Saturday, June 20, 2015

Creativity Begets: How Story Inspires





As the cerulean sky bleeds into water-coloured grey storm clouds, my thoughts are somewhere between Middle Earth and Pluto. Ringing in my head is a stunning symphonic melody about Saturn—its strength in Beauty has captured my memory. Reverberating in my ears is the sound of Tolkien's prose—read aloud to hear the simultaneously earthy and heraldic tones played in his words.


Treading the paths of my thoughts are an interesting pair, hand-in-hand. The first is a comment made by John Wain, an English novelist, about the Inklings being a “circle of instigators, almost of incendiaries, meeting to urge one another on in the task of redirecting the whole current of contemporary art and life.”1 The second is the thought I have been mulling over in recent days: one individual's creativity often leads others to create. Or more succinctly, creativity begets creativity. Creativity in something well-crafted and beautiful breathes life into our souls in a way that makes us want to create, too.


This creativity is what spread from one Inkling to the next and the next—and back again. The inspiration, the life-breath, from Tolkien stirred the heart and mind of Lewis. The adamant Lewis argued and challenged the other Inklings—and when an idea is challenged, one must think long on it to see if it is true and worth fighting for or not. Charles Williams himself was inspiring to Lewis, enough to model Ransom after him in That Hideous Strength. These men were each "playing the potter to see what shapes [they could] make of another."2 Even as they moulded one another's thoughts and imaginations, they shaped the minds of men for generations to come.


Living in the wake of these men (and Dorothy L Sayers, often mentioned amongst this set), I find my own views of valour, honour, camaraderie, theology, and of God Himself shaped by the essays and stories of various Inklings. My picture of true friendship is painted by Frodo and Samwise. The image of honour, integrity, and discernment strides forth in the form of Faramir. My heart broke over the death of Aslan, helping me to connect with the death of Jesus in a much deeper way. The Voice in the fog* reminds me that God tells us no story but our own from His perspective. My rich, layered view of Heaven is painted with such real grass that it spears one's feet, and light so real that it crushes one from the shadowlands. Dorothy L Sayers' robust explanation of the Trinity in The Mind of the Maker made such a vivid impression upon me that, though I have only read the book once, much of it sticks with me still. So, I am fashioned by these long-dead hands—much for the better, I think.


Creativity shot through with Beauty has made its impression on me; has breathed its very life into me. I find I am most shaped by images and stories, more than by essays. The essays have moulded my thoughts, certainly, but they are more abstract and intangible. Essay ideas are like trying to grasp a handful of smoke or filling our probing fingers with a bit of soul. But stories are gloriously real—even when fanciful and fantastic. Friendship becomes more than an idea, it is embodied in Samwise carrying the ring for Frodo—by carrying Frodo himself—when he had no more strength to walk toward Mount Doom. Hope is not just letters stacked together, it is Sam seeing a single star through the clouds and realising that the world is bigger than just his or Frodo's bit in the story; bigger and grander than Mordor and him-who-shall-remain-nameless. There was still Beauty outside that transcended, it brought Sam’s mind to the meta-story in which he and Frodo were but small characters. Beauty would outshine and outlive the world of Middle Earth, even if the quest failed.


Creativity begets. Creativity inspires. Creativity gives us a tangible understanding of intangible ideas. Creativity changes cultures—moulds minds.


I write with a score of good thinkers, theologians, historians, fathers, mothers, friends, and fellow Believers. I firmly believe that many of them are shaping, and will shape, the minds of the next generation(s). Yet I posit that those who will shape hearts, imaginations, and minds in this and future generations are the prophetic poets. These are the story-weavers and song-writers who both let us feel and give us the embodiment of ideas and ideals. They intertwine Truth and Beauty naturally, artfully. The story is the main thing and Goodness drips out, unforced. The creativity of past poets, painters, and musicians is still life-breathing into us. Let us create in whatever way our hands and minds find to do so. Who can tell what story we will encourage or inspire in someone else...

