There has been many a talented artist who has replied to an ‘unreasonable’ request with “don’t you know who I am!?” It seems that most of the time this reply is a sign of arrogance, a display of egoic self-importance. This attitude has no place in any community that values humility and equality of personhood. Humility is that firm grounding in the reality of our lives as creature, a grounding we need if we are to truly make divine Love our home and expression. Equality of personhood challenges the human tendency to value some more than others simply because the some’s gifts and skills are more highly valued. Personhood comes before giftedness. We are fully loved by God, all equally, because we exist. No great artistic skill from the some can change this.
If one of them becomes puffed up by skilfulness in the craft, and feels that they are conferring something on the monastery, they are to be removed from practicing the craft, and not allowed to resume it unless, after manifesting humility, they are so ordered by the prioress or abbot.
The guitarist Eric Clapton’s grandfather, Jack, was a bricklayer and plasterer. In his early years Clapton would work at his grandfather’s side on building sites. Clapton admired the way his grandfather worked at his craft. Clapton took the same attitude into his guitar practice. Both were a craft to be developed and expressed. The fact that one was done hidden away in dusty building sites and the other done on stage under the spotlight did not devalue, in Clapton’s eyes, the work and example of his grandfather.
Anything done or created without the self-forgetfulness that comes with humility can invite too much attention on the artist. Any creative act, at its best, forms an unambiguous part of the ongoing creative act of Creation that flows from the love-life of God.
Any human act, when blooming with this self-forgetfulness from the heart, can reveal to us the joy and purpose, the fruitfulness and meaning that happens when love has no agenda except the expression of life itself. The message here is simple: turn from self-consciousness and bear love’s fruit: life fully alive. In this we forget ourselves and rather become conscious participants of and in life, created co-creators (1) creating in and with God.
A card of thanks to a friend, a deed done for a stranger, a meal cooked, the bathroom cleaned, a nappy changed, a lover’s caress, a picture painted, a book written, a symphony composed – all these things and much more, indeed every human action – when serving life – can explicitly and equally manifest the divine in life. Life in these moments can be experienced as mysteriously full.
Because the creative act of the artisan can, by its nature, tend towards self-absorption, this can leave creative action vulnerable to being appropriated by the ego. Therefore the creative act needs a broader context, something or someone outside the artist for it to serve. For Benedict it first serves God, that the divine life may be in all things glorified (1Peter 4:11), that is, seen and worshiped. Secondly the creative act of the artisan can serve the monastery in the earning of a living. Creativity, in benedictine spirituality, is grounded in God and in the realities of life.
If any of the work of the craftsmen is to be sold, those responsible for the sale must not dare to practice any fraud. Let them always remember Ananias and Saphira, who incurred bodily death (Acts 5:1-11), lest they and all who perpetrate fraud in monastery affairs suffer spiritual death.
The whole ethos of the monastery is founded on the common life of Acts 4:32-35. Without sufficient commitment to shared living, in any circumstance, our actions can become more and more focused on just ourselves. The gift that is giving and receiving can be easily lost to us. We can find ourselves keeping back from others what we think we need.
In keeping back our talent we also defraud ourselves of our deeper selves. We are dying to who we truly are when our talent is buried and hidden, when it is undeveloped and unexpressed. And we defraud others of the gift of our own being as expressed through the creative process.
Part of being at Meditatio House is the discovery and development of our own giftedness. We do this as we experience community and meditation – both of which teach us the importance of being grounded in the reality of our own humanity. In this way we have something larger than ourselves to serve with our giftedness (that is, Meditatio House and WCCM) and in our meditation practice we experience the humbling challenge of giving and re-giving attention to the mantra. In this giving and re-giving our lives are being graciously released from the limitations of a creativity bound to compulsive self-consciousness.
(1) This term was popularised by the theologian Philip Hefner.