(re)Imagine Thanks

Charlie Brown ThanksgivingIn the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.  (Genesis 1:1-2)

This week in Religious Life at YHC, we curiously merge several occasions: (1) we hold our annual thanksgiving chapel service, (2) we collect the Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes, and (3) we celebrate our annual Interfaith and Multicultural Thanksgiving Celebration.  In addition to all the other events and obligations swirling around campus, these merged occasions make for a busy week.  Our theme for Religious Life tries to embrace this chaotic complexity, (re)imagining what we have into something new, dynamic, and transformative.

As the familiar text from Genesis cited above evidences, there is a theology derived from this narrative underpinning, claiming that out of seemingly formless chaos miraculous creation occurs.  As this text implies, the most interesting creation might not take place within order but through the ordering of disorder into something profoundly new: new in form, function, presentation, and possibility.  In fact, scholars like Jeremy Bigbie argue that the claim that humanity is created in God’s image—a claim made within the same chapter from Genesis as cited above—is an allusion to our capacity to create, to imagine.  Our creativity is God’s divine image, an image most clearly evidenced each time a novel is penned, a song composed, a watercolor scumbled, or a sonnet formed.  This creativity as divine manifestation is not limited to the traditional arts.  Rather, it is an expansive category embracing many notions, such as the crafting of new economic systems or conceiving of inventive experimental protocols or executing an as-yet-unimagined athletic maneuver.

In this sense, art is primarily a verb.  In part, our word “art” comes from a Greek root—artios—meaning “complete.”  Yet, that idea of completeness also carries with it a concept of immediacy, of a present reality that is perpetuated and sustained.  Art is related to but not the same as an artifact.  Art is a present enactment while an artifact is a past representation.  With art, there is an emphasis upon the present action rather than the eventual or past production.  There, also, is a related connection between the action performed and the actor and those perceiving the action.  By experiencing the action and the action’s results, we indirectly encounter the actor.  A mysterious trinitarian community is formed between actor, act, and those experiencing the action.

Moreover, there is an implicit notion that the perceived result represents something beyond itself, causing the artifice of the action to become a dynamic icon.  And, all good icons direct their focus way from themselves and toward the primary actor that inspired them.  Our creations become icons.  They do not refer only to themselves but to the fact that they were created.  In this way, they are conduits to something greater than themselves, echoing Creation’s function as the Icon directing our gaze not solely to that which is created but to the profundity of the Creator.  Therefore, to create is to make immanent the transcendent by way of iconic reference, transforming the present into a point of contact between the mundane and the divine and making a short-lived community between the actor, the act, and the recipient of the action.

Ok, I get it; thus so far this iChapel has been a bit esoteric.  Let me try to draw my thoughts together and bring them back down to earth.

In order to (re)imagine, we must change how we understand what we make.  As icons, what we make speaks about us and about what we think, believe to be important, and value.  Our creations point back to us.  In addition, we in turn, point back to our Creator.  In the end, the most important thing we create might just be our lives.

So, to what does the art of our lives point?  What does the art that is “us” claim is important to us?  What does it illustrate we consider to be of value; of importance; and of personal, communal, and sacred worth?  What “complete” picture do we hope our lives to illustrate?  Also, how does the art of our lives affect the present around us?  Is it detached and devoid of practical connection?  Are we abstracted from reality or are we creatively engaged with the “now” seeking to bring it to its “complete” and good end?  How do we turn our iconic representations of ourselves and our Creator into practical representations of the world to transform the world?

Making is an inherently creative process.  It is, also, inherently artistic.  The same Greek root that means “to make”—poyeo—lies at the heart of our word “poem.”  A poem is a crafted icon pointing the reader/hearing to something greater than just the poem, i.e., to an idea, a concept, a belief, an emotion, and, in some respect, to the writer of the poem.  As something made, a poem is a representation of what is important and of value to its writer.  If our lives were a poem, what emotion would they provoke?  Would our lives’ poems be a sonnet of love, a playful nursery rhyme, an ode, or an epic tragedy?  What or who would serve as our muse?  Would our lives’ poems point only to us, or would they point beyond us to something greater, more profound, more telling of reality, of live, of existence?

Join us this week as we conflate poems with faith, life with icons, art with inspiration, trying to make order out of our, localized chaos.

Have a wonderful week and see you along the way.


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