To Make Seen What Isn't

"The role of the artist is exactly the same as the role of the lover. If I love you, I have to make you conscious of the things you don't see." ~James Baldwin

Every Wednesday afternoon I the chance to spend three hours with graduate students who are wrestling with the intersection of art and theology, and the questions that come up when these two practices are placed in dialogue. They are brave students who choose each week to show up and ask hard questions of themselves and the art they are creating. While prepping to deliver the opening section of class this week, I came across the above quote by James Baldwin. Baldwin was a prolific writer, essayist and social critic, a vital voice of African American and queer experiences in America. His writing is powerful and profound, covering so many issues still present for many today.  He as artist offers  visions and tales that open up the things that are "unseen". 

In my experience, the most lasting relationships and art pieces are the ones that make me "conscience of the things I can't see".  One of the reasons I fell in love with and chose to be with my partner was his ability to see me clearly and the gentle way in which he helps me see my blind spots. For it is, at least in relationships with lovers, not only the ability to help see that matters but also how that is presented to the one we love. Trust of the person and relationship is central. For the artist, the trust and relationship come in the context of their work. To create a piece that offers the artist and the viewer entrance into spaces where they don't see is difficult. It asks the artist to walk with humility and gentleness and love. To trust where the art piece takes them, allowing their original vision to shift and change with the piece as it is being birthed. In the same way, as I journey with a loved one I trust their love and care as they assist in seeing the ever changing gaps in my vision.  In the same way, when the church is at her best, embodying Christ well, she also becomes a space of creative prophetic visioning, inviting us to see where we don't see and hear in spaces where we have been deaf. Last week at a regional conference during the morning session a group of us were able to experience this. Several different pastors and lay leaders creatively engaged in the reading of a biblical text so that we were able to see contours that were not often the ones presented with this text. And it was a beautiful and powerful moment.

To be given the chance to see in the spaces of our blindspots is a wonderful thing. It allows us to move toward wholeness and it can be an incredible gift and blessing. For those who are given the privilege to love or create in such a manner that they are offered this responsibility, it should be taken with the depth of care. To love, to create, to engage in faith is entering into risk, love, and trust.

 

~Jessi Knippel