Saturday, March 15, 2008

A Christian-Enough Artist?

Recently (actually, this afternoon) I found myself in a rather quick mental panic about how to be a Christian writer. Mostly I was panicking about whether I was up to the job, if I was performing well-enough on the job.

I was having a formal lunch with a group of poets, and as an orthodox believer in anything, I was in the distinct minority. None of my friends I sat with, nor any of the other poets I knew there, professed allegiance to any form of Christianity. Actually, at different times they have spoken quite candidly in opposition to what they perceive as a Christian influence in politics, science, and education. They almost all profess a form of new age or eastern religion or label themselves as simply secular and agnostic.

During the dinner, a guest speaker, who is both a scientist and a poet, spoke about the usefullness of poetry in the cause of science. She made some interesting points, but throughout her speech, I kept hearing a subtext ridiculing religious faith.

I was growing uneasy. I didn't feel uncomfortable because I was the oddball in the group. Being around different world views doesn't trouble me. However, I was growing aware of how vocal and easy it was for my friends and colleagues to express and live out their beliefs. And as I looked at myself, I was aware of my tendency to hide myself, including my faith, when I am around others. At the same time, I was also aware of my own internal struggles with my Christianity. I don't mean that I struggle so much with doubts about the tenets of Orthodoxy, but I do struggle with the flimsiness of my own confidence in those tenets. By which I mean, how much evidence is there that I really truly believe what I say I believe.

My mind started to swarm with worries. Is my poetry Christian? How do I make it Christian, if it isn't? Do I need to start mentioning Jesus or God or at least prayer or something spiritual every time I write a poem? And what about right now? What should I do? Is there something I should be doing or saying to be "Christian enough" in this situation? And really, finally, am I Christian enough?

And then in the midst of my little mental tizzy, I had a breath of peace. I believe it was from God. I realized I didn't have to do or be anything to make this all come out right. I didn't have to strive to be a Christian-enough poet or a convincing enough Christian.

As the poet speaker enjoyed the crowd's responsive tittering to the statistics about all the people who believe in a personal god, I believed. I didn't have to make God exist, in my poetry or otherwise... Rather, I remembered that God actually does exist and that Jesus actually was present, right there, powerful and alive, and I could and did invite him into that moment. I listened and loved and prayed with him. (For at least a few minutes, anyway. Then I got self-absorbed again. That's something we're working on... just wanted to stay honest!)

I believe my best (and I mean my artistically best as well as my "spiritually best") poetry comes out of that same relaxed and joyous freedom and faith. God exists. I don't have to make that true. So I don't have anything to prove in my poetry. Certainly, I don't know God as well as I want to, not as well as I am going to, not as well as I am learning to, but that doesn't change the facts. God exists. And he loves me. And I am his. All my life is a process of opening my hands and mind and heart to this reality. It's not something I have to do well enough or get right--not in my writing nor in my witnessing. It's something God is doing in me, and I am joyfully (if fitfully) cooperating with him.