|Rediscovering Christian contemplative practice: day 4|
|Wednesday, 15 August 2012 11:45|
A series on Christian contemplative practice with Shaun Lambert.
Day 4: A real relationship with our creativity
One of my favourite paintings at the moment is The Mystical Boat by the French Symbolist Odilon Redon. It speaks to my deep self, that part of me that is made in the image of God.
It resonated with great power because for a period of months I started drawing sailing boats with me in them.
Since Noah's Ark, boats have been a powerful sacred symbol. When they emerge in our consciousness it is worth looking at the reasons. There is a frustrated Argonaut in each one of us, and a Golden Fleece we need to seek.
But we have to journey on our own. One of the highways of the sea that lead us to God is the awareness that for much of the journey we are alone and responsible alone.
Often the Golden Fleece is only found in darkness. We usually flee from that darkness rather than seek it out.
I started drawing small sailing boats with me in them after reading Ursula Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea. Written in the 1960s for children, it is a book that can lead anyone to their deeper self. The hero, Ged, who is everyman or everywoman, lets loose a shadow in the world that hunts him and from which he flees.
The turning point of the book is when Ged receives a word of life from a wise old man, that he must turn around and hunt the shadow - 'the hunted must become the hunter'. He makes a small boat with a sail and sets out on the sea, and the shadow flees from him, as it begins to take on his likeness.
We all have a shadow side that we deny, but which needs to be reintegrated. The Mystical Boat depicts the journey after that hardest work has been done.
When Jesus stands on the beach in John 21 and says to Peter, 'Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?' Simon Peter is forced to face the shadow of his betrayal. His words of love to Jesus in response now include the painfully acknowledged dark thread of betrayal as well as the deep blue of faithfulness to follow.
In religious life we are all prone to creating a shadow - the parts of ourselves we have repressed for fear of rejection or being judged. Another way of looking at it is to say Christians often have a front-stage that conforms to the perceived morality of their community, and a back-stage where their hidden life is.
Hidden addictions like alcohol, drugs or pornography are shadows, work on which has not yet been done.
I realised I needed to launch a symbolic boat and sail in it to track down my shadow, with the fear of rejection lurking at the heart of it.
Only then can we begin to move on from Paul's cry, and all of our cries, 'For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do' (Romans 7:15).
Only then does the cry, 'I do not understand what I do' become a cry of understanding and metamorphosis rather than a cry of despair.
We can use the language of 'sin' and 'old self' but our task is to find new words to say those things, words that resonate with people in our culture without watering down the meaning God intends.
And not all of our shadow is about sin. I have repressed creative aspects of myself like writing poetry or painting pictures to express what I feel because I have been told these things are not 'real'. How many of us have these parts of our selves waiting to be released?
On another retreat at Worth Abbey I felt I had to paint a second picture of me in a sailing boat, but this time in an embrace of reconciliation. The embrace was inspired by a sculpture at Coventry Cathedral, a duplicate of which is in the Peace Garden in Hiroshima, Japan.
This picture, too, is one of hope, a picture of now or a picture of the future. The embrace could be with my shadow, someone I love, or God, or all of them.
It was after I had painted my two paintings - hunting my shadow, and the embrace of reconciliation - that I came across The Mystical Boat. I was suddenly filled with tremendous hope that wholeness, reintegration and reconciliation were possible and could be the next painting representing my journey towards God.
I suddenly had insight into what my paintings might mean for me.
What I want to share in this personal story is that God speaks to us in many different kinds of ways. He is the creative Creator and utilises our creativity in His dialogue with us.
Are there aspects of your own creativity that you are repressing?
Taken from A Book of Sparks Click here for more on A Book of Sparks, including how to purchase
The Revd Shaun Lambert is a Baptist minister based in Stanmore, North West London. He is part of the New Wine leader's network, and PREMIER Mind and Soul network.
For the last ten years he has studied integrative and relational counselling at Roehampton University and has written regularly for The Baptist Times.
He believes that all truth is God's truth and that Christians need to be learners and thinkers who help critique and transform culture.
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