Cavemen and Potatoes – Br. Mark Brown

John 10:1-10

We continue on our journey this morning toward larger life. Which is what we’re calling this series of Easter sermons: “Toward Larger Life”.  Larger life is what the Good Shepherd is leading us toward: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”  He calls us by name and leads us out into larger life; we enter through the gate, which is Christ himself.  Though like lost sheep, he finds us and saves us from the thieves of our humanity. With rod and staff he leads us to the green pastures of larger life, abundant life, Resurrection life.

He does this primarily through love.  Love of God, love of neighbor, love of one’s own being opens us to that which is larger, that which is beyond the confines of our individual identities.  But because love of God and neighbor gets regular coverage in sermons, I’d like to speak to something else, to another way that God leads us toward larger life, toward abundant life, as today’s gospel puts it.

God leads us toward larger life through the arts—actually, through the creative impulse the arts embody.  In a sense the arts not only lead us toward larger life, they are the embodiment of that larger life.  Music, dance, painting, sculpture, architecture, drama, literature—what we call the “fine arts”.  But also the domestic and industrial arts: cooking, weaving, pottery, woodworking, ironworking, glassworking. Fashion, interior decorating, landscape design, flower arranging.  All these and much more. We live in a world created by God.  Created by God, but shaped by the arts of human beings made in the image and likeness of God.  Shaped and made larger.

I’ve been thinking about those ancient cave paintings in France, at Lascaux. Horses, bison, bulls, antelopes. Those images most likely had some practical function, perhaps something to do with remembering the hunt or insuring a good hunt the next time, something, perhaps, out of a religious impulse.  What I find fascinating about these paintings is that someone took an additional step beyond the merely functional or utilitarian.  These figures are not merely functional—they are idealized forms, possessing grace and beauty. The exquisite proportions and delicate lines are beyond what was strictly necessary. The painter was, we would say, creative.  Whoever painted these images was awakened to a sense of new possibilities.  And, being awakened to a sense of new possibilities, life was, somehow, larger.

Then it’s only a matter of time and increments and people are doing amazing things with violins and pianos and toe shoes.  And paint brushes and cameras.  And granite, marble, limestone and glass.  And pipe organs. Even potatoes—people do amazing things even with potatoes (the French do it best). Sitting down to a wonderful gratin dauphinois [French version of scalloped potatoes], life is larger.

Now you might be wondering what all this has to do with Jesus—the caves were painted fifteen thousand years before Jesus. And potatoes didn’t find their way out of the Andes of South America until sixteen centuries after Jesus. There would have been no gratin dauphinois at Jesus’ dinner parties.

The creative impulse originates in the heart of God. God is present, the divine energies are present, in every creative impulse.  The human being, made in the image and likeness of God, shares in God’s creative energies.  Jesus, we remember, is not only the Good Shepherd, but the Living Word of God, the Logos, the one through whom all things came into being (and come into being), and present and active in this world from the beginning, from alpha to omega. The creative energies of the Godhead are transmitted to us through the Living Word—we participate in God’s creative work in the world. In countless ways, large and small, we are co-creators.

The crucial step in creative work is the first step we take beyond the merely functional, the strictly necessary.  The pottery jug shaped and glazed with an eye to beauty.  The garment draped in such a way as to delight its wearer.  The flower brought in from the field to beautify a dwelling. The bison drawn with exquisite line and elegant proportions.  Our ancestors began taking these small steps many thousands of years ago. They are indeed small steps.  But they are giant leaps toward larger life.

Making things beautiful, gathering around us beautiful things (however we may define beauty)—it’s as ordinary as the air we breathe.  And yet, that crucial step is there: going beyond the strictly necessary to what gives delight.  This is stepping out from smaller life to larger life, to abundant life.  That crucial first step taps into the creative energies of the One who said, “Let there be light”.  Let there be life, let there be larger and larger life, abundant life.

The domestic arts and crafts and design are where we see that first critical step beyond mere necessity. But it’s only a matter of increments and we have the fine arts, floating free from any necessity.  The ceramic vessel that really isn’t meant to hold water or anything else—made simply for its beauty. The hand-woven fabric that will never be worn or used to cover a bed or table.  The music that floats free from any text or programmatic “meaning”.

Music deserves special mention as perhaps the most free-floating, the least tied to the utilitarian, the least “practical” of the arts.  I may be biased in this direction, but I would also suggest that music is the most theological of the arts.  That is, it can speak of the unspeakable things of God—without reference to any religious text or image, music can speak of the ineffable things of God.  I think my own understanding of the Divine has been shaped at least as much by music as by any religious or theological text.  Certain music of Schubert, Beethoven and Bach speak most eloquently to me.  But you may have your own list.

