“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
― Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC
Art, Spirit, and the Engaged Citizen
by Danny Grace and Jay McDaniel
Glossary of Terms
* Gladness is not the same thing as happiness. It is full aliveness: a combination of harmony and intensity as felt in the heart, as enjoyed in community with other people and the natural world, and as enjoyed with satisfying connections with heaven. Sometimes it can be more intense than harmonious, sometimes more harmonious than intense. The ideal is harmonious intensity and intense harmony.
* Spirit is the deep breathing or energy of the universe. It is the lure toward gladness within the human heart and the pattern that connects human beings to one another, to the natural world, and to the deeper rhythms of the universe. As a lure toward goodness it can be experienced through prophetic hope for a new and improved social situation and also as a prophetic protest against existing social conditions. It can also be experienced in moments of joy and in ecstasy, when boundaries drop away and a sense of connection with wider horizons emerges.
* Hungers of the world are not necessarily physical. They can be psychological and social, too. Hunger is the debilitating suffering and missed potential. Injustices and violence, repression and cruelty, neglect and hatred give rise to such suffering and missed potential. People find themselves hungry for gladness, hungry for love, hungry for freedom. Other animals and the earth itself may hunger, too.
* When gladness meets hunger. The place where gladness and hunger meet is not a physical location or even a place in the heart but rather wherever love and kindness, relieving suffering and offering hope, occur. The place occurs in a location of one sort of another, but it is dynamic rather than static. It is an activity in which people help other people and other animals, or help take care of the earth, in the process of which they often received more than they give. For student activists such as those presented above, the aim of this activity is to help build communities that are creative, compassionate, socially just, ecologically wise, and spiritually satisfying...with no one left behind. They are responsive to the prophetic calling of Spirit.
* Art is a descriptive not evaluative term. It consists of "artifacts and experiences intentionally created to convey beauty or meaning, giving shape to concepts and feelings " (Goldbard, The Culture of Possibility, 14) .At its best art is responsive to Spirit: that is, to the lure toward truth, beauty, pleasure and meaning in human life and the more-than-human world. Art gives rise to aesthetic experiences.
* Creative process is the activity of producing art. The activity involves many forms of intelligence: verbal-linguistic, visual-spatial, musical-rhythmic, bodily-kinesthetic, empathic, and introspective. It is both conscious and unconscious, individual and collaborative. It is not human alone. It is an act of collaborating with a creativity found in the natural world, too. The hills and rivers, trees and stars are also outcomes of a creative process.
* Aesthetic experiences. Ken Robinson says "an aesthetic experience is one in which your senses are operating at their peak; when you’re present in the current moment; when you’re resonating with the excitement of this thing that you’re experiencing; when you are fully alive.” Aesthetic experiences contribute to a person's spirituality.
* Spirituality. There is no single definition of spirituality. Roger Gottlieb proposes that, in its most general sense, "spirituality is an understanding of how life should be lived and an attempt to live that way." Given this way of thinking, almost everyone on the planet has a spirituality of one sort or another. But Gottlieb is especially interested in forms of spirituality that give rise to spiritual virtues.
* Spiritual virtues. "Mindfulness or awareness, acceptance or equanimity, gratitude and generosity, compassion and loving connection to other people, nature and God." In combination with many other factors, the objects of art and their creation can contribute to spiritual virtues.
* Culture consists of "the fabric of signs and symbols, language and image, customs and ceremonies, habitations, institutions, and much more that characterize and enable a specific community to form and sustain itself." (Goldbard, The Culture of Possibility, 10)
* Socially-engaged artists. Artists who are especially interested in cultural transformation are interested in a more special kind of spirituality, namely that which arises out of a desire for community cultural development. They are, according to their own understanding, socially engaged artists.
* Community cultural development is the activity of social transformation as developed by artists who are consciously or unconsciously seeking to heighten awareness and provoke change for society as a whole, by means of the arts and communications media. They see art as helping to bring about the kinds of communities described above.
See also <http://bit.ly/1jjbo1Q>
Eighteen Kinds of Spiritual Experience
As we consider the ways in which art both evokes and communicates spirituality or full aliveness, it is helpful to note eighteen kinds of experience which, in some contexts, people consider 'spiritual,' which may or may not be associate with religion, and which are related to efforts aimed at creating communities which are creative, compassionate, participatory, and ecologically wise -- with no one left behind. In our time we speak of them as transition communities because, among other things, they are transitions into a post-petroleum world. Some of these experiences point directly toward community, others help people become the kinds of people who can contribute to community.
Here are three questions to consider as we reflect upon works of art.
1. Does the work of art I am considering evoke or communicate one or another of these experiences.
2. How, if at all, might these experiences contribute to the gladness of a person's heart?
3. How, if at all, might these experiences help a person meet the hungers of the world, through community service or world loyalty.
The Engaged Citizen
Welcome to our exploration of Art, Spirit, and the Engaged Citizen. One of us (Jay McDaniel) teaches world religions and the other (Danny Grace) teaches theater arts, but our essay is trans-disciplinary. We want to consider Art and Spirit in the broader context of The Engaged Citizen.
