Chasing After Nothing
Like Solomon of ancient memory, I have been chasing after nothing.
On my way to and from St. John the Forerunner parish in Indianapolis this weekend, I listened again to Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko’s keynote address at the Six Days of Creation icon workshop sponsored by Lexington’s local Antiochian parish earlier this year. Wonderful stuff. Instead of parochially relating the hexaemeron to icon painting specifically, he related to creativity in general. To my everlasting delight, he used Flannery O’Connor’s “Writing Short Stories” (in Mystery and Manners) and Wendell Berry’s “Christianity and the Survivavl of Creation” as ancillary texts. I sincerely hope that he will someday publish the address as a paper, if he has not already.
One thing that struck me as I was driving home was the importance of a person to be what he is, not what he wants to be, in order to create a true work. Fr. Thomas was underscoring the need to create works that reflect reality in order to be true, good, and beautiful, using a triad of attributes which Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann said was required of every true work:
- unequivocal affirmation of creation as good
- an element of tragedy in reflection of the fall and the diffusion of sin through man’s activity in the world
- an element of redemption in reflection of God’s activity through man in Jesus Christ crucified and raised from the dead — not by way of propaganda, as some Christians have falsely believed; what we mean here is an element of redemption in every work of art reflecting the ultimate redmeption of all reality in Christ by the Father
Fr. Thomas said that we do not create works that reflect the world as we wish it could be, but as it truly is. In other words, saccharine is right out. Fiction is not Mr. Roger’s Land of Make-believe.
In this context, Fr. Thomas emphasized that the creator must recognize his own gifts and weaknesses. One cannot be an iconographer if he does not have first the gift (or charism) of drawing. One cannot be a writer of fiction if he does not have first the gift of storytelling. Each person has his own unique gift of creation, but he cannot by pretence be what he is not. The first step is to recognize the unique grace that one has been given by God.
Recognizing oneself is a deeply difficult task. As I look back on my life — especially the last eleven years — it strikes me that I have been evading realizing my true self by pursuing a phantasm of the man I wish I could be. Instead of being the man God created, I have longed to be someone else. Again we find that there is no new sin; every sin is contained in the original sin. Having once tasted of the fruit, it is impossible to forget the knowledge of its taste. “The only sin is not wanting God.” Indeed. I have wasted much time running after things that are not-God, ungodly things. Nothing is ungodly in itself, but chasing what has not been given by God as communion with him is a chasing after nothing, a chasing after death. When you have defined yourself by that very chase, it is indeed a crucifixion and a death to embrace God.
Thanks be to God for Pascha. Christ is risen. Indeed.