THE SPECIFICITY OF FLAIR
Peter asked Jesus, "What about him, Lord?" Jesus replied, "If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? As for you, follow me."
- John 21:21-22
There is a place for Einstein academics, Jungian psychologists, Bono lyricists, Spielberg filmmakers, Apollos silver-tongued orators, Pauline doctrinaires, David poets (and Michelangelos to sculpt them). Sometimes you need a lecture…sometimes you need a song…that is why all greats are so prodigiously different from each other. No two artist's biographies are alike. Each of these titans are possessed of what we might call the specificity of flair…they had an aptitude for a particular craft and honed it in their own unique fashion.
Legends always harness their efforts into a focused energy, and hone the specific art they have a natural knack for. It's always heart wrenching to watch a David poet forsake verse to become a Pauline theologian, thus turning into an arid doctrinaire when he used to be an explosively powerful sonneteer…or when brilliant logicians try to wax lyrical but have no knack for verse! It is one of the great human tragedies when talented individuals abandon their gift to hone someone else's.
As my Dad would say, play to your strengths. Hone the particular craft the Lord has given you a flair for, for the world needs a diversity of top notch originals rather than a uniformity of second rate epigones.
THE PSEUDO ARTIST
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.
- Ephesians 2:10
Pseudo artists attempt to seem creative by dressing in outlandish apparel, talking about their projects, acting "artsy" (aka odd), and employing vogue lingo to fit in with their fellow craftsman. But the best artists are regular, ordinary, everyday chaps. When they're not splashing colors on the canvas or pecking away at their novel or pounding the ivories, they're normal blokes. They feel no need to seem artistic…they're too busy doing art to seem anything, and they know they sure aren't going to prove they're artists by being eccentric…they're going to prove it by making great art.
Real virtuosos do not wish you to gauge their greatness by their attire or bizarre "artsy" behavior. They wish you to determine their value by their art. Whenever they're moved by artistic impulses, they get it out not by the way they dress or by talking about their projects (which, by the way, only saps creative powers; which is why movie directors who always talk about what projects they're going to make rarely excel, while those who make epics often refuse to talk about their film and keep it under wraps until it's complete). Bona fide masters get all their creative urges out via their craft.
Whenever you have a creative impulse, invest it into your project rather than wasting it via futile words about it or wearing eccentric garb. Maestro's are judged by their work, not by their gear or lingo or even their behavior.
If you wish to rank among the greats, do not seem, be.
And they replied, "We both had dreams last night, but no one can tell us what they mean." "Interpreting dreams is God's business," Joseph replied. "Go ahead and tell me your dreams."
- Genesis 40:8
The famous C.G. Jung, in his treatise on Dream Analysis, points out the significant warning signals our dreams give off during sleep. Like psychological biographies directed by our subconscious, dreams serve as fuzzy mirrors which can disclose fears we didn't know we have, reveal psychical deep-rooted bothers via the form of archetypes, and unearth inner glamour, showing us a side of ourselves we could not delve into when fully conscious.
What badgers our unconscious self grows active in our dreams, and provides a gauge for us to know our most deep-seated primal thorns, mirroring our own needs back to us, divulging what we'd do well to pray for.
Give yourself your own prayer requests by analyzing your dreams, so you can know what is bothering (or inspiring) your subconscious, then pray God not merely work on your conscious…but unconscious self. Who ever said psychoanalysis cannot interpenetrate Joseph-like dream interpretation, thus giving us a measuring device to know what our deepest needs are so we can know what to pray for ourselves?
I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
- 2 Corinthians 12:10
Legends have souls of iron. They let slip no frailty and betray no insecurity. They dwell on the Himalayan pinnacles of lonely strength, upon which no insult can reach them.
But from where do they gather these materials of iron with which they fortify their souls? Why, others gather the materials for them and give them another piece of iron with each insult they hurl. When critics rail on the craft of a leader, impugn him as selfish, misunderstand him, and unleash virulent tongues upon him, he lets these comments sink deep into his soul, for these hurtful remarks make his innards like iron and his sinews like steel.
The legendary warrior silently declares to friend and foe alike, "Do your worst, for every insult you hurl at me is a gift, another piece of iron which turns my soul into a case of animated armor."
THE IMMOVABLE OBJECT HALTS THE UNSTOPPABLE FORCE
Are any of you suffering hardships? You should pray.
- James 5:13
A wise person once said that fear can keep you up all night, but faith makes one fine pillow. Sometimes our pillows are rocks: we can't sleep because we can't turn our brains off. We're watching horror films in our mind, directed by our subconscious, and we cannot eject the terrifying plots to get some shut-eye.
What must we do to gain faith and make our pillow soft?