Engaged citizenship is a verb not a noun. It is an activity that unfolds throughout the course of a lifetime when the gladness of your heart meets the hungers of the world. The students in the first two videos provide vivid illustrations of engaged citizenship. This kind of citizenship naturally unfolds in two ways.
The first is a desire to help create local communities that are creative, compassionate, participatory, respectful of diversity, ecologically wise, and spiritually satisfying with no one left behind. In our time some people speak of these communities as sustainable communities, because they can be sustained into the indefinite future given the limits of the earth to absorb pollution and supply resources and because they provide sustenance -- material and spiritual nourishment -- for those who live within them.
In our class we also call them transition communities, because they are the kinds of communities human beings need to create as they -- we -- move into a post-petroleum world. See the work of the International Transition Network.
The second aspect of engaged citizenship is a recognition that our ultimate allegiance as human beings is not to any particular nationality or ethnicity or particularized identity of our own, but rather to the well-being of life for everyone in the world and for the well-being of the planet, too. We call it world loyalty. You will find a deeper presentation of world loyalty by clicking here. You will also find some interesting maps that give you a sense of the larger, global context in which we live.
Globalization and Glocalization
These two sides of engaged citizenship -- community service and world loyalty -- are like yin and yang. They are different but they also flow together because we live in a globalized world where local communities are inevitably influenced by global realities in myriad ways, some healthy and some unhealthy. Scholars call if glocalization.
The world has become a global village, a community of communities of communities, in which no local community can be separated from the larger global and ecological context. Witness global climate change. In a way the world as shrunk or, to be more accurate, the human sense of space has shrunk because things that were once faraway and feel closer.
The shrinking of space occurs circulation of images, ideas, people, money, and cultural influences by means of immigration, travel, mass communication. It is also deepened by a recognition, partly sparked by science as well as the daily news, that we are all small but included in a small but sometimes gorgeous planet filled with violence and injustice, goodness, and beauty.
The students in the video are fully aware of the larger global context of engaged citizenship and they find themselves helping others, and being helped by others, in local settings, but in this larger context. Their acts of service are indeed forms of service but also learning. We call it socially-engaged learning.
Gladness in the Heart
Socially-engaged learning almost always gives rise to a gladness in the heart. The gladness is not necessarily happiness; it is more deeply a sense of beauty and meaning. It might also be called full aliveness or simply psychological and emotional well-being
The students in the videos have become more fully alive through community service. They discover that, as they seek to serve, they end up learning as much is not more from the people they help than the other way around. Still another but complementary way to become fully alive is by creating and enjoying art. Our aim in this course is to see where art and service and full aliveness come together.
By art we do not mean objects of art alone. We also mean experiences that occur by means of art. Arlene Goldbard, who authors a text we use, defines art as "artifacts and experiences intentionally created to convey beauty or meaning, giving shape to concepts and feelings " She helps us further explain what we mean by gladness. Gladness is not a static state of affairs but rather an activity. It is what happens when our concepts and feelings are shaped by a sense of beauty and meaning.
Spirituality as Full Aliveness
And what is spirituality? By spirituality we mean full aliveness. And by Spirit we mean whatever it is in our universe, inside us our outside us or between us, that helps nourish and give rise to full aliveness or gladness in the heart. Our suggestion is that art is one way of finding full aliveness or spirit and that engaged citizenship (community service and world loyalty) is still another way. We are interested in how these three realities flow into and nourish one another.
As we think about these matters, three questions have shaped our own thinking as educators:
1. What are the obstacles to finding gladness today? This is where the ideas of Sir Ken Robinson are so important. He explains the obstacles to finding gladness, some of them rooted in an industrial model of education, and he proposes an alternative that makes good sense in liberal arts college. Small classrooms, lots of discussion, education that is personalized rather than standardized, a recognition of multiple forms of intelligence. He is now the world's most influential thinker in the area of creativity in education.
2. What are obstacles to meeting the hungers? One of them is the idea that education is only about learning from books and discussions in a classroom, even if for the sake of finding gladness, and not about being engaged with the problems of the world in the first place.
As we see things it is not enough for educators to emphasize acquiring skills or preparing for a job or even becoming critical thinkers. It is not enough to emphasize education for the whole person. It is important to remember that whole persons emerge from, and are responsible to, whole communities. Jay McDaniel has developed this idea a bit further in Whole Person Education East and West.
3. How might the arts and humanities help us find the place where gladness and hunger meet? Some people see the arts and humanities as primarily about finding gladness and only secondarily about meeting hungers. Some even think about the arts in elitist terms: that is, as objects of beauty which reside in museums or take place in expensive theatres among the chosen few who are "creative."
But we find helpful the thinking of Anne Goldbard, who sees all people as artistic in one way or another, and who believes that artists can help cultivate new creative communities that are compassionate, participatory, socially just, ecologically wise, and spiritually satisfhing with no one left behind. Her books make a strong case for the arts and artists as engaged citizens and for the myriad ways that they can help us find places, and dwell in places, where gladness and hunger meet.
Finding Your Gladness: