Walking On Water
Reflections on Faith & Art
A pianist does not have to be a practicing Christian to play Beethoven’s Appassionata Sonata or the rippling second movement of Ginastera’s piano concerto. As my friend Tallis once remarked, “When your car breaks down, you don’t ask if the mechanic is an Episcopalian. You want to know how much he knows about cars.”
Artists and writers refer to their muse for sparks of creativity. What is this muse? Interpretations vary, but the common element is a spring of inspiration from elsewhere that quickens the imagination. In his book Mariner, Malcolm Guite said Coleridge understood this to be none less than the Almighty. He wrote:
In the end Coleridge traced the living stream of the imagination back up to what he believed to be its origin in the creative act of God’s imagination, whereby the world came into being. As Coleridge would later put it: “The primary IMAGINATION I hold to be the living Power and prime Agent of all human perception, and as a repetition in the ﬁnite mind of the eternal act of creation in the inﬁnite I AM.”
In Walking on Water, Madeline L’Engle extends the thought beyond condition of a virtuous life:
In a lecture at Wheaton I quoted the Anglican theologian, H. A. Williams, “The opposite of sin can only be faith, and never virtue.” The creative process has a lot to do with faith and nothing to do with virtue, which may explain why so many artists are far from virtuous—are, indeed, great sinners. And yet, at the moment of creation, they must have complete faith, faith in their vision, faith in their work. Again, the degree of talent, the size of the gift, is immaterial. All artists must listen, but not all hear great symphonies, see wide canvasses, conceive complex, character-filled novels. No matter, the creative act is the same, and it is an act of faith.
Is there any difference in the creative process for the Christian and non-Christian?
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