When your imagination runs away with you, invoke the Logos who can stop your train of thought dead in its tracks before it derails you. Pray. For as John Trapp would say: the time of affliction is the time of supplication. When your brain is tormented by thoughts you cannot control, talk to the Lord about it. The mental horror films are merely thorns meant to prod you into a closer kinship with the Creative Energy who birthed you, and spurs meant to goad you into the Immovable Object who alone can halt the unstoppable force of your train of thought before it derails you.
So God created human beings in his own image.
- Genesis 1:27
What is the meaning of the self? Is it a mirage, a mere bundle of perceptions with no discoverable glue or cohering principle of connexion between them? Or is the self a mind, substantiated by the Cartesian maxim, "I think therefore I am," (for where there is a thought there must be a thinker to think it)? Or perhaps the self is a spark tossed by the Consuming Fire whose brilliance alone can kindle the intellect's illumination?
The very fact that metaphysicians endlessly endeavor to define the "self" only goes to show how complex and genius the human make-up is. We are like echoes of the Logos, or masterpieces with Divine fingerprints impressed on us, or bottomless pools of reflection whose mystery is fathomless. And the deeper we delve into the meaning of the self the more we can learn about the One who made it. For we are made in the image of the Creative Energy who cast us into being…and to study the image will help us discover the One who mirrors it.
SCORING THE SOUNDTRACK OF NATURE
For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.
- Romans 1:20
Whose music is more textural than Vivaldi? Who can march through a piece with greater force than Handel himself? Which songwriter wrote more prodigiously than Beethoven? What being can compose a soundtrack more epic than John Williams?
Why, the Source from which all this music springs, of course!
The Creative Energy can amalgamate vibrations with more adeptness than all the composers in history combined. He arranges the very notes He Himself invented more movingly than the very conductors He created. He is the Consuming Fire, whose brilliant sparks illuminated the psyche of the musicians to whom we give standing ovations.
The Lord waves His wand and sends the wind blowing through wind-chimes like empyrean pipes. He composes the pieces the songbirds chirp in the morn, who sing more melodious tunes than Enya herself. He scores the soundtrack of the waterfall, splashing in the spring garden with celestial freshness.
Listen to the soundtrack of creation, for in it lies secrets of wisdom which will point you to the Divine Composer who scored it.
A BUNDLE OF PERCEPTIONS
Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.
18th century Scottish philosopher David Hume, in his treatise concerning human understanding, proffers a very curious hypothesis. He suggests that to be human is to be little more than a bundle of perceptions. According to this theory, there is no such thing as a "self", for our perceptions are separable and distinct existences, and there is no principle of connexion between them to substantiate the idea of a "self." To take away our perceptions (pleasure and pain, love and hate, sensations and impressions) is synonymous with annihilation. If you had all your inlets of sensation taken from you, there would be no you. Thus you are merely a bundle of perceptions, not a self at all. Try to define what a "self" is apart from its perceptions, and you define nothing. Self, apart from the senses, becomes a word that has no meaning.
Hume's empirical philosophy is but one proof that reasoning, even when it concerns something so seemingly simple as explaining the existence of a self, is fraught with absurdities and contradictions. Is it not strange that some of the world's wisest sages question whether selfs exist at all? We often marvel at the wonders of the human mind, but when considering the expostulations of philosophers, are not the mind's limitations also to be wondered at? The deeper one plunges into metaphysics, the more aware one becomes of the strict limitations which restrict the understanding. Thus, to worship the mind rather than the Logos is folly…for though the movement of a human train of thought is nothing short of magical, it is stopped in its tracks by a deeper reflection upon philosophy's conundrums.
There is only One who can riddle out the mysteries of reason. There is but One who contains all the secrets which have left even the profoundest thinkers scratching their heads. Express your dependence on the understanding of the Logos more than your own, and He will direct your train of thought to the destination of Divine Wisdom…which is less a what (a collection of thoughts) and more of a Who (the original Spark which kindles and illuminates the understanding of men).
I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.
- John 17:4
When Jesus died, He did not say, "Almost done!" He declared, "It is finished." He finished the work the Father gave Him to do, and He who has begun a good work in us will be faithful to complete it. Our Lord is a finisher.
Our generation has need of a little-Christ 'get the job done' mentality. We have need of putting the finishing touches on our projects. O, we Millennials are wonderful at casting vision, dreaming imaginatively, and buying books…but when the work gets hard…we hardly work.
We would do well to do our vision rather than continuously cast it, awake to make our dreams come true, rather than wasting our artistic impulses talking about them, and finishing books as often as we start them. For the world will be changed the same way the world was saved, when we declare, "It is finished!"
As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me all day long, “Where is your God?”
- Psalm 42:1-3
Man's chief purpose of life is to return to the Creative Energy whence our existence springs. God is this cradle from which our existence derives itself, thus to be born again (to return to this cradle, this creative bosom), is to accomplish our life mission.
Reciprocally, to be cut off from the Headwaters of Being is to feel thirst to death. Being banned from the Fountainhead, and being granted no access to the River of Life which flows from His Creativity, whose water alone we drink and never thirst again, is to become a phantasm, neither living nor dead.
