Thursday, December 08, 2011

Boreham and the Power of Perception

"Love achieves its creativity by being perceptive" wrote Oliver O'Donovan in his book Resurrection and Christian Order.

I like that quote, because it encapsulates the reality that for the great artists of the Western tradition, creativity was a form of love. This is the point that Josef Pieper made so eloquently in his tender book Only the Lover Sings: Art and Contemplation.

Great sculptors like Michelangelo could look at a slab of unworked marble and ‘see’ the finished product that they would then take months to lovingly bring to reality. Similarly, Bach could be given a series of five or six notes and instantly realize in his mind the potential those notes had for an entire invention. (In the case of the Goldberg Variations, Bach was able to take a simple musical statement that by itself might seem unimportant and, under the loving care of his creativity, to worked it into some of the finest music that has ever existed.) This is similar to the way that we are the workmanship of our Heavenly Father, whom He is steadily bringing to completion (Ephesians 2:10). The Lord sees us not as we are, but as the people He is making us into and the people He will have brought to perfection when we are finally glorified.

If this is true of the way artists perceive raw materials and how God perceives us, it can also be true for how you and I perceive the world. We can train ourselves to observe the glory and beauty inherent in the world we inhabit.

Children do this naturally, since they have an inborn sense of wonder and enchantment. Part of what it means to grow in maturity, however, is to recover this sense: to learn to once again experience a child-like delight in the things we have become accustomed to taking for granted, to perceive the world around us in fresh and exciting ways. As I have observed elsewhere, we can begin to feel about the moon like a young child feels about a silver dollar in his pocket; we can begin to perceive events that would otherwise be merely routine (like the sun rising in the East) as being part of the delightful dance that we have been privileged to get a sneak peek at.

Like lovers who find creative ways to explore each other, and through such perception realize the potential of love’s creativity, we can begin to find creative and fresh ways to perceive our world. As a lover unveiling the apparel of his beloved to explore what is normally hidden from view, by approaching the world in love we learn to remove the veil of cynicism, boredom and ungratefulness that normally conceals the wonder and enchantment that was there all along.

This is an important perspective since we live in a world that has become increasingly disenchanted and stripped of this sense of wonder. As I explained in my earlier post, ‘A Festival not a Machine,’ the scientific revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries implicated a view of the universe that was increasingly mechanistic in its orientation. Similarly, the Protestant reformation (for all its indisputable benefits) mitigated against a sense of wonder and enchantment by disputing the notion of sacred space (a topic that William Dyrness has recently written about and which I hope to publish on in the near future).

Precisely because of this, I was excited when my good friend Michael Dalton introduced me to the writings of F.W. Boreham. Rather like  George MacDonald (see my article 'Clothing Truth with Beauty'), Boreham is able to help us find beauty in unexpected places, to perceive splendour in the ordinary, to be filled with wonder over those little things that most of us overlook. Boreham is able to help us to behold the grandeur – even enchantment - in what would otherwise seem everyday and commonplace.

I am currently reading Boreham’s book A Packet of Surprises, and am continually delighted at his ability to perceive the world through the eye of love’s creativity. He is able to take something that most of us might find prosaic and commonplace - whether the alphabet, a painting, or an apparently trivial conversation - and transform it into an occasion of glory. I plan to start reading the book to my children at the meal tables because his warm and fresh perspective is one I want them to imbibe.

(John Broadbank Publishers is bringing many of Boreham’s titles back into print. They also have a blog that has numerous articles about, and selections from, the writings of Boreham)

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