Everybody at some point thinks about transcendence. It is not possible to live and not wonder, is this all there is? This is a higher truth, not one science needs to engage or that pollsters need to survey. It is nature’s coding. But then who is behind nature?
Humanity has chosen to professionalize the answer. Untold numbers dig and study and write and preach but most begin with history spanning the Old and New Testaments. Since I write as a Christian, let me begin with the New.
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John wrote the Gospels; Luke, it is thought, wrote Acts and Paul wrote the most influential letters to the early followers of Jesus Christ. Paul was enormously influential in the development of the early church. While these writings were informed by history, they were also informed by a deep faith that Jesus was God’s son. Plus, two of the Gospel writers, Matthew and John, were Apostles who traveled with Jesus. Paul had been converted on the road to Damascus.
Two millennia later each generation searches for an answer to the enduring question, is there a second life for the most distinctive characteristic of my existence, my soul? We confront untold numbers of religions or quasi-religions, biblical interpretations, worship protocols and writings, each attesting to their informed wisdom. As both a believer and earthbound explorer, I recognize the conflicting tides of thought and asserted authority that confront our need for faith in an ultimate answer.
Some years ago, while Chairing the Board of Directors of The Trinity Forum, I met Makoto or as he is known, Mako Fujimura. Mako is a much celebrated American artist. He combines what I think of as abstract expressionism with deeply felt natural influences. His work is also informed by traditional Japanese styles.
Mako cares deeply about our moment on earth and how this moment and our use of it can be an expression of God’s will and creativity. In his latest book, “Art+Faith: A Theology of Making” he writes about our creativity, and how “making”—an expression of our creativity—can give us deep insight into both what we believe and how we live. He understands intuitively that creation did not start and stop in biblical accounts.
Analyzing our way to a conclusion about whether God exists is hubristic. Mako suggests a more insightful and soulful approach: finding our way by being a co-creator.
Have you ever wondered where the impulse to make something originates? It’s source? Mako’s voice is informed, in part, by his art. But his deeper insight is expressed in pairing the Bible’s creation narrative with divine gifts we have received and our need to express ourselves.
He begins Chapter 5, Caring and Loving, the Work of Making:
“I hold three fresh eggs from my Plymouth Barred Rock chickens; the eggs are still warm in my hands. I want to make the best omelette possible….So I do some research and come up with YouTube videos of French master chef Jacques Pepin making omelettes. I watch this video over and over and follow the recipe precisely. But no matter how many times I watch the video or read the recipe, I find it difficult to make a simple omelette the way he does it so effortlessly.”
Humility is often a source of insight and drawing on his experience he writes, “Caring and loving are the fundamental elements of the act of making. We need to be connecting the revelation of God as the Creator in Genesis 1 with 1 John 4:8, “God is love.” Making connects knowing with our acts of love, and with the greater reality behind materials and the body.”
Mako, looking back, notes, “I understand now what I did not understand as a child: that every time I created and felt (a charge or energy), I was experiencing the Holy Spirit.”
I have the benefit of looking back over a long life. The world in which I was a boy was far from perfect, but it was certainly more emotionally balanced than today. And there were many more makers. Omelettes, yes, or at least meals prepared at home, not in distant kitchens scaled for mass production. And it was a time when people who wanted to meet customer needs didn’t have to look over their shoulder at big box stores or massive online sellers like Amazon. And those returning from distant battlefields, they wanted to make organizations that would help ensure a lasting peace.
But, my personal recollections are recalled with humility. The Parable of the Good Samaritan has been the font of creative outreach. Michelangelo’s inspiration did not start or stop at the Sistine Chapel. Across a broad sweep of divine gifts humans have created untold numbers of hospitals, educational institutions, research centers and on and on.
Mako is an artist who explores not just the inspirations and tools of art but as well the inspiration to create—its transcendent dimension. “Art+Faith: A Theology of Making” is Mako turning from fine arts to writing and opening up a world unlike any you have ever explored. This is an uncommon book, a timeless one.
Perhaps the deepest thread in Mako’s concept of co-creation is kintsugi. He converts this ancient Japanese art to our most personal need—healing. Kintsugi is an “art form of repairing broken tea ware by reassembling ceramic pieces, creates anew the valuable pottery, which now becomes more beautiful and more valuable than the original, unbroken vessel.”
In a sense Mako Fujimura’s book arrives when all of us are or should be reaching for the arts of healing. A shot or pill comes to our physical rescue, but we need so much more.
Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.