Posts Tagged ‘Self-harm’

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Protected: Fear.

October 3, 2010

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Protected: It hurts

August 5, 2010

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Protected: Fun Week at London School of Theology 2010

June 26, 2010

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Things and stuff from the last 48 hours

May 24, 2010

Apparently it was my Dad’s turn to fall off the narrowboat this weekend. Numpty.

I found myself doing my first essay related all-nighter on Saturday night. My deadline was today at 4pm, and I knew that my body and brain wouldn’t function so well first thing on Sunday morning, and as I was playing at All Souls Sunday afternoon/evening, it was kind of my only option. Unless I went with the option of getting another extension, or just missing this one? But I couldn’t cope with that!

I had just about finished cutting and pasting various bits around so that it at least resembled an essay, albeit 700 words too long by 8am, at which point I went to bed. I’m pretty sure for the first hour I spent in sleep paralysis with some shocking ‘dreams’, but hey. Dave called me at 12.30, which woke me up! I don’t remember asking him to call me to make sure I was up, but he did good…! Although initially he asked me what time I stopped working… I don’t think I’ve heard him raise his voice at me before, so it was quite odd. But nice, because I know it was because he cares.

I made it to lunch and then Pete and I headed into London. Because the Met. Line was down, we opted for getting a 282 Bus to Northolt, which would have worked fantastically if we hadn’t waited for about half an hour in the boiling sun for a bus to come! We got there in time, just.

It was really fun to play Pete’s composition with All Souls Orchestra, and to play for an orchestral service again, too 🙂

The talk was on Daniel 8. What hit me the most was the last verse, after his vision. V27: ‘I Daniel, was exhausted and lay ill for several days. Then I got up and went about the king’s business. I was appalled by the vision; it was beyond understanding.’
It’s really not surprising that he was exhausted, considering the nature of the vision. But it hit me that ‘big’ things wipe out ‘normal’ people, too. I love how after the vision, he didn’t make a big deal over it, or sell himself out as a prophet. He just got on with the king’s business, that is, his everyday life.
Awesome.

I was very blessed when David Peacock, offered us a lift home. I caught up with some friends I’ve not seen for over a year, some even longer which was lovely. I was sat with Lydia which was fun, until the point when she asked about my arm and I said I’d ‘had a fight with something.’ Convincing? Hmm.

People are still encouraging me to talk to people who need to know. Maybe CBT man? But I’ve not heard from him since he said he’d ring me after Easter. And I’ve been scared to try and call him again. Babs isn’t around at the moment, I’ve been encouraged to email her, but part of me is thinking there’s not much point, I’m ‘okay’ now, and I have no idea how I’d tell her. As I’ve said before, I’ve more chance of telling Adrian or Robert.

I got back to LST and my room on Second Laing was a Sauna. It’s so unbearably hot up hear in the afternoons/evenings. I need to buy a fan.

I was told to go to bed early, and worry about editing my essay some more in the morning. I wasn’t convinced, but then again, I was struggling with walking.

I got 12 hours sleep. Get in. I felt good!

I got my essay tidied up by just after lunch.

But I also had a ‘phone call from Wilmslow. Simon called to say that they were still waiting for one of my references, but that they didn’t think I was the right person. They said it was because they’ll have a new youth and Families Worker and a new Ministry Trainee and that they aren’t in a position to give me the support I’d need. And that I didn’t have enough experience to mentor the girls in the youth group (to which I thought, so you’ll opt for them not having anyone, again?!). Anyway, decision made for me. I didn’t want it anyway, but I guess it would have been nice for me to say that to them… pah.

As my essay was printing, I received an email from Royal Holloway uni to say they will be offering me a place on their MMus Advanced Music Studies course, (yay) but that I wouldn’t be eligible to do the Special Study Performance course or Short Recital course, because I’m not good enough at playing the ‘cello, apparently (boo). I know I didn’t exactly play the best ever, but considering I didn’t rehearse with the pianist, that I had 3 days notice, and that it was the most hectic week of my life, ever, I thought they would have at least spotted potential? Ho well. Gutting, as it was the performance elements of their course which attracted me to it. And, as you may have guessed, playing my cello is what I love doing. Humph.