The creative impulse originates in the heart of God.  And things that originate in the heart of God cannot be contained.  Like the sunshine and rain, the creative impulse is bestowed on the entire human race, the righteous with the unrighteous—regardless of belief or creed or moral virtue.

Through the creative impulse God awakens us—like that painter of Lascaux–to a sense of new possibility, the possibility that life can be somehow more.  And even one flower in a vase can make life larger. A painting or a few of the right books can make even the tiniest room a cathedral.

God’s art is the cosmos. The human arts, rooted and grounded in God’s own being, not only draw us onward into larger life, but they partake of the larger life of God himself.  And this largeness, this expansiveness, this abundance, is a foretaste of the life to come.

Lead on, then, Good Shepherd, lead us on into this new and abundant life that we may dwell in your house forever. And remind us to listen to some music today.

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  1. Annette Foisie OSL on September 12, 2017 at 10:04

    A message full of beautiful thoughts. I am an 80 year old artist, living in central California; all of my life I have been translating, in oil on canvas, the magnificent glory of God’s creation into landscape paintings. I am very aware of His presence as I work, with my prayer list in my pocket. I feel deep peace as i paint the glory of the sunrise and the sunset, and feel a strong connection with the creator of all this magnificence, the powerful hills and rocks angling down toward the water, while all around observing otters, dolphins, pelicans and condors, the Lord’s creations.

    I am deeply grateful not only for the gift of the ability to paint, but most especially for God’s glorious creation all around me.

  2. Tracy on May 15, 2017 at 20:07

    Art including music I see as language of our soul and beyond words – being. It’s beautiful and bonding – it’s gentle power & influence overlooked. It can help our mind to focus on what we are creating, enabling the rest of our being to rest, re-energise and heal. It can be seen to be a way we reflect the image of God, as well as a way of being in His presence. Subversive messages and persuasions are expressed that can can encourage and build our faith.

  3. James Goodmann on May 10, 2017 at 13:05

    thanks for re-posting. “Beauty will save the world.” Dostoevski. It saves us every day, like a daily baptism.

  4. Stew Ball on May 10, 2017 at 12:04

    What wonderful insights, and amazingly they correspond and dovetail beautifully with our EfM discussion last evening on being co-creators with God.

  5. […] To Read More and to Leave a Comment, Click Here […]

  6. Sandy Muraca on September 29, 2016 at 10:49

    Oh, thank you, thank you, Brother Mark! This is the first sermon I’ve ever read/heard that had the words “interior decorating”! I’ve been a designer/decorator for many, many years and have always struggled connecting my work and my faith. I’ve printed out this sermon and put it in my -must keep- sermon folder! Bless you.

  7. Roderic Brawn on September 26, 2016 at 05:33

    Music is my life. To sing and to play the trumpet make my day. It is a gift given to my through my father. What a way to worship our God. S. G. D. appears on the works of J. S. Bach for a reason.

  8. Creativity | The Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana on September 26, 2016 at 00:08

    […] To Read More and to Leave a Comment, Click Here […]

  9. Leslie on May 8, 2016 at 06:48

    Today the organ postlude was Bach’s g minor “Little Fugue”. The organist was not particularly gifted, but she played very slowly, so as to make no mistakes. I was blessed by her loving offering of a work of great beauty; to the best of her ability.

  10. Allene T. Taylor on May 8, 2016 at 06:37

    Thank you, Br. Mark, for your words – bringing beauty
    on this overcast morning. Feel grateful to ead the thoughts
    and comments of your readers.

  11. Robert Shotton on May 7, 2016 at 23:03

    This sermon reminds me when, as a boy of about 10 yrs old ( 80 odd years ago) I would call,after Matins,at my grandmother’s home and play on the pianola – rolls from my grandfather’s collection of classical music; This gave me a sense of appreciation for all the beauty of this earth which God created. I believe that God wanted mankind to be Joyful and be in harmony with creation – including mankind.
    Thank you Br.Mark Brown.

  12. MIchael on November 9, 2015 at 13:48

    The world without Beauty is a dull and listless space. To encourage art, music, painting, weaving, and on and on brings joy and stillness together in ways nothing else can do. Finding, making and sharing creativity allows to to comminuicate to others and to ourself with an ineffability only our souls understand

  13. Christopher Engle Barnhart on November 9, 2015 at 09:41

    By education and profession, I am an architect. I spent forty year in the practice of architecture. There is beauty in the creative spirit. Perhaps the most rewarding project I ever designed was All Saints’ Episcopal Church, my church. Like most church structures, this complex has yet to be completed. Recently, the parish remodeled the chancel and installed a new digital organ complete with wood wainscotting in the chancel. What is most impressive is the sound that is generated by the new organ, which is amplified by the location of the organ and speakers. The church with wonderful sounds of music of the hymns.

