or the the thing she photographs “means to me“.  I think what art is really about is discovering the other, the not-me, so that I find my place in the world, in God, my relationship to all that is, because all that is is not my creation or just a way to find me or just what it means to me.  In discovering the other, I learn to think beyond the self, to open myself to love – loving the other and being loved by the other.  I realize their is an entire created order which I did not create but has a real Creator.  Self-discovery can quickly disintegrate into self-love which is the opposite of love, which is always oriented  in the full meaning of that word – exactly other directed or directed toward the other.  Love gives us direction, it orients us!

The beauty of photography is not what it reveals about me, but that it reveals beauty is beyond me, not limited by my ideas, but a window into the eternal Creator which can be seen by all.  The photograph gets me to stop for one second and realize the beauty of truth and the truth of beauty.