_________________


1. Wain, John, as quoted by Bianca Czaderna in "Who Were the Inklings" at firstthings.com


2. Bradbury, Ray,  Something Wicked this Way Comes (New York: Harper Collins, 2013) 18

* Aslan in The Horse and His Boy

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Tosha-the-Brave and the Peanut Butter Socks



Once, there was a grown-up girl named Tosha-the-Brave. She was daring and adventurous, willing to take risks to find beauty and wildness. But there was one thing that Tosha did not like—did not like decidedly—and that was having wet feet.

Tosha often sallied forth on a quest by herself, or with a friend or two in tow. She would come home armed with pictures and tales of her treks. Her photos were exquisite, layered with vibrant colour in the contours of mountains or in shape-shifting clouds. 

One such journey began like any other, up with the honey-coloured sunlight to get to a hiking trail in time to miss afternoon tempests. But though the story began like any other, it ended up being the tale of Tosha-the-Brave and the peanut butter socks.

Upon arriving in the wilderness of a majestic park, Tosha and Jody were anxious to stretch their legs on a long summer's hike. Rounding a bend not far into their trek, floods of people were pouring down the path, calling the warning of there being far too much snow to pass. Undaunted, the girls went forth to see what white beast met their eyes and feet. They laughed to one another at the lowlanders, unused to higher elevations and snow in summer. 

On they went, until the path shifted and seemed lost at the crossing of a stream. Perseverance and prayer brought them to the small footpath the trail had become. After meeting two groups of people who said the trail was impassible or impossible to find, Tosha-the-Brave and Jody-the-Tenacious decided to see what lay ahead. On and on they went, over rocks and snow, past glassy-clear mountain pools.

Knowing the trail from a previous hike, Tosha showed Jody where to scale a slope of snow, climb a rock face, and end up with a stunning view of mountains, alpine lakes, and a narrow canyon. Both adventurers stared, wonderstruck at the beauty all around them. 

After timeless minutes, Jody, being hungry and very concerned about eating lunch, left Tosha to take photos, and fished out a peanut butter and honey sammich for snacking purposes. Tosha was soon lured into lunching on her own peanut butter and jelly sammich. As they chewed and looked, Tosha heard a great cracking noise and the two friends were in time to watch rushing snow pour like a cataract over the face of the mighty Notchtop. An avalanche! An avalanche like a monster of noise and snow for their very own eyes to see!

There was not enough light in the day for Jody and Tosha to stay and drink in all the bold beauty of the shimmering, rugged world around them. Reluctantly, they shouldered their packs (wherein Jody almost packed a chipmunk by mistake), tromped through melting snow up to their thighs, and re-joined the path below. 

Some wandering tracks and then snow clear of prints—with no trail to be seen—were all that lay ahead. But Tosha-the-Brave had seen this trail in deep summer; she was not afraid of losing her way or not being able to pass. She lead the duo fearlessly, forging a path across snow fields (in shorts no less!), always steering the pair straight for the path.

Snow, snow, and more snow! It stung their hands and legs, making them bleed as if small shards of glass had cut them. Still, Tosha-the-Brave pressed forward and Jody-the-Tenacious followed. The lust of adventure and the thrill of the quest was upon them, they would not turn back now! For a mile or more they broke through untravelled snow, then came to a gushing river. There! Many tacks dented the snow. A group of hikers had come through that far at least, making the downward way easier to find and traverse.

By this time, Jody and Tosha had wrinkly-wet feet and socks from falling through the deep snow so often. At times, when the trail wasn't a steep mound of snow, it was a shallow stream itself, running ever down to meet the snow-melt river below. Surely, surely the path would be dry soon, the girls would say. But it wasn't. Then, upon dropping under a great canopy of pines and winding down to another lake, the trail became dirt—not snow, stream, or mud. 

Tosha rejoiced, immediately proposing a break to change her socks and dry her feet. She did so, but Jody (the foolhardy, now) chose to wear her wet socks, as not only her socks but also her shoes were soaked through and through. Now what does one do with muddy-wet socks from crossing the great Western snow-fields? They put those smelly, soaked socks in their PB&J lunch bag, of course! 

Tosha-the-brave knew this, immediately carrying out the plan. She was soon the possessor of peanut butter socks. While many thought it was these peanut butter socks that made her able to walk through walls of snow and take all kinds of daring treks, Tosha knew that really, they only smelled funny when she took them out of the bag to wash them. She was bold and brave without them.

—The End