Here’s another excerpt from Madeleine L’Engle’s Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art that struck me as worth posting and talking about. It’s from the essay titled “The Journey Homeward”:
When the priests came out of the sanctuary, the cloud filled the temple of the Lord, and the priests could not bear to minister because of the cloud for the glory of the Creator of the Galaxies had filled the house of the Lord.
When did we last see that light in the sanctuary of one of our churches, no matter what denomination or affiliation? Perhaps it is there, but we may not recognize it because we are afraid of it. We have become so bound by the restrictions of the choices made over the past centuries that we cannot see it. We are afraid of that which we cannot control; so we continue to draw in the boundaries around us, to limit ourselves to what we can know and understand. Thus we lose our human calling, because we do not dare to be creators, co-creators with God.
Artists have always been drawn to the wild, wide elements they cannot control or understand — the sea, mountains, fire. To be an artist means to approach the light, and that means to let go our control, to allow our whole selves to be placed with absolute faith in that which is greater than we are. The novel we site down to write, and the one we end up writing may be very different, just as the Jesus we grasp and the Jesus who grasps us may also differ.
We live under the illusion that if we can acquire complete control, we can understand God, or we can write the great American novel. But the only way we can brush against the hem of the Lord, or hope to be part of the creative process, is to have the courage, the faith, to abandon control.
For the opposite of sin is faith, and never virtue, and we live in a world which believes that self-control can make us virtuous. But that’s not how it works. How many men and women we have encountered, of great personal virtue and moral rectitude, convinced of their own righteousness, who have also been totally insensitive to the needs of others, and sometimes downright cruel! (160-161)
I need to add some follow-up here: in other sections L’Engle emphasizes that the artist also needs to exercise his or her will appropriately, to not abuse the gifts she or he has received. And note that the abandoning control is in the context of our relationship to God — not simply a hedonistic liberation. Notice too, how the light we should see is in the sanctuary, it flows from the glory of God. Obviously, that should have special resonance for artists associated with a temple-building (and, hopefully going) people.
For more, see my previous post: L’Engle on icons of naming.