Process: My Work on “The New Body Mythic”

By

First let me give you my warmest computer blog “Hello!” and thank you for welcoming me into the Rabbit Room as though this were my inaugural post—because it may very well be.I don’t know. Things are magical around here and the order in which posts roll out is a mystery on par with a certain Wardrobe. [Editor’s note: I heard that.]

I post today in order to open up, to share, to be vulnerable. The amazing thing about being surrounded by other creators of art (and I am obviously including every art form here: writing, illustrating, singer/songwriting . . . think Yul Brynnar’s “Etcetera! Etectera!'”) as well as lovers of, and subscribers to, the arts, is that I can feel free to share bits and pieces of my own process. There’s a terrible freedom in that. And I use the word “terrible” because I mean to indicate the very real sense of Terror that comes upon me when I so much as contemplate acting on this freedom (the way I am acting on it this very instant!).

As I write today, I am one of many millions of Christians who are continuing to walk through Lent of 2014. Easter swiftly approaches (thankfully) but as we are still in Lent, and as a Christian who also happens to be a producer of visual, written, and audible art, it makes sense for me (indeed, for us all) to lean in to Process. I do mean all of it, too—the messiness of it, the uncertainty of it, the scattered incoherence of it. Process. The very word makes my skin crawl, even as I contemplate just how necessary and, frankly, inevitable it is.

I am humbled to say that I was asked, along with other visual artists within my church family, to contribute a complete piece on the theme of Resurrection that will be unveiled on Easter morning and remain open for anyone to view until Pentacost, fifty days later. In the spirit of full disclosure, I will also add that I was asked back in—February. Any guesses as to just how long I’ve actually been working on the piece (you can see an incomplete portion of it above)? Since April 6th. Yeah, that’s this past weekend. We’ve had a few solid months—and I started work yesterday. We have until the 12th to turn something in, so now I have the looming specter of a deadline hanging over me, haunting me into action.

Point is, I’ve spent the last six weeks or more unable to submit to the Process. Unwilling. In denial. Crippled. Willingly and unwillingly paralyzed by dread of my own work and the struggle it is destined to bring. It is a sheer impartation of divine grace that, finally, in the 11th hour, brings with it a vision/purpose/direction for this project, and has also granted me the creative capacity to chase that vision and convert it into something tangible in fairly short order. Let me encourage my fellow creators on this point—the grace is there if you do procrastinate in your work, AND you shouldn’t be afraid to lean into the process right away rather than waiting until you literally can’t wait anymore to start.

This is not the first (nor will it be the last, I’m sure) project that I have completed in this hastened manner. However, I recognize now that it’s a personal brokenness of mine that prevents me from, perhaps, experiencing even richer depths of grace throughout the duration of a project’s lifespan, from first inspiration, to sketch phase, to comps, to finished piece. May the Lord grant, to all of us who create, the grace to dive in and keep at it, to engage in the Process, from start to finish, with Him. He doesn’t have a habit of rushing anything that I can think of. Not in my experiences with Him thus far, nor in the experiences and stories of those I know and love who walk with Him. Yet, when we have forestalled a creative venture so long that in order to see it through we must rush, even, and perhaps especially, then His grace is sufficient.

Here is a portion of the iconographer’s prayer, which is something I have turned to in recent weeks as I felt the pressure of Process closing in around me:

Teach me, Lord, to use wisely the time

which You have given me and to work well

without wasting a second.

Teach me to profit from my past mistakes

without falling into a gnawing doubt.

Teach me to anticipate the project without worry,

to imagine the work without despair

if it should turn out differently.

Teach me to unite haste and slowness,

serenity and ardor, zeal and peace.

In the spirit of this Lenten meditation on Process, I feel I should speak to the (partial) work presented above, if I may. I have called the piece “The New Body Mythic.” Rather than re-writing an artist statement for the Rabbit Room, I think I’ll simply copy/paste my working statement below, and commend it to your reading for further meditation/contemplation on what the hope of resurrection means for we Christians and our physical bodies:

“The New Body Mythic” was conceived while prayerfully contemplating the utterly Christian doctrine of a bodily resurrection. More specifically, this work—its four individual pieces (eye, heart, inner ear, & lungs) as well as its audible component—attempt to capture, however abstractly, the moment of first sight, first breath, first circulation, first audible sensation with and in the resurrected body.

