The question I posed for myself to discuss today was whether churches are, or can be, collectively creative when faced by a “limit situation” such as that represented not just by Covid-19 but also by Eliot’s transitional circumstances. Limit situations are those which take you to your earthly limits, when you are at your wits’ end, as they say, meaning, beyond human intelligence and will.
A limit situation calls for more than the problem-solving kind of creativity. It calls for the life-giving kind creativity, what we have been calling Resurrection creativity. There was a Resurrection because the spirit is eternal, yet the spirit wants a body. Here is a mystery—the eternal Word was made flesh—God sought incarnation, God sought “bodiness.” The result was Jesus, and you, the believer.
Paul expressed this mystery in his way by saying that “the Spirit of God dwells in you,” and he goes about explaining how your faith in Christ makes this real for you. Christians take words like flesh and our “lower nature” as the pejoratives they sound like. But this misinterpretation led to the mistaken disparagement of the body by Christianity.
But actually, Paul was at pains to explain that we live not in two worlds (not spirit AND flesh, nor spirit against flesh) but in one world only (spirit IN flesh).
Think of it this way on a wet day in May: Spirit infuses the body like a spring rain saturates the earth. The spirit in us gives us life, and given a chance it will animate even a dead body (“resurrection”), dead goals, dead hearts, even (?) dead churches.
We have already talked about the ways individuals can do this—through life-giving creativity. Dr. Elizabeth and I have been plying you with assignments—journaling, submitting concrete spiritual exercises—all intended to deepen your individual religious lives. What about a church--can a church do this for itself? When faced with a limit situation like ours—can we collectively deepen our spiritual lives?
My answer is that the same recipe for individuals applies to congregations. You’ve heard this before, but I’m going to repeat it today, this time with a boost from some on-screen examples (let’s see what I can do with Zoom!)—my recipe is—ARTICULATION.
What is articulation? Simply put, articulation is bringing what is inside of you outside—as when you write your thoughts and feelings in a journal, as when you explain your favorite hymn, or compose a symphony, choreograph a dance, perform an anthem, sculpt a sculpture.
Articulation is the common denominator of—proclamation, witness, testimony, verbalization, exclamation, profession, declaration, making visible, making audible, making understood, making REAL, making your spirit visible, giving your collective spirits in this congregation a body.
Without articulation, we don’t know ourselves, either as an individual or as a church, and nobody will know who we are. In the case of a church, articulation permits others to get a glimpse inside the church doors, into our church’s soul, if you will.
So where is our canvass, our notebook, where is our stage? We have walls, we have an actual stage, but let’s just focus on the church exterior, the church grounds.
What means of expression do we have at our disposal out front and around the church building? Well, all churches have signs, so do we. We have several, e.g., the one that reads, FROM DARKNESS TO LIGHT THE EASTER PROMISE.
Churches use their open grounds differently—a Lutheran Church I visited in Washington DC (at Dupont Circle) placed little placards with the names of the victims after the shootings at Parkland High School in FL.
Many churches have not found anything or any way to express themselves. But cities often make use public spaces.
Expressions like these are life-giving, and they give people hope because they ARTICULATE a creative movement in the life of their community.
Someone asked me recently, “What are we doing all this for (gesturing to the whole building)?” My answer is, you’re here not just to get hope (which I pray you do), but to give hope. I would rephrase the church’s mission this way: you are here not just to get hope, but to ARTICULATE hope.
Helen Keller was asked once which of the two senses hearing or sight she would wish to have back—she answered, neither, I would wish for speech. She actually learned how to speak, and she did give speeches everywhere she went, but she was just barely intelligible and she knew it and suffered terribly about it. That’s how important ARTICULATION is.
If you want to mount up creatively as a church, we will need to get organized—that is, reorganized. We will need an Articulation team, or call it an articulation string, or an articulation mob in order to create more opportunities for individual expression; to promote collective artistic projects; to provide training, as rudimentary (or advanced) as it needs to be; to sponsor a sculpture competition that we exhibit on the lawn; to create an outdoor performance (or worship?) space.
For such to succeed, a church will need to develop guidelines, fundraising, vetting, time limits—and trust, lots of trust. Be prepared for the surprising differences of theology and spirituality that surface. Welcome and enjoy the diversification and differentiation that emerges.
St. Paul was asking whether we live within horizons that we have set too narrowly, blind to the vast horizon of God which stretches beyond us but which is really IN us. What is Resurrection—a doctrine we subscribe to, or a real experience? I ask you, do you want a Resurrection experience? Can we demonstrate, can we ARTICULATE, our answer in this very time and in this very place?
I trust you will come to believe with me, “Our creativeness should be the expression of our love for God”—it will give hope to others.