The Feast of St. Luke
The Rev. Brian C. Taylor
Early Christian tradition claimed that St. Luke, the author of the gospel by that name, painted the first icons. Even though there is no way of knowing if this is true, he was clearly an artist in his craft of writing. Luke’s gospel is written in a beautiful, literary style, with many stories that are found only in his version, including the one we love to hear on Christmas Eve.
Given his creative talent, I wouldn’t be surprised if he painted. And so Luke is known as the patron saint of artists, which is why we’ve chosen this day to bless icons, and to bless all our members who make art.
But in the interests of the rest of us, today I’d like to use St. Luke’s art to consider God’s gift of creativity, so that we can include everyone. And yes, that includes you. Perhaps you’ve said to other people “I haven’t got a creative bone in my body. I couldn’t draw a stick figure, even if my life depended on it.”
I want you to consider the creative nature that comes with being human. God is the Creator, the One who brings all things into being - marvelous, complex, fearsome, ordinary things. Every day, the Creator generates life, and so is generative.
We are made in the image of this Creator, whose very Spirit dwells within each one of us, coursing through all of creation. As God’s children, we inherit some of God’s creative DNA. We are co-creators with God.
And so broadly speaking, when we are generative, we are creative. Whether we are engineers, parents, teachers, homemakers, athletes, business people – when any of us brings new things into being, we exercise God’s gift of creativity.
In fact, it is often said that as we age, when we pass beyond the things we have to do to make a living and raise a family, we are faced with a choice. That choice is either generativity or stagnation; life or a living death. To be alive is to be creative, or to put it another way, to bring things into being by engaging with other people, with materials, with ideas, with activities. When we do this, we are living in the Spirit of our Creator, in whose image we are made.
What are the things that help us to live more creatively? How do we stay alive as long as we are living?
Recently I was looking at a book called Art and Fear, which could have been titled Life and Fear. In it, the authors conclude with the statement that while the outside world consists of variables, the inside world remains remarkably constant. Throughout our life, we tend to be drawn to the same things over and over. All their lives, artists often have one color palette, preachers have maybe 3 sermons, and you will likely experience the same struggles and the same things that pull at your heart.
When I began my sabbatical nearly a year ago, I went into it with a sense of fear and trembling. That was because I decided not to make a project out of it, and I really didn’t know if there was enough in life to captivate me once I had removed my job from the picture.
It turns out that there was, and they were constants that have always interested me – prayer, music, writing, friends, travel, study, working with others in the wider church, even projects around the house. These are not just hobbies – they are the vehicles that have always carried me into life’s depths, into risk, beauty, challenge, and fresh perspectives.
The point is to embrace those constants, to accept them as our constants. They are both limitations and our ultimate freedom. To go deeply into one color palette, to go deeply into the few things we care about - to really give ourselves to gardening or mathematics or friendship or whatever are our constants – this is how we discover the depths of life. It is our palette, our material that we have been given to use on the canvas of our lives.
But to go deeply with our material, we must risk. Good things come into being only when we risk struggling with the hard questions that are presented to us when we parent or pray or pursue best business practices. In these struggles, we encounter our resistance to change, our fear of failure, our unwillingness to go blind into uncharted territory. This is always hard. But if we keep moving into that work, whatever it is, allowing it to change us, it will become a spiritual path that leads us into a creative, generative life, and good things will come into being.
As the authors of Art and Fear put it, In the end it all comes down to this: you have a choice…between giving your work your best shot and risking that it will not make you happy, or not giving it your best shot – and thereby guaranteeing that it will not make you happy. It becomes a choice between certainty and uncertainty. And curiously, uncertainty is the comforting choice.
What they’re really talking about is faith. Faith is a risk. By throwing ourselves into the things we care about, we are risking that the Creator who has given us these constants will also give us the ability to develop them. The things we care about were given to us in order to enjoy them, to share them, to let our limitations be challenged by them, to learn from how other creative people have developed the same things. Shall we risk working with the unique material we have been given, or shall we go through life painting by the numbers?
Most of us who aspire to be good at anything know the ambivalence of seeing a virtuoso of what we enjoy doing. I had one of those moments a while back. I went to a jazz concert at the Outpost Performance Space. The young saxophonist and his band were amazing. The drummer, for one, is the artistic director of the jazz department at Julliard School of Music – they were all virtuosos. I couldn’t believe the complexity and beauty of what I was hearing. It was magical.
But as an amateur musician, I walked away from that concert with mixed emotions. I was excited and happy, but I also thought, darkly, No matter how hard I try, I will never play like that. What a joke my so-called musicianship is.
The next day I had a thought that changed everything. I heard a voice saying Brian, you are a virtuoso at being Brian. Nobody else can play the song of your personality, your work, your relationships, your humor, the way you can. Go ahead, play it right out loud.
Every person in this room is a virtuoso. We may not all be playing our song right out loud yet, but we have the capacity to do so. In fact, we have a solemn obligation to do so, and we are accountable to God for this. Why? Because God needs us to pursue the things we are given to care about, so we will be co-creators with God, so creation will go on and on.
Your life is your art. The few things you have always cared about are the materials that God has given you, with which you can make something beautiful. If you give this your best shot, you will become once again like the child who once delighted in her own unique way of doing finger-painting, before she was told she didn’t have talent. And you will have truly lived.