So… I’m a little bit, well, a lot, back to the drawing board on next year. I don’t have time to think/worry about it for now. It will have to wait until after exams and recitals. But I am thinking along the lines of doing the dipABRSM, working, saving, playing as much as I can and trying again next year, applying to other institutions, too.

But I’m desperate not to live at home. I just have no idea how that will work out practically, and how not to upset my parents, especially my Mum, about this. I want to stick around London, as I have a support network here. As much as I ran a million miles from London when I was first looking at uni’s, it’s become home, you know?

As much as I initially told myself, and others, that I was fine, and wasn’t going to worry about it, I found my body reacting to it this afternoon, so I decided not to fight it.

Rejection, I can deal with. But rejection when it comes to my ‘cello is not so easy. I found myself starting to slide into the muddy pit I was in last week, which was less fun. I need to be so careful at the moment, be so aware of what might potentially trigger ‘it,’ you know? I kept telling myself to go outside, to be in the beautiful sunshine and fresh air. To find people. I need people. And somehow I’ve not continued to descend to that place.

But I managed to get my BPG notes up to date, photocopying a friends notes. So I can now revise without worrying I’m missing something?

I also did a couple of hours cello practice, but the news from Holloway has got to me. Everything sounded awful, it wasn’t nice. I wound up calling Sue, who was supportive, but I’m worried it’ll still be horrible in the lesson with her tomorrow. I just don’t know the pieces well enough.

I saw Uncle Robert late on in the afternoon. He’s awesome. We chatted and he prayed with me. We prayed for peace for me. I need peace, emotionally, physically and spiritually. And not to worry if I have it in one area and not another. Shalom.

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The Church and the Arts: Suffering, Pain and Creativity

May 24, 2010

[This is the essay I have been battling with for the last few weeks. I’ve loved it, this module, Arts and Worship, has stretched my brain on so much, and I’ve learnt so much about myself while doing this essay. Unfortunately it got a bit tight towards the end, time-wise, so it’s probably not that amazing, but I wanted to share it with you anyway 🙂 ]

Have we forgotten the Arts?

Recently, on the banks of the River Avon, in a damp Wiltshire parish church, hidden behind local sewing club tapestries, in a pathetic frame, a little portrait of Christ was discovered. Immediately amazed by its quality, art historian’s identified this little portrait as a Quentin Metsys. On further inspection, it is believed to have originated from around 1505, and is the missing half of the original painting, the other half depicting the Virgin Mary. The newly discovered painting of Christ was in surprisingly good condition considering it’s environment and in comparison with the other half.[1]

How many other gems are hidden within English churches? We have forgotten our rich heritage of symbolism in churches: the architecture, the carvings, the imagery, all created in praise of God. This imagery told the Biblical stories so the illiterate could understand; but today do we really appreciate or understand these works of art?

In this article, we will limit our discussion to artistic creativity in response to pain and suffering, and the insights into pain and suffering afforded by the arts. Initially discussing the origin and purpose of suffering in Part I, Part II will discern the relationship between suffering and creativity, and in Part III, we will relate this to contemporary church life.

Part I

In the beginning…

‘… God created the heavens and the earth… God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him: male and female he created them.’ (Genesis 1:1, 27)

Following the creation mandate, we understand that as humans, we are created in God’s likeness. Our characteristics reflect those of our creator, to be creative, the difference being that God brought something out of nothing ex nihilo, whereas we, as creators in His image, use ‘something that already exists, giving it form and meaning.’[2]

Aristotle claimed that ‘Imitation is natural to man from childhood, one of his advantages over the lower animals being this, that he is the most imitative creature in the world, and learns by imitation.’[3] We imitate God in our creativity.

