A Seat at The Table: Negative Space

For many years, I dreamed of attending a church where