In our SBNR motivational about William Blake and seeing Heaven in a Wildflower, we talked about the transcendent personality of Jesus Christ and how that should be one of our goals as Progressive Christians (or as Sons and Daughters of God, regardless of our religious persuasion).
Some readers have interpreted this motivational to imply that we advocate the building of personal legends ala Paulo Coelho. Nothing could be further from our intent. Legends are by their very nature simplistic but fanciful variations of the genuine life–which is littered with multiple twists and turns, failures and triumphs, and punctuated by long bouts with the mundane.
Legends are often built on the idea of the mythological hero, who follows a straightforward path of separation, initiation, and return. That is, we (as heroes) leave our homes and/or comfortable surroundings (separation) to confront new, mysterious, and life-altering experiences (initiation), which ultimately lead us back again to our community (return) as a kind of savior or spiritual gift giver.
If only life worked out in such a tidy fashion. But it doesn’t, and never has. For centuries we’ve been building personal legends around prophets and artistic geniuses, forgetting that it was not they who built their legends but us. How much better for the suffering artist legend of Van Gogh to have him cut off his own ear and give it to a prostitute than tell the more likely story that it was cut of by his friend (and fellow painter) Paul Gauguin because Vincent attacked him.
To truly build a personal legend we have to give up all ideas of a personal legend, and simply live, laugh, and love. That is how we build the transcendent personality of Christ. To the victors (survivors) go the spoils, as well as the legends they create about their predecessors.
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To see the world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wildflower. Those are lovely sentiments from the brilliant 19th century poet William Blake–some folks may even take inspiration from them. But few of us actually are changed by such words. They simply strike our fancy for a moment, as we smile at their profundity. Then our thoughts eventually turn back to the problems and annoyances of daily life. One expects that William Blake well knew the impotency of words in manifesting change in others, and thus penned his lofty verse simply for himself–a way of honoring his personal relationship with God and celebrating the magnificence of creation.
As we’ve elevated famous artists to the rank of nobility, enshrining their works in museums, immortalizing their lives in books, and lavishing them with money and praise, we have forgotten that art is ultimately a democratic endeavor to be pursued by everyone–for it is through art (be it painting, writing, sketching, crafting, building, carving, sewing, or what have you) that we grow closer to God and begin to truly see the world as He sees it–a co-creator within His creation.
When we work diligently, patiently, and lovingly at our art/craft (whatever that may be), we slowly approach that destination which the novelist Lawrence Durrell said was the ultimate goal of all true artists: developing a personality which transcends art. This transcendent personality is the one we find realized in Jesus of Nazareth, who having achieved union with the Father thru Christ not only saw heaven in a wildflower but in every living thing, including the worst sinners among us.
It was then by the force of that personality (and not his words alone) that Jesus became a “fisher of men,” truly capable of transforming the lives of others.
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