The creation… of Suffering?

In order to develop our understanding of creativity in relation to suffering, we must consider the question: ‘where does suffering come from?’ and ‘if God created everything, did He make the Devil?’[4] These questions are frequent stumbling blocks for those who struggle with the concept of God, especially in conjunction with our understanding of a good God.[5]

St. Augustine believed that ‘Evil has no positive existence, but is only a deprivation of Good.’[6] With this in mind, Sayers explains that an event, or substance ‘Not-Being’… depends upon the reality of ‘Being.’ So God, in creating ‘Good’ also created Evil, whose existence is realised by the presence of ‘Good.’ Sayers, acknowledges that God is ‘beyond Good and Evil,’ but Evil has no reality except in relation to His ‘Good.’[7]

Only God knows Evil in its ‘Not-Being’ state. Humanity can only know it by experience, calling it into active Being. ‘The [human] creative will, free and active like God, is able to will Not-Being into Being, and thus produce an Evil which is no longer negative but positive.’[8] During the century, the Nazi’s called anti-Semitism into positive being with the Holocaust.

The first mention of pain and suffering in the Biblical narrative is in the curses the Lord gave to His creation following the Fall of Mankind. The Lord said to the woman; ‘… with pain you will give birth to children…’ (Genesis 3:16) and to Adam that the ground would be cursed (Genesis 3:17b-19). Many poets and artists have been inspired by the depiction of the fall of Satan from Heaven, for instance, Milton’s Paradise Lost.

We must acknowledge that humans alone are not responsible for all suffering in our world. C.S. Lewis suggests that human kind is responsible for eighty percent of human sufferings, but there is still suffering which we cannot trace the cause to ourselves.[9] This presents the church with yet another chasm to reach out to those struggling with the concept of God. We are able to use art to form a bridge to give insight into these sufferings, even if we find ourselves unable to explain them.

Does suffering have purpose?

What is the role of pain and suffering? Aquinas said of suffering ‘that it was a thing not good in itself; but a thing which might have certain goodness in particular circumstances.’[10] Suffering helps put life into perspective; Lewis explains that pain or bad news can cause our world to fall apart. But, after a moment of despair, as Christians, we remind ourselves that these concerns are not meant to possess our hearts, and take the place of Christ. We are able to lean dependently on God, from whom we should continually be seeking our strength.[11]

Sayers likens Creation to a published work; becoming subject to the wills of others, who can misquote, misinterpret, or deliberately alter the work. But there is hope; we can redeem the work, turning ‘positive Evil into positive Good.’[12]

The apostle Paul continually encourages us by referring to his own joy in suffering, because through these trials, we are able to testify to the hand of God in our lives. Lewis also asserts he has ‘seen great beauty of spirit in some who were great sufferers.’[13] It is in times of pain and suffering that humanity turns towards religion in search of something more. The church often provides a safe haven in which to ask the bigger questions of life. To ‘try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free wills involve,’[14] excludes life itself. It is our duty as Christian artists to aid the process of coming to terms with suffering, and our human understanding of the concept involved.

Part II How does suffering relate to creativity?

It is imperative to understand that creativity is not limited to only those who suffer. We struggle to be creative without experiencing of human life in all its fullness, of which one significant experience is suffering, just as another is joy and so forth (see Ecclesiastes 3:1-8). For the purposes of this discussion we will focus specifically on artistic output within the relationship.

In his recent production, Drops Like Stars, Rob Bell proposes that creativity and art cannot happen without first the catalyst of pain and suffering: ‘you can’t create without pain.’[15] If this is the case, it leads us to question if Adam and Eve were truly creative, as we understand the term in the twenty-first century? However, CS Lewis describes two types of pain,[16] and suggests that prior to the Fall, Adam and Eve would have known ‘good pain’ i.e. the ache following exertion, ‘which is, in fact, pleasurable.’[17] We have already discussed that Adam and Eve had creative potential from the beginning of their own being.

