Spirituality, Creativity, and Community
by Paul Chaffee
Drums and flutes are among the oldest tools empowering human beings to explore who we are. We have historical evidence that drums go back at least 7,500 years and probably much more. Flutes made from avian bones have now been identified as old as 42,000 years. And surely it’s safe to say that where pipes play and drums rumble their rhythms, you’ll find dancing and singing, perhaps the earliest ‘languages’ of homo sapiens. They are languages more for the heart than the head, serving our feelings, emotions, and sense of community more than our analytic reasoning. They are dangerous unalloyed, as is pure cold reasoning. Combatative or at one with each other, they cohabitate in each one of us, the languages of the head and the heart.
At worship, in spiritual practice, during ritual and ceremony, in sacred vestments and architecture, religious folks the world over have utilized creativity and imagination for millennia. In fact, religion and the arts have held hands throughout most of human history, though not always happily. Some traditions banned music from their worship. Others have forbidden painting the image of God. The missionary-run school I attended in north India half a century ago forbade dancing except square dancing! In spite of such rules, artists have always prevailed, and in the West, until several centuries ago, those artists created in and for religious communities. The genius of artists such as Michelangelo or J.S. Bach or Vedavyasa, who ‘penned’ the Mahabharata narrated by Hinduism’s Lord Ganesha, allowed them to plumb the depths of human experience from a religious context.
In the West, starting with the Renaissance, artists increasingly went their own ways, often spiritually grounded but not religiously affiliated. Today a hugely bankrolled, global entertainment industry is using the arts to achieve massive celebrity exposure and banks of money. The industry is superb at using their considerable creative juices to sell a product. Guess who wins the polling between Instagram and your local museum, or the Grammies and your church choir?
Clearly the relationship between religion and the arts has taken a backseat in today’s world. What the dominant culture cannot silence, however, are the spiritual longings of the heart. The sound and paint, the images and melodies and words from creative people who unpack those longings cannot be silenced. The culture cannot keep gifted individuals from exploring the ‘big’ questions that resonate through a community. The culture cannot keep us from finding words to speak the truth or from sifting through the mixtures of good and bad we find outside ourselves and within ourselves.
This month’s TIO is all about people from different faiths who have honed their creative skillsets and set out to show us the world in ways we hadn’t imagined. They should warm your heart, raise big issues, jerk you to attention, lead you to reflection, open new doors, inspire you, and much more.
Because most of these stories have an interfaith context, it should be no surprise that they all relate one way or another to community.
Header Photo: Max Pixel