  14. anders on December 18, 2014 at 10:33

    Thank you for speaking of Logos, Light and Creativity in a single context. At times I feel that Christianity makes itself increasingly irrelevant by defining the Word and filtering the Light. The doctrine of no, ifs ands or buts is a big creativity killer, recrucifying Christ over and over, as I experienced in my youth. I pray to be open despite this and live a faith like sunshine and rain, a creativity that flows through me but is not of me, and all shall be well.

  15. Christina on December 18, 2014 at 09:59

    Me again: Earlier I wrote about music. But, thank you Br. Mark again. Today your words have brought different thoughts to mind.
    If you have watched Downtown Abbey and/or Mr. Selfridge, you might picture my mother as a young girl and woman. She, a country girl, left school at fourteen nearly one hundred years ago. She was in service with Lord and Lady Derby in their London home just behind Selfridges.
    Later, when she had friends or family visiting our home, she always made their visits special. Meals were prepared and served, not ostentatiously, but with care and beauty. She didn’t know how to do it any other way.
    Without patting myself on the back, I have inherited some of her gifts. When family and friends come to visit, whether to stay or just have a meal, I try to make it special for them: special so that, when they leave, they feel lifted up by their time here.
    We live in difficult times – perhaps not personally, but certainly our world is torn apart in so many places, that it is a blessing to be able to bring a little beauty and love to those around us.
    Blessings at this Advent season. Christina

  16. Leslie on December 18, 2014 at 08:19

    Thank you, Brother Mark. I am a scientist, serving on the faculty of a public university. The culture of my department is openly hostile to religion. The gentle rebuttal is: I know there is God because there is beauty.

  17. Elizabeth Vickers on December 18, 2014 at 06:54

    Thank you for your beautiful insights. Each day, during the winter season in northwest Florida, my husband brings in lovely blooms from his camellia garden. For us, they reflect God’s creativity.

  18. Rebecca on December 18, 2014 at 06:21

    My earliest memories involve me being caught up in the music I heard, either through church or concerts that my parents attended. It always, and still does, carry me to what I know now is the Divine. If every human on this planet could have their heart opened to the creative experience, it would be a more peaceful and beautiful world.

  19. Ruth West on September 19, 2014 at 11:23

    Thanks, Br. Mark. I could not get through the day without music. I am also discovering some new joys of the larger life in my late years. I know we’re never too old to know God better through so many avenues of His love.

  20. Polly Chatfield on September 19, 2014 at 09:47

    Thank you so much, dear Mark. I put the last of the marigolds on the table just now in preparation for my daughters coming for dinner, grateful for the brilliant yellow on a chilly day. Even having flowers in a garden envelops one in that larger life.

  21. Lella Lowe on April 19, 2013 at 11:51

    Hmmmm…folks here in Alabama always talk about wanting to put God back in the schools. Maybe they should simply put music education back in all schools and…voila…it will be so!

  22. Deacon Phyllis on April 13, 2013 at 12:20

    It is a dark and dismal sabbath day in the northwest. How wonderful yo enter into a new bright, abundant place through the creativity of words. Thank you.

  23. Nancy F.Neighbors on April 13, 2013 at 11:46

    What fun! Thanks, SO Much! I know my friend in VA will enjoy it! I’m just a lay-person & choir-singer who loves her friends. Thanks again!

  24. Christina on April 13, 2013 at 10:26

    Thank you so much, Br. Mark. For me, this is a wonderful sermon. I was a little girl when I first heard Beethoven’s music – our next door neighbour used to play the sonatas and I could hear them through the wall of our houses. Next was the introductory music for programmes on Children’s Hour on the BBC: Chanson de Matin, Brahms, and others. And so on throughout my long life. When my husband was dying, my morning began with Glen Gould playing Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Another memorable performance: St. Matthew’s Passion at the Royal Festival Hall not many years ago – no applause – a concert hall packed with listeners who had been immersed in the glory of this music. So, thanks to you for bringing these thoughts to me this morning, and Thanks be to God. Christina

  25. Claire C Thompson on April 13, 2013 at 07:37

    Thank you for these words, I agree, and will listen to some music today! I have been nurtured and comforted by music, it touches a deep need in me that I sometimes did not even know I had.

    • Pamela Tucker on April 19, 2013 at 17:30

      Friday blessings Brother Mark,
      Nicely structured with information, devotion, wit and gentility, food and music.
      Couldn’t resist the potato reference. The Idaho potato, and my generous parents, sent me to college.
      Thank you for your wisdom shared with us during our time at St. George’s. I continue to think and smile and share quotations from you and others. Surely the most dense, rich, and complicated travel experience of my life.

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