The author of Psalm 42 pined for the torrents of living water issuing forth from the Fountainhead. He saw his entire existence was contingent on the Wellspring of Being…
The psalmist pined for God, who was the air he breathed, the water he thirsted for, and the Bread of Life he was starving to taste. In fact, in the first three verses he records the 3 most necessary requirements to perpetuate life: air (panting in verse 1), water (thirsting in verse 2), and food (meat in verse 3). Man can live for about 40 days without food, 3 days without water, and 8 minutes without air…but he cannot live a second without God.
FEAR IS A WONDERFUL SERVANT BUT A TERRIBLE MASTER
You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.
- Genesis 50:20
Cartoonist James Thurber said, "All human beings should try to learn before they die what they are running from, and to, and why."
Every dream we run to is a result of a fear we run from. A hero imitating Achilles drives himself to do deeds worthy of remembrance because he fears being forgotten. The workaholic of Malcom Gladwell's "Outliers" drives himself to hone his craft while others are lounging because he fears not maximizing his potential. The greater the fear of failure is, the greater the drive for greatness becomes.
In this way, we can use fear for good. Just as God works all things together for good (even evil things), so we can use fear (a thing altogether evil) for a good cause…like a spur prodding us, fear bids us, "speed on!"
My friend Kenner says that feelings make wonderful servants but terrible masters. So with fear: it's a wonderful servant when it goads you on to greatness.
Just don't let it become your master.
THE CHICK FLICK TRICK
One thing I ask from the LORD, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.
- Psalm 27:4
Husbands and wives can grow depressed by watching romantic movies together. While watching chick flicks, we tend to compare our spouses to his or her counterpart on the screen. If only she could be like this belle or he could be that Adonis, our marriage would be pure bliss…or so we think.
I'll tell you a secret. If you (girls) did marry the dreamboat on the screen, or if you (men) did wed the beauty from the movie, you'd still compare him or her with someone else from another movie. The problem is not with your spouse not being the chick flick romantic star you want him or her to be…
The problem is you're looking for beauty in the wrong place.
David said his one desire was to see the beauty of the Lord. All the beauty of humans is merely a finger pointing you to the Inventor of Beauty. Fingers will always disappoint you. All human beauties are mere shadows cast by the Original Beauty Himself. Only when you look, not to the shadow, but to the One who casts it, will you be able to enjoy your spouse's beauty in marital bliss, because you've found your happily ever after in the Origin of beauty who forever romances and never disenchants.
THE IMAGINARY DEMON
The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
- Psalm 27:1
The most abusive foe we face is a demon who doesn't even exist. His name is Fear. This Spirit of the Subconscious is nothing more than an invention of the mind, a figment of the fancy. Fear isn't real. So imaginary is fear, in fact, that you can activate it at the cinema by watching a horror film from which you leave quaking in your boots when nothing truly threatening has actually happened to you! You can pay money to feel fear by staring at a screen which can do you no harm! It's all make-believe.
Yet this imaginary demon is the deadliest of devils. But here is a boon! If fear is invented by our minds, our minds also have the power to uncreate it (for God has not given us the spirit of fear but rather a sound mind).
The Bible is intent on helping us oust this imaginary devil. Jesus tells His disciples not to fear in the storm, the LORD tells Joshua to not be afraid when he ventures into the Promised Land, David says the Lord is his light, therefore of whom shall he be afraid? If we can beat fear, there is no malice of man nor diabolism of devils which we cannot beat.
But the only way to beat this imaginary demon (fear) is to repeatedly face it.
The whole earth is filled with his glory!
- Isaiah 6:3
Pablo Picasso said, "All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up."
The child is a live-action poem. He has not yet learned to view the world scientifically, but through the lenses of enchantment. Those "mini-maestros" tread the Earth as if venturing into a sacred temple, which is filled with the glory of the Source from which all creativity springs.
While a man's intelligence advances with age, imagination advances with backward time-travel. The human creative power is most fully developed in the ankle-biter. A toddler's existence is too packed with poetry to leave any room for science. The little tike does not study the botany of the tree in his textbook, but watches it clap its branches to God in praise. Little blokes do not investigate the science of the cloud, but laugh at the wizard beard the Artist painted in the puffy canvas. For the child, every field is a battlefield, in which the blades of grass are unsheathed swords, pointing triumphantly to the stars.
Creation is best learnt via physical appearance and the enchantment it brings, not by means of breaking it down scientifically. While the sciences can generate wonder (and therein is their tremendous merit), they can tend to define the sunflower, when the sunflower is a poem too magical to be confined to a textbook. Poems are too grand for definitions.
The Earth and Galaxies are crafted by the paintbrush dipped from the Divine Artist's Soul. We learn science by reading books, but we unlearn the precise (and altogether misleading) definitions of nature by reading creation as a poem.
He grows oldest in wisdom who can stay youngest in imagination.