It is such an idea as can only be thought of in the here and now as mythic, but that is not to suggest that the idea of the bodily resurrection is a myth in the sense of something ‘fictional.’ On the contrary, in faith we must believe, as the Holy Spirit imparts said faith, that the future fact of our resurrected bodies as first demonstrated by the risen Christ Himself, is such a wondrously glorious future state as to be called mythic in the Tolkienian sense of the True Myth; something seemingly remote, distant, the stuff of fairy tale, but something that is in fact far more real, more literal than what our current bodily senses are capable of perceiving (or our intellects capable of fully processing).

Lewis’s archetypal hero Ransom grasps for words to describe this future state as “trans-sensuous” and again as “too definite for language.” To even attempt to contemplate such a hope, and then believe it is a literal and bodily hope, the human artist in his/her broken, decaying body can, at best, produce a representation. How else does one process this amazing promise, this historical, supernatural, ultra-physical act of Christ that has such incredible implications for those in His care? How does the former creation look ahead to the future Creation with any kind of tangible idea if he/she does not process that hope in some literal way, albeit graspingly, stumblingly, inadequately, dimly. 

So it is, with my current and crumbling hands & eyes that I strike out to represent the mythic, future eyes, ears, heart, & lungs that will not fail those who awaken in Christ on that day, that will not be subject to the slow, painful moth-gnawing of death and decay once His Creative Spirit has completely invigorated them as part of His restorative work throughout the whole of His own good creation. We will, from that first moment, take in the New Creation with newly created instruments of the senses, newly created organs of being. It is not a story ‘too good to be true,’ as the Sadduceean among us might suggest. Rather, He is so good and so true (The Truth being one of His Names) that it is a story and a promise that cannot be anything but true. 

 


7 Comments

  1. Chris Slaten

    Chris,

    When you throw out an idea that as specific to your own story as this piece is, you never know who else it will benefit. I’m in the same spot, working on an Easter “commission” for my church and this hit spot on for what I needed to hear. It was requested a week ago, but time doesn’t matter when you consider process in this way. It is a daily, moment by moment returning, requiring just as much faith, grace, and trust months before as the night before. I’m just starting to learn how much I am limiting myself by making deadlines the primary motivator. Thank you for taking the time to put this out there. I love this prayer too.

    The Ransom quote is familiar. Does it come while encountering the Oyarsa? Which book? It’s been a while for me.

  2. Profile photo of Chris Stewart

    Chris Stewart

    @illustewartgmail-com

    Chris! Thanks so much for your response! I’m encouraged that you’re encouraged and strengthened.

    To answer your Ransom quote question, that is a snippet from Chapter 3 of Perelandra, where Ransom is conversing with Lewis and the cantankerously dogmatic Scotsman, McPhee about his experience on Venus (but also how that experience relates to the concept of bodily resurrection.) It’s a fascinating couple of paragraphs that give the reader some great insight as to where Lewis was on the actual doctrine of the Resurrection, I think. I love that trilogy… and oddly, “That Hideous Strength” has become my favorite, although Perelandra, what with the introduction of the insidious, satanic ‘Unman’ is genius sci-fi horror at its best, not to mention beautifully woven allegory.

  3. Amy Stewart Howard

    I am moved to tears of joy by this article. Eloquence, honesty, encouragement, and practical observations by one who I happen to know not only talks the talk, but walks the walk.

  4. S. Benjamin Holsteen

    Excellent words, Chris! Count me amongst the number trying to create something (in my case, a poem) that helps my community grapple with the incomprehensible topic of resurrection as we approach Holy Week. What a weighty, mysterious and beautiful thing to attempt. My poem is to long to post here (no desire to hijack the comments section), but if you are interested, you can read it by clicking my name to the left.

    Again, thanks for this!

  5. Jennifer K.

    “May the Lord grant, to all of us who create, the grace to dive in and keep at it, to engage in the Process, from start to finish, with Him.”

    Thank you for this story of creating – your project sounds exciting and I look forward to hearing more about it. But thanks most of all for your encouragement. This quote – it’s something I can hang my cloak of doubt and inadequacy on and get to work. I’ve got one more week in my poetry class and most days I feel the inkwell is running dry. One more sonnet. I thought it was supposed to be, I don’t know – Joyous – not this tired frustration. I feel better, knowing I’m not alone in this. You give me hope.

    Looking forward to reading more about your work!

If you have a Rabbit Room account, log in here to comment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *