The other morning, I was running on some trails near my campus, with Taylor Swift’s new album blaring on my IPod
when I was struck with by an odd notion. In the midst of the woods, I removed my headphones and slowed my pace to a walk. I noted the peace of the forest, the intricacies of every nook and cranny in the space around me. I walked along for a little while before I found myself, for no other reason than Divine beckoning, sitting on a log just off the trail. It was a blessed moment of participation in the art of still.
When discussing the notion of art, there are several categories that come to mind: there’s the art of music – whether it’s just a man with his guitar or a group of musicians playing with synchronized lights and effects. There’s the art of painting, the art of sculpture, or even the art created by someone with light and a pile of trash.
Furthermore, a case can be argued for the art of physical acts: like yoga or dancing, mimes on a street corners, runners in a race or freestyle skiing.
While I’m utilizing a loose definition for the idea of “art” in my examples (and randomness to boot) it must be observed that all the forms I offer up as an art involve the act of doing something. Inasmuch, most people can generally agree that, as artistic realms go, they are all a form of creative expression; be it a writer with a pen, singer with a guitar, painter with a brush, or athlete with a set of skis; all these acts are the explosion of a creative nature from the inside out; they are expressions of something from within to the greater cosmos. If we operate from this definition, then we have to accept that art requires action.
But while all this holds some truth, it also denies the role that God plays within art, and the intrinsic and inescapable reality of a Divine tug on the heart of every artist. Ask any writer if they’d still pursue the craft though no one read another work by them again and the most common reaction would be “I don’t think I’d have a choice”. A painter will always paint, sculptor sculpt and a runner run, whether or not their artistic expression is recognized by anyone else as valuable.
Dost thou? Well then, how would you explain a toddler’s doodling? From an early age these lil-tikes are found wrecking havoc via crayon upon the pages of anything within reach – especially a parent’s treasured book collection. While a father/mother may be proud of their child’s accomplishment (especially if the book happened to be Twilight; a toddler’s doodling can only improve that) hang it on the fridge and give many “oohs” and “ahhs” to support the child’s creative spirit, the child had no comprehension of such affirmation to motivate his creation in the first place. Rather, he picked up a crayon and began to doodle because something within him told him it mattered. It’s not the recognition that brings value to any form of art, but the motivation for the art itself.
To this end, we must accept that rather than being just a creation, art, at it’s purest and most base-level nature, is a submission. When an artist begins to work, they are not creating anything that could not have existed without their doing (i.e. creating something from nothing and therefore holding the eternal power of the Divine), rather they are taking a plunge into the imaginative realm for no reason other than they know it’s a plunge to which they are being called. They don’t know why they’re being called, or (in most cases) what it is even that’s calling them…they just know that they are and within their art they seek to explain something they could never explain otherwise.
With such a view of art in mind, we can (finally) take a moment to examine the art of still.
Stillness is a form of art in that it is a submission to the tugging upon our souls to submit to Divine providence. Rather than it being the creative act of doing something, the aspect of artwork most commonly expressed and celebrated, stillness is a form of expressing submission. This is confusing to most people. For instance, if someone had come walking along the trail this morning and found me sitting upon a log, the following conversation would’ve most likely ensued:
Me: “Good morning, kind sir.”
“Ah, well hello there! Nice day isn’t it?”
“Indeed, lovely day.”
“I say, what are you doing?”
“I see that, chap. But what are you doing?”
I’m not sure why I would utilize British diction in this situation, but hopefully you get the point. Stillness is what I am doing; it is the act in which I am participating. And within my stillness, I am submitting to God’s supremacy. My ability to be still is a submission to the very character of God, because I, if for one brief moment, admit with my whole person that His world does not require my contributions in order to function. But this makes about as much sense to our perpetually busy human nature as, say, getting rid of the electoral college. No explanation would be required by my counterpart if I’d said “Oh, I’m painting a picture” or “Scoping out a photograph” or even “So sorry, needed to drop a deuce”. But because of our OMG-if-I-sit-still-for-more-than-one-millisecond-everything-that-matters-in-this-earth-will-fall-apart tendencies, my act of stillness is hardly recognized as anything, let alone an art. Thus, should you need further proof that stillness is an art, take this into consideration: stillness is completely countercultural; it makes little to no sense in our world.
This is because stillness requires that I take a step back and humbly accept my role in the grand scheme of things. It requires the humility of prayer, the effort of silence and the acceptance of grace. And this submission fulfills a necessary dynamic of an artistic endeavor.
“But,” say you, “if stillness is an art, then it requires submission and creation. I get the submission part. What then are you creating?”
This is a good question, and the answer is simple: peace. Just like a painter picks up his brush and approaches the blank canvas, hours later transforming it into a nature scene or family portrait, so do I take something, my existence, and with submission transform it into something it wasn’t before. While stillness is primarily submissive, it does indeed create something as well. This is important because in this sense, Christian stillness is much different from the idea of meditation sought by thos religions of (primarily) Eastern origin, the goal of which is to clear the mind to achieve enlightenment, not through creating but emptying. Christian stillness (or meditation, if you prefer) is not an emptying, but rather a creating.
And, this is important, because not only is creativity essential, it is also the only possible end of stillness; emptiness is not. As I (briefly) mentioned earlier, there is no such thing as an original thought. Creativity is fueled by inspiration, and inspiration has it’s roots in something; humans do not have the power to create something out of nothing, if for no other reason than the fact that we do not have access to pure nothingness.
There is only one being who ever had such access (hint: his name begins with a “G” and ends with an “od”) and the moment He created light from that nothingness…the notion of nothingness vanished for eternity. Thus when an artist receives inspiration, it’s origin will inevitably be traced back to something that was already in existence, a childhood memory, book they read on their morning train ride, conversation with an ex-lover, serene moment in the dawn of an autumn morning… whatever, it will have come from somewhere.
And whatever it comes from, its origin can eventually be traced to God, because it is God that caused nothingness to vanish and thus made creativity possible to begin with. Because of this, every creative action, every form of art, points to God. Stillness included.
Which is why stillness, which creates peace, can adequately be labeled as an “art”. This is why the goal of meditation and stillness should never be to empty ourselves, but to (as an act of submission) create within ourselves a new peace. Since our God is the God of peace, the act of us taking a moment in our chaotic world to create peace from our own lives and imaginative thought is nothing short of a continued effort towards a beautiful and grand masterpiece.
Therefore, we must seek to embrace moments when we can participate in the art of stillness. We need more stillness in our relationships, our prayers, our thoughts, our wanderings, our questions and every inch of our creative being. We need to find ourselves at the heart of art, in the submission of creating peace in our lives as an act of submission to the Divine Artist himself. Of all the forms of art I may pursue or admire in my life, this is the utmost.
A man sitting on a log in the middle of the woods is not wasting time, nor is he exhausted, a loner or deranged (usually). Rather, that man is an artist in the act of submission. His solitude, his stillness and his resulting peace all point to their Creator the one from whom all art flows and all art submits. His stillness is a beautiful art indeed.
Kind of like Taylor Swift.