The Imagining Community

“I am certain of nothing but of the holiness of the heart’s affections and the truth of the imagination. What the imagination seizes as beauty must be truth – whether it existed before or not – for I have the same idea of all our passions as of love: they are all, in their sublime, creative of essential beauty” – Selected Letter, by John Keats

The standing ovation for Les Misérables in the Imperial Theatre, New York, was so heartfelt, that a rush of God’s presence swept throughout the theatre. We were in awe of what we had just seen and experienced, but even more in awe that this audience had been so moved by Victor Hugo’s story of extreme redemption and forgiveness. It truly was an outstanding performance. For those who had ears to hear, it artfully told the story of the gospel.

There is a renaissance of true freedom going on in the arts today. These new expressions are sweeping through the Body of Christ and changing culture. It is such a great time to be an artist because so many congregations and communities are taking a hold of the value for the arts. During the historical Renaissance period, the church was at its peak in terms of being the community that shone in the realm of the arts. The period of history in from the 14th Century through to the 17th Century was a time of extreme and heightened creativity. The word ‘renaissance’ means re-birth and during this time period, creativity and culture ‘came to life’ in a new way.

Currently we are in a season in the church, where something seems to have pushed us to new frontiers. The church is waking up from a long nap and is now forging ahead with new creativity. God is preparing in secret (and through much pressure); the many artisans, prophets, and leaders that will emerge in the coming years and who He will reveal to the world.

Art is the beauty of God displayed by human hands, and the enemy knows that if he can destroy this passion, that the church will have great difficulties in revealing the nature of God. The divine dream of God was always to have artists and musicians who live from the mountaintop of the glory realm and to bring that glory down to earth (1 Samuel 10:5).

Art reflects heart more than the mind, because it reveals our core feelings

In actuality, art is even more than all this. It appears that art has been designed by God to heal us and to bring connection between us. Sociologists are finding that participation in the arts is a powerful way to overcome obstacles and to build the cohesion that communities long for. Engaging with the arts brings a higher consciousness of others and their bias or need. It broadens the mind, expands the heart and opens us up to more of God. The British Art Council explains; “There is strong evidence that participation in the arts, can contribute to community cohesion, reduce social exclusion and isolation, and or make communities feel safer and stronger.*”*http://www.artscouncil.org.uk

Art causes us to stop in the madness and flurry of life to listen and observe others. When we join in with others in the process of of collaboration, we are not only blessed by the outcome, but we are also bonded as we journey together.

Henri Matisse said: “the artist is an explorer

This is so true. The artist is a pioneer, blazing new trails and new paths.

We become fully human when we allow ourselves to find the creative thread that is placed in our souls by God. It is your responsibility to find this golden thread within you and it is the job of the church community to awaken hearts again to dream, to play and to create. In every heart, the seeds of creativity exist! When these are given light and water, these seeds burst with new life.

We are the “imagining community”

Imagination is the ability to dream and see. When people stop dreaming or daydreaming, it’s because they can no longer imagine what life could be like. Something has stopped their brains from thinking with a limitless, inspired perspective.

In every city of the earth, we find villages of artists! In the Sohos, the Manhattans, in the back streets and in the back alleys; artists live in community and bring their hearts together in a communal swirl. Here, artists gather in ‘village’ like surrounds, to find their comrades.

In almost every town in Europe during the last century, ‘cultural houses’ existed. These were gathering places, where neighbors engaged in the arts and got to know one another better. In Australia, during settlement, we created “Art Institutes” for this purpose. These ‘institutes’ were often in our town halls, where men and women would gather to learn new skills from one another that could be passed on from one generation to the next. This built culture and strengthened family, providing a deep kinship in the difficult seasons.

On a trip to Vietnam, I was in the Old Quarter of Hanoi. In this area, during the early years of the French settlement, it became a place where Vietnamese could retain their own culture. The artisans organized themselves into 36 guilds, including; the guild of silver, bamboo, silk and even the hat guild! Each guild occupied a street in the Old Quarter, as they endeavored to protect their art and cultivate it further by passing it on to the next generation.

When I read this, it made me dream for the church!

Art is our narrative of both His nearness and our humanity

In community we hurt and suffer together and so, therefore, our creativity goes to a whole new level. We are saddened by loss we are brightened by hope and then we are drawn ever forward into new expressions of our hearts. When the community is in heartache, it is often the artists who bring us through. The new songs or the new paintings that are all expressions of the journey, that reminds us of the cross and of His goodness. We live for Him and we die for Him.

We are a people who yearn and suffer and delight, all in one. We experience the passion and the pain, and the agony and the ecstasy. Community fosters an expression of all those different emotions, and creates different avenues for expression.

St Francis of Assisi said: “He who works with his hands is a laborer, he who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman, he who works with his hands, his head and his heart is an artist”

Creativity brings ecstasy and divine fulfillment as we enjoy and cherish the artistic life together. Joy and ecstasy rests on the face of creative people when they talk about their craft. This joy is infectious! It affects the whole community!

When the glory comes on people, we are at our creative best, imagining a better world.

I love to watch as the community comes alive when we take time to take creativity to a new level. The Lord is attracted to us as we pursue design and artistic endeavors. He loves to pour out His glory and to release His pleasure in the form of His presence. There is no doubt about it; developing the arts and artists is a key to attracting the glory and having a healthy, happy and cohesive community.

For myself, I have several ways to stay art focused. Reading a huge range of books, going to galleries and shows, and indulging my senses in beauty are all ways that I stay alive to the creative flow in me. We all have to spend time to nurture this creative golden thread within us.

Let the imagination of your heart and mind partner with others for a divinely inspired collaboration.