Book Club: Breath for the Bones
“God’s relationship with us surrounds us like a house,” says Luci Shaw.“It is essential, the frame and backdrop for all thinking, doing, being.”
Today we begin a new book club discussion on Shaw’s Breath for the Bones: Art, Imagination, and Spirit: Reflections on Creativity and Faith. For the next six weeks, two chapters at a time, we will be seeking to answer two questions posed in the introduction: “How does faith inform art?” and “How can art animate faith?”
As a writer, a painter, and lover of beauty, these questions seem a no-brainer to me. My faith informs everything I do—whether it be writing a poem or mopping the floor. I carry my God-view with me in all. As Luci says, imagination and spirit are the warp and weft of loomed material—and isn’t life woven together bits of the common and holy? And can my faith not weave holy through those common threads?
But what does this look like? What is a Christian artist, anyway?
Luci Shaw gives us a metaphor to illustrate how faith and art work together.
I hold in my imagination like a well-remembered dream the picture of a large, rambling house—old, with multiple doors and windows at different levels, all opening onto a landscape of fields interrupted by trees, and beyond them rolling hills, and even farther away, the glistening horizon of the ocean…the whole structure is bound together by its underlying stone foundation and the shell of walls, beams, and roof that enclose and unify it…inside the building lives a diverse community, and extended family of people variously occupied—cooking, cleaning, studying, conversing, teaching, giving advice, receiving advice, listening, rehearsing, resting, making love, dreaming, creating…Moving among them, talking and working along with them, is an ordinary-looking man; it is the Christ, the one who lends the house its personal warmth, its structure, its creative center, its vision, its reason for being…”
This is the framework from which the artist works: the house of faith. Luci Shaw explains that the artist, along with those he or she works side-by-side with in the house of faith all live in the awareness of a reality joined to their own that has its center in incarnation—God with us in Christ.
Does this mean that, as a Christian artist, my work must center solely on the spirit life? To be meaningful, to be Christian, must my art deal with what the world has come to see as the symbols devoted to religion?
“…faith is neither kindled into being, nor linked with life, only by such ecclesiastical paraphernalia, imagery, or atmosphere, nor by metaphysical discourse and theology, but also by tone of voice, laughter or crying, eyes meeting, an atmosphere open to questions and ideas, hands meeting other hands, lifted in blessing or comfort, streaked with dirt from the garden, calloused from carpentry, sudsy from the dishpan, by windows wide open to sun and wind, the sounds of kids playing, and the smells of rain and manure and pine needles. ”
Life is holy. And as we look at the foundations of the creative process as Luci Shaw describes them in part one of the book, we realize that as image-bearers of God, we create because He does. When we join with God in the creative process we are in a thin place—God draws near and the boundary between our earthly lives and the Divine becomes gauze; a diaphanous veil.
Have you felt it? In the turn of the words just right, the perfect splash of color, when the threads come together just so, or the light a delicious shade of translucence in the photograph? That feeling that this is what you were made to do, the pleasure that hums inside—the desire to abide right there forever…
Have you felt it?
That is God.
By entering into beauty through the act of creating, we not only invite God closer but our work invites the world to see a small piece of the Divine incarnated.
Breath for the bones. Beauty is.
Join us next week as we discuss Chapter three, Meeting the God of Metaphor and Chapter four, Learning from story. If you'd like to join the conversation today, leave us a comment or link up below with more thoughts at your blog: