21 April 2014

When Prayer Needs the Work

When I am not writing, it is hard for me to pray.  Writing is connected with prayer in ways I don't understand.  Why is it that when I shy away from the work of letting the words out and honing them on the page I find it hard to lift my voice to heaven?  It's not the same thing, at least not always at the same time.  Prayer is a matter of joy and obedience.  Writing can easily be called a matter of joy, but what if it, too, requires obedience?  It is hard to speak in this way, but I find no other way of describing my life.

Yesterday I said I am filled with words that must be let out.  But why do I experience the world this way?  I have friends who share my environment and academic lifestyle who take things in very differently.  (One friend told me, "I think in paintings and emote in words.")  I can only conclude that God made me this way.  I believe he made me with the capacity - or even the need - to maintain a relationship with language.

If this is the case, when I choose not to commit to that relationship I am defying God.  These sound like stark terms for addressing the need to create, or make art, which my surrounding culture often seems to see as elective.  Everyone has certain basic challenges, of course: earning enough to cover one's expenses, finding meaningful connection with other human beings, dealing with hardship and mistakes.  These are the "givens" for nearly everyone.  In these terms the making of art is often labelled unnecessary, a luxury to be attained if possible that we will come to no harm for having to do without.

But if God made some of us as artists (as surely as He made some of us as mathematicians, athletes, and diplomats), are we not attempting to thwart His purpose for our characters if we refuse to make art?  Of course I'm not saying that making art is the only thing He calls upon us to do.  But if it is somehow basic to who we are, it seems reasonable to conclude that God had a reason for making us that way.  If the circumstances of our lives give us any chance at all, we must make some attempt at our art, put some effort toward discovering the reason for our gifts.  (The need to make art is the foundation of artistic gifting, it seems to me.)

Our gifts are for ourselves and for God first, before they can be shared with anyone else.  When a painter takes a canvas into a field, honoring the meadowflowers God made by painting them and taking pleasure in the effort, it seems to me that God is pleased whether any other human being sees the painting or not.  When a writer lays honest words on a page (or the metaphorical page, the screen) it seems to me God is pleased even if the piece is read by Him alone.  Sometimes I even wonder whether the purpose of some works is simply to be written, and not to be read.

Perhaps this is why it is difficult to pray when I'm not writing.  Perhaps the concentrated veiling of my heart that causes me to stop writing is also a kind of hiding from God.  He calls me to the page to be vulnerable, to say out loud the things I'm frightened of, happy about, or angered by, so that He can answer me in His own way.  He too has spoken in a book.  He too has revealed Himself in writing.

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