The Immortal Creative

I'm reading The Wounded Healer by Henri Nouwen. I've had it on the shelf for years and somehow neglected to read it, despite it being an unofficial requirement among my colleagues. Page 13 is yellowed with age and littered with "man" in a pre-PC way (so acknowledged in the Introduction), yet the content strikes me as prophetic; ahead of its time. Nouwen was addressing post-modernism in 1972. He recognized then that young people were moving away from absolute truth and, as a result, away from hopefulness.

One particular line caught my attention and I couldn't avoid assigning it to my concern for employees in the advertising world:

"When man is no longer able to look beyond his own death and relate himself to what extends beyond the time and space of his life, he loses his desire to create and the excitement of being human."
Nouwen isn't saying that people can stop creating, even if they lose the desire. And this isn't about the idea of legacy, which can be convoluted in the mind of the insecure (like me) as the ticket to sticking around forever. It's about recognizing that what we do matters. For good or for ill, it matters. Every action I commit results in some change, either in the world at large or in my own household; either in grand, visible forms or in the mind. Every action, they say, has an equal and opposite reaction, like elementary school teachers who alter the worlds of countless children (despite being largely forgotten).

In other words, every 30 second Hulu commercial, TV commercial, YouTube intro, is an act of creation. Even if it's forgotten in five minutes, it is an action that leads to reactions - to sales, to economic shifts, to artistic twists and digital technology, to discontent and Jones jealousy. And when it is created by the hands of employees who have lost desire and don't care about immortality - or about their neighbor for that matter - those reactions wander into whatever voids will accept them.

So I'll keep watching for workers who have an eagerness and hopefulness beyond pay raises, promotions and the bare need to simply make it through another day. I'll keep watching for workers who see their work as ministry in the immortal sense of the word.


Anonymous,  October 6, 2011 at 5:23 PM  

Sam - I love this post. If we can't see beyond the grave, it may be that we can't see beyond ourselves and our own benefit. You're right - this is so much more than legacy. It's about calling.

Marcus Goodyear October 6, 2011 at 5:57 PM  

Fantastic post, Sam! I am intrigued the idea that creativity falls into the void if it comes from a place that isn't concerned with immortality (and I would add, grace).

You know. Nouwen came to Laity Lodge a few times. Before my time.

Sandra Heska King October 6, 2011 at 8:37 PM  

What we do matters and has a ripple effect--for good or ill. That's a deep thought for tonight. Great post, Sam.

And so great to meet and talk with you!

L.L. Barkat October 6, 2011 at 9:36 PM  

Interesting idea that absolute truth is somehow related to hopefulness. I have always been a person who is comfortable with multiple truths. (Maybe we call that "paradox"?) I find this hopeful :)

Every Square Inch October 7, 2011 at 10:49 AM  

Sam - great quote and post. I'm curious though about the rationale that links eternal destiny w creativity.

If not looking beyond death can stifle creative desires, is it similarly true that a view toward eternity would stimulate creativity?

wouldn't some creativity be stimulated by death - in the sense that a person is aware that their time on earth is limited and with that, wanting to make a mark, leave a legacy, etc...

Sam Van Eman October 8, 2011 at 10:01 PM  

What struck me about this chapter was the difference between people who can feel "hope or despair" and those who tend toward "apathy and boredom." The former see themselves as part of a bigger story, in which their role matters, hence being able to feel; to care. The latter, as Nouwen says, experience "historical dislocation." They've resigned to believe that nothing really matters, that truth is what you make of it, and that today is all anyone should be concerned about so don't worry about consequences.

In this way, ESI, both immortality and death can stimulate creativity when the person actually cares enough to be stimulated.

And LL, multiple may work for you, but only because there is a story that holds things together for you. Your worldview is coherent enough and timeless enough that what you create matters, even if only for your children.

Sam Van Eman October 8, 2011 at 10:02 PM  

Sandra, great to meet you too!

Marcus, it would have been cool to meet Nouwen at Laity Lodge.

Sheila October 9, 2011 at 10:47 AM  

I'm thinking we've cheapened truth. Lots of things we cherish as true are opinions. For example, my husband believes that "it's hot in here" when the house is 73 degrees.

I do not.

I believe in absolute truth. I stake my life, my salvation, on absolute truth.

But I want to narrow what is truly true and be more mindful of bold opinions that put on the costume of truth.

Sam, thank you for leading me to think about that.

Colin P. Fagan October 14, 2011 at 1:42 PM  

Thank you for this post. The quote for Nouwen has struck an internal chord. I will have to ponder on it to discover what it is exactly touching inside. A good quote for a weekend contemplation. Thanks.

Sam Van Eman October 14, 2011 at 3:13 PM  

Glad it connected with you, too, Colin.

Kimberlee Conway Ireton October 14, 2011 at 4:27 PM  

I found this post through The High Calling. The quote you have written in the sidebar - about loving through our work rather than working to earn love - is profound. I copied it into my journal so that I can ponder how to live that out as I teach and care for my children and especially as I write. Thank you so much!

Sam Van Eman October 14, 2011 at 6:13 PM  

Kimberly, thanks for stopping by. I'm so glad the quote was useful to you. It's an approach I think about a lot.

Dolly @ Soulstops October 27, 2011 at 5:18 PM  

Thank you for introducing me to another Nouwen book. I have always loved his writing so I am going to have to read this one.

Sam Van Eman October 29, 2011 at 1:01 PM  

Dolly, two others I've really enjoyed are Reaching Out and The Genesee Diary.

Thanks for stopping by.

  © Free Blogger Templates Blogger Theme II by 2008

Back to TOP