Lewis states that, ‘pain produces an opportunity for heroism; the opportunity is seized with surprising frequency.’[18] Sandblom studied the individual works of composers, artists and writers, putting forward a convincing link between suffering and creativity, when the individual tries to explain the connection themselves.[19] Our understanding of an artist’s suffering aids our interpretation of their artistic creations.

‘Aristotle held that all prominent artists have been subject to melancholia, a spiritual disposition which may, under favourable circumstance, give rise to extraordinary achievements… those with manic-depressive traits have periods of creativity during manic phases but kept silent when depressed.’[20]

We shall now take this opportunity to briefly examine a few illustrations from our heritage of the arts.

Mental dysfunctions

‘The depressed have a great need for close personal contacts, to be liked and appreciated, but are held back by feelings of unworthiness… fear of being rejected they make a bid for recognition through creative work.’[21]

It is thought that there is a strong relationship between bipolar disorder and creativity. Jackson Pollock, Sylvia Plath, Kurt Cobain and Stephen Fry have all battled with the condition. ‘It’s a curious illness, both a harrowing scourge and a byword for talent.’[22]

Famously renowned for cutting off the lobe of his ear (1889), Van Gogh suffered from a mental disorder, which was aggravated by intoxication from remedies to relieve epilepsy.[23] Edvard Munch’s piece ‘The Scream’ (c.1893) possibly resembles most clearly the inner state of an artist suffering from a depersonalization disorder. Munch himself confessed that without anxiety and illness he would have lacked direction.[24]

Sight and Hearing Impairments

In his twenties, Beethoven’s hearing began to deteriorate, until he became completely deaf. Beethoven mourned the loss of the most important sense to his art in the Heiligenstadt Testament, declaring he must become an outcast in society. Phenomenally, Beethoven persevered with composition and the finale of his Ninth Symphony, based on the Hymn to Joy by Schiller contains supreme exultation. But we are unable to forget the tragic events earlier in the symphony.[25]

Biblical concepts of suffering

Having examined a spectrum of examples, we must continue to explore the relationship between suffering and creativity with a biblical perspective.

OT Scriptures

Solomon observed that there is a time and season for everything in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, including death, mourning, resigning, as well as the more positive life experiences. ‘To find comfort in exile is not thinkable, but in this remarkable beginning the poet refuses all that… Hope is created by speech and before that speech Israel is always hopeless’[26] (Isaiah 40:9-10). ‘A figure like Job… with his searing and ever relevant question of suffering, still arouses an interest which is not just philosophical but literary and artistic as well.’[27] The book of Job talks most profoundly of human misery. Subjected to afflictions to his family, wealth and body, ‘he is supposed to understand that suffering is not a punishment but a humbling and a purification of the mind.’[28]

Brueggemann proposed that ‘consciousness leads people to numbness… it is the task of… ministry [and the] imagination to bring people to engage their experiences of suffering…’[29]

Jesus

It is the suffering of Jesus, his pain, his sacrifice, his death, which makes our faith real. Moltmann implied that ‘while the many dwellings of God in [Jewish] history can be called an “entering” into human suffering, it is only at the cross that God actually “adopts” human experience into his own being, so that he now suffers “infinite pain.”’[30]

Christ’s life, death and resurrection inspired creative arts for two thousand years, and will continue to do so. ‘The works of art inspired by Scripture remain a reflection of the unfathomable mystery which engulfs and inhabits the world.’[31] Brown talks of God violating the second commandment by offering a self-portrait in Christ, legitimising all subsequent representations. Icon painters and artists have portrayed the extreme sufferings of Christ upon the cross.[32]

Fiddes explains that our Creator ‘God who suffers eminently and yet is still God, and a God who suffers universally and yet is still present uniquely and decisively in the sufferings of Christ.’[33]

‘The Son of God suffered unto the death,
not that men might suffer, but that their
sufferings might be like His.’[34]

Part III How can we apply this to the contemporary church?

From our discussion so far, we have discerned a three-fold relationship between pain and suffering. Firstly, creativity can aid the redeeming, healing process during and following a period of suffering, both for the individual artist, and their audience. Secondly, Creativity provides us with insights into the sufferings of our world, both in present day and times gone by. If we concur with Schmidt that worship is an art form in itself,[35] we can continue this relationship with our Creator, using our human pain and sufferings as a catalyst for worship.

Healing through art

The arts can enable a person to come to terms with their own individual pain and suffering. But ‘to be swayed by emotion alone is sentimentality, not art. An artist who is absorbed not in the contemplation and creation of forms, but rather in his own pleasure or in his enjoyment of “the joy of grief” becomes a sentimentalist.’[36]

Music therapy, the transcendent leap questioning identity and hope, is facilitated through the creative act, ‘through creative play, we can distinguish the inner world of ourselves.’[37] Similarly, narrative therapy in the constraints of ‘talking therapies’ can redeem the suffering of the individual.

Begbie asserts that human creativity is about sharing though the Spirit, the creative purposes of God the Father.[38] It is interesting to note that the Old Testament Scriptures rarely refer to the concept of the individual.[39] Human creativity is intrinsically corporate in nature, but so often artists seek their community outside of the church.[40] Arguably the loneliness and isolation artists face is suffering in its own right. The creative process itself produces frustration and agony, until an idea comes to realised fruition.

Throughout Christianity, there have been depictions of Christ’s suffering upon the cross. These interpretations remind us of the differing perspectives of the passion. We also have the ‘realisation there presses the question of whether divine identification with human suffering was actually part of the biblical message, or only really a later insight.’[41]

Secular work, such as Munch’s The Scream, may enable some to relate to the stark cry of human pain and alienation, more than yet another image of the crucifixion. A less familiar context makes the message all the more stronger.

‘Music’s alliance with the sacred is so strong and widespread… it is often regarded with reverence for having the power to deepen experience, the power to console, heal, and restore wholeness, or wellness.’[42] As the Pope agreed: ‘Artists are constantly in search of the hidden meaning of things…’[43]

Insights from art

Sayers asserts that creative pursuits alongside theological interpretation reflect reality.[44] Creativity offers people sources to discover significant meanings in their lives. Through the arts, we find ways of expressing thoughts and feelings which otherwise are ineffable. Like the Spirit, art forms enable us to intercede where words do not suffice (Romans 8:26).

The creative arts can help us understand suffering. The church needs art and artists as much as artists need the church. ‘Artists are constantly in search of the hidden meaning of things…’[45] Christ himself used imagery in his teaching. ‘Every genuine art form in its own way is a path to the inmost reality of man and of the world. It is therefore a wholly valid approach to the realm of faith, which gives human experience its ultimate meaning.’[46]

Worship from a place of suffering

‘Honest art evokes the fullness of human experience,’[47] not only our joys, hopes and gratitude towards God, but also our pain, uncertainties, doubts, fears, sorrows, presenting them to God in lament through the arts. We need to have honesty and integrity in our worship, ‘songs and hymns that express only what is ideal will fail to serve as proper prayer, praise, or lament.’[48]

True honest worship needs to come from the people. An ‘important quality of folk art is that, like ritual, it is incarnational.’[49] We cannot expect the expressions of worship from a heart of suffering to be perfect. Give room for imperfections, for failure, for quirkiness, for originality, for true, honest expression, because, after all, it is human.

Bruggemann suggests utilising Biblical symbols and imagery that have been used throughout history.[50] Expressing public fears through the use of metaphors and to present passionately, in order to lead and facilitate creativity within corporate worship.

Creativity can enable those who struggle with words to express their anguish, their lament, their worship. Experiential creativity handles sensitive issues in a more protective environment than words alone can deal with.

The Psalms provide us with a fantastic variety of expressions to God. ‘What we feel in art is not a simple or single emotional quality. It is the dynamic process of life itself – the continuous oscillation between opposite poles, between joy and grief, hope and fear, exultation and despair… In the work of the artist the power of passion itself has been made a formative power.’[51]

Conclusion

God created the world out of love, he did not need pain to create. But the Cross and new creation come into being through pain. Through the chaos of the fallen world, something beautiful still emerges. It is imperative that we do not forget in our sufferings, that Christ suffered first, for our salvation. ‘…Our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us’ (Romans 8:18).

Despite the arts often being thought of as second class subjects, relying less on ‘pure thought’ and more on emotions and feelings, they bring an irreplaceable tool to contemporary life no less at home or school as the church. The Pope in his appeal to artists said; ‘…beyond functional considerations, the close alliance than has always existed between the Gospel and art means that you are invited to use your creative intuition to enter into the heart of the mystery of the Incarnate God and at the same time into the mystery of man.’[52]

We must remember that when using forms of art in corporate worship, to question ‘what does it serve?’ Our creativity, especially when leading others in worship, must serve the gospel.[53] Although good can be conceived from suffering, ‘we must not…try to behave as though the Fall was a Good Thing in itself. But we may redeem the Fall by a creative act.’[54]

[1] de Bruxelles, Damp church.
[2] Pope, Letter, 1.
[3] Aristotle, In: Cassirer, Man, 138.
[4] Sayers, Maker, 76.
[5] Sayers, Maker, 78.
[6] Sayers, Maker, 77.
[7] Sayers, Maker, 81.
[8] Sayers, Maker, 82.
[9] Lewis, Pain, 86.
[10] Lewis, Pain, 123.
[11] Lewis, Pain, 106-7.
[12] Sayers, Maker, 84-5.
[13] Lewis, Pain, 108.
[14] Lewis, Pain, 25.
[15] Bell, Stars, 128.
[16] Lewis, Pain, 87.
[17] Lewis, Pain, 23.
[18] Lewis, Pain, 162.
[19] Sandblom, Creativity, 15-17.
[20] Sandblom, Creativity, 35.
[21] Sandblom, Creativity, 37.
[22] O’Donoghue, Bipolar.
[23] Sandblom, Creativity, 87.
[24] Sandblom, Creativity, 25, 80.
[25] Cassirer, Essay, 150.
[26] Brueggemann, Imagination, 71.
[27] Pope, Letter, 7.
[28] Sandblom, Creativity, 21.
[29] Brueggemann, Imagination, 46.
[30] Fiddes, Creative, 9.
[31] Pope, Letter, 7.
[32] Brown, Image, 1.
[33] Fiddes, Creative, 3.
[34] MacDonald, George, Unspoken Sermons; First Series, cited In: Lewis, Pain, vii.
[35] Schmidt, Sent, 91.
[36] Cassirer, Man, 142.
[37] Aldridge, Palliative, 103.
[38] Begbie, Voicing, 179.
[39] Lewis, Pain, 84.
[40] Begbie, Voicing, 180, 186.
[41] Brown, Image, 12.
[42] Reimer, Value, 11.
[43] Pope, Letter, 16.
[44] Sayers, Mind, ?.
[45] Pope, Letter, 16.
[46] Pope, Letter, 8.
[47] Schmidt, Sent, 95.
[48] Schmidt, Sent, 95.
[49] Schmidt, Sent, 99.
[50] Brueggemann, Imagination, 50.
[51] Cassirer, Man, 148-9.
[52] Pope, Letter, 16-17.
[53] Schmidt, Sent, 94.
[54] Sayers, Maker, 86.

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Protected: Coming up for air

May 22, 2010

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Protected: Strain

May 22, 2010

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