If not for Love
Today I went to church, and instead of there being a sermon, there were readings by two of the children, contemporary worship songs, and the wrapping of gift hampers for one of the organisations that we support, a womens' shelter in Rathmines. While everyone sang, I sat, sometimes joining in, all the while drawing outlines and swirls, grateful for the space to ask a question I'm not sure of the answer to: Why did creation emerge from the great swirl, why was it formed, if not for love?
It began when I noticed there were thousands of tiny islands filling the last page of notebook. I had poured water over the previous page, "At The Edge of The World", which was to be the last page in this particular book, but the shapes that spilled through to the other side wouldn't leave my mind, and so I outlined each shape in the colour that the shape was, and began to see the formation of a world, first tiny islands, archipelagos, landmasses, oceans, lakes & seas, and I realised that I had found myself at an edge of the world we can't fully grasp or reach: its creation.
Broken Songs of a Dissatisfied Heart
I'm often guilty of paying more lip service to those who hurt and wrong me than those who show me love, and this notebook page asks that question of my artwork and my inspiration, why is it that I'm so inspired not by those who love me, but those whose actions say they don't.
It takes me back to when I used to write songs. I was 12, 13, 14, 15, but when I fell in love with an all-loosening, empowering love, and ocean of grace, I stopped writing songs. I knew one of the two reasons all along, and so never realised there was another.
The gauntlet of the known and the proper
Nobody had ever said to me directly, 'you can't write songs, it's un-christian', but many had said 'You must give everything to God' in such a way that it seemed that to find any other outlet for expression than prayer and the songs in the white or green book was to sin. It may seem obvious as you read this that such a narrow approach is stifling to the soul, but at the time, it didn't, not because it was ok, but because I had so much passion and drive that I just saw constrictions like this as chipping off the 'old [bad] me', a little like one of those automated potato peelers. Even with really good influences at the same time as the misguided ones, it's hard to unlearn things that you don't realise you've been learning.
It's not to say my soul was starved or silent in those years between 2004 and 2012. I created some beautiful art and was open to questions, it was just that I kept framing them in the wrong context, even when it hit me in '07/08 that art was something God was pleased by, and that it was not him that was scared of it, I didn't realise that I was wearing a creative straightjacket, albeit it somewhat loosened, that I thought was my uniform. In March 2012, I had a vision, which I summarised as 'drowning in enough'. I learnt that this misplaced belief had inhibited so much of my my heart & soul in creativity and relationships - and that it was all about people and their fear of things both loved and hated by God, and nothing to do with God himself, or with his instructions to us. As I began to surrender it, the collection that's unfolding today began to take shape in an embryonic form.
Fluency in Something Else
I learnt at the same time that I could express things physically and visually in a way that for me was so much more fluent, raw, honest, expressive and cathartic than what I could manage in song. Also, From the age of 14 onwards, I'd written all my songs in my own language, and so I just grew tired of converting and translating to and from code. (Someone at my school asked could they read my songbook, but instead photocopied it, tried to identify what was about who, and pinned the majority of it to noticeboards around the campus, hence the language).
I have written song ideas down though whenever they've come, and at times been frustrated that that's all I've done with them, but I've also developed read and listened back over them from time to time and developed them into bigger ideas - blog posts, visual art, etc, and some of these have changed me greatly. Songs are the signature of the soul after all, which I learnt when I created three self-portraits as part of 'Unexpected Flowers' in 2008, and later when I took some lyrics I'd been working on and turned them into 'In Search of A Song: What's Left is Yours' in 2011.
I had some great influences and supports in my church life, and as I worked through the follow-up to that 'drowning in enough' vision, I had a really safe and foundational friendships which made it safe for me to begin to explore the edges of my known world, and ultimately to travel beyond them, at that time, none more so than my friend Jonathan, who had mentored and fathered me with a very genuine love that asked for nothing back. It's easy to forget to remember to thank people who don't ask for it, and there are so many others who have been part of my formation and shaping, but the gentle kindness Jonathan showed me over so many years, and the impact that had on my freedom to flourish creatively and spiritually is certainly worthy of this paragraph to itself.
The problem with solving problems [it was never about the medium]
This isn't about my time writing songs though, and so I'll restate the question:
Why do I pay more lip service to those who hurt and wrong me than those who show me love? Why am I inspired not by those who love me, but by those who say they do, and yet don't.
Although this thought has marinaded in my head and heart for a very long time, it's only stricken me today after seeing this finished notebook page. My art has been my desire to make sense from the silent mind-pounding swirl. In the years I didn't write songs, I still cried prayers, drew patterns, journaled in my bible, and wrote and received thousands of texts.
I spent my energy solving what didn't make sense, not by shortcut-rationalising, but by exhaustively trialling every hypothesis. The last album I listened to in 'my old life' over New Years 2003/04 was 'Long Gone Before Daylight' by the Cardigans. One of the lyrics go 'Because You're the Storm That I believe in...' And I believed in the storm, and chose it, every time. Until 'Dark Hedges', which started out being my path through the storm, but instead brought me away from it.
This is where it gets spiritual. God calls us to leave what we know, the safe harbour, and journey where he is our only safety. But we seek safety in things we can control, and see danger in things we can't. The truth is that we are no more in control of the situations we cling to than we are of the great swirling sea, and there's an image in one of my previous journal pages where a man clings to a dead tree stump at the edge of a torrential waterfall, being pummelled and suffocated by the roaring river, not realising that what he's clinging to isn't life. In that picture there's a miracle for those who follow the river into the known death / promised life. The cascade is met with a fountain, that holds them from the fall.
When the world was formed, God said that it was good. When he made man, it was for relationship, and when he lived and died on earth, it was for the reconciliation of that relationship, it was for love, and while there are many mysteries of faith, the question of why God formed all that we see, are, and know, from the great swirl, is answered simply, for love.
If not for love, then why?
I spent today asking 'If not for love, how/what/why/where/when?' ... and 'how/what/why/where/when good is the swirl?'
On the left of today's journal we see a world form from swirls, and below that, we see it's surface, bisected by a great swirling river. In our own creativity as we create from the swirl, we have something beautiful to guide us.
Because if not for love, then it's for nothing. If we are guided by hurt mutated into bitterness, or think more about what others will think than how to just be loving to them, then we won't find ourselves suddenly realising we're flourishing in worship, we won't find ourselves behaving as God did when he made us and all around us.
But if we work for Love, then we'll still have the hard task of unravelling the great swirling silent dark, but we'll find our hearts' inspiration in the calm as much as in the storm.
Today's post is the answer to the questions I asked in those visual and written songs, but it's also far more than that, and just happens to answer those songs because it answers so much more.
The answer is that we have to ask this wordless question of our every action and interaction, and if we let God do his forming, unravelling, cleaving and flourishing, then we can be free to do our own forming and flourishing too - as we get to know the hands that formed the world, we'll find our own hands become more like his, and that they hold looser to everything else.
Just after photographing today's journal, this post flashed up on my screen from Facebook, and I was excited, because it somehow summed up the exact feeling I could see in my mind in the moment I opened the computer to upload it.