When I was about 11, my parents brought me to the newly released film, A Man for All Seasons. The film was largely about the conflict between King Henry VIII of England and his right-hand man, Thomas Moore (who was beheaded for not agreeing with the King.) At the time, I knew quite a lot for a young American of Henry VIII, but little about the figures who surrounded him. I was continually perplexed by the film’s story-I wanted it to be simpler. It seemed as though Sir Thomas Moore’s biggest problem (Moore had gone from being the king’s opponent to a friend to, well, being killed by his friend) was not Henry VIII but himself– his own conscience. Till then most movies I sat through presented a difficulty (or several), solved problems, and presented triumph at the end in true Disney-esque style. But this bore no resemblance to those stories at all. It was an uncomfortable movie to view because it was more like real life than like pure escape! (How dare they?) Well, that was umpteen million years ago and since (in real life), I have seen the problem-and-solution played out over and over again in more settings than I could count. I have been in churches and work environments and even friendships where we must find the “culprit” in our quest to hunt down the source of our problems, and then an investigation is rolled out to determine what it is we need to avoid in order to cleanse ourselves and have a “happy” or peaceful setting. And, I have lived through the mid 1960s-1970s wherein Someone (the “Man”) must be blamed and society needs to be ‘taken back.” Past and present, friends ask me to jump on band-wagons all the time to “restore” things, right society’s wrongs, and do good things to make the world ” a better place for our children.”
Yet my life tells me a different tale–I think it tells me the truth: I was a middle child, I have been married for 35 plus years, raised children and dealt/deal in-laws. My experiences have given me the thought that our typical approach to many life-issues, work, religion, family, money, friends, has been (frequently) one-dimensional and too often merely transactional. Granted, our objective is good, and one to be cherished: a desire for perfection, but the reality of a fallen (AKA messed up) world, will never leave us. In my experiences I have not seen easy, simple solutions, but messy situations and half-resolved, partly messy results. I have had a lifetime of conflicts and messy problems, and the result has not been merely “growth” for me, but strangely but life-giving, as well. How do I account for that? Dorothy Sayers suggests that it is in tight situations that we can enter into a creative process we have been endowed with by our Creator, somehow out of the labor pains of problems comes a new baby.
Dorothy Sayers says that the ordinary man is an “artist” (like a writer) in his own life, and that he needs to approach life more like an artist does: in this way–there is no final, predictable, complete solution nor might there be only one solution. Sayers asserts that we reflect our Creator by being creative people in the midst of tragedies, of times of troubles by looking for a creative way to redeem the mess in which we will perpetually find ourselves living through.
She says: “If the common man asks the artist for help in producing moral judgments or practical solutions, the only answer he can get is something like this: You must learn to handle practical situations as I handle the material of my book: you must take them and use them to make a new thing. As A.D. Lindsay puts it:
….we say “Yes” or “No.” “I will” or “I will not” [At these times] we choose between obeying or disobeying a given command.
[In contrast, we may find ourselves] in the morality of challenge or grace [and] the situation says, “Here is a mess, a crying evil, a need! What can you do about it?” We are not asked to say “Yes” or “No” or “I will” or “I will not,” but to be inventive, to create, to discover something new.
->The difference between ordinary people and saints is not that saints fulfil the plain duties which ordinary men neglect. The things saints do have not usually occurred to ordinary people at all…
“Gracious” conduct is somehow the work of an artist. It needs imagination and spontaneity. It is not a choice between presented alternatives but the creation of something new.”
The distinction between the artist and the man who is not an artist thus lies in the fact that the artist is living in the “way of grace,” so far as his vocation is concerned.
He is not necessarily an artist in handling his personal life, but (since life is the material of his work) has has at least got thus far, that he is using life to make something new. Because of this, the pains and life of this troublesome world can never, for him, be wholly meaningless and useless, as they are to the man who [stoically] endures them…
If, therefore, we are to deal with our “problems” in “a creative way,” we must deal with them along the artist’s lines: not expecting to “solve” them by a detective trick, but to “make something of them,” even when they are, strictly speaking, insoluble.”
- Dorothy Sayers, The Mind of the Maker
“May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.”