The Theologian as Artist

I have been spending time reading about pastoral and practical theology. The next few posts will be connected to this theme. I am enjoying a book edited by John Swinton titled Spiritual Dimensions of Pastoral Care. The following quotes on the theologian as artist come from Paul Ballard’s chapter, “Can Theology Be Practical?” I appreciate his fresh perspective on the task of the theologian.

The artist brings to the creative act, first of all, skills and experience, which are constantly trained and nurtured, often with long practice and patient repetitive copying. Yet techniques are there to become servants, giving freedom to employ them at will and to be dispensed with at need.

The artist brings to the creative act, second, a sense of discipline, the knowledge of how to work with material that has its own properties, strengths and beauty. The task is to draw out the best and to facilitate the creative potential of what lies to hand.

The artist brings to the creative act, third, imagination and attention, the ability to see in the ordinariness the tender realities of the joy or pain, fear and wonder; and so to bring them out that others are enabled to see with new eyes that which is now true yet has, in a real sense, always been true.

The artists brings to the creative act, fourth, a vision of the world, a glimpse of the ultimate that is both beyond reach and yet infinitely near. In our fragment of existence we can recognize the web of transcendence. Henri Nouwen (1986) refers, in one of his diaries, to Rilke’s comments on Cézanne:

Not since Moses has anyone seen a mountain so greatly … only a saint could be so united with his God as Cézanne, in Rilke’s view, was able to be fully present to the present and could therefore see reality as it is. (p.96)

The artist brings to the creative act, fifth, the ability to pour out one’s being into the beloved object, to know that what is made is greater than the maker. In religious language this would be spoken of in terms of sacrifice and redemption.

The artist is the most individual of all people yet never alone. The artist has a compulsion, an energy that cannot but express itself…Art essentially communicates. Its aim is to enable others to catch a vision, discover a truth, experience renewal. Art is a public activity, growing out of and speaking to communal experience. It can focus celebration and shared events; or speak in prophetic judgement. Art can be housed in galleries and mansions or be part of the life of the street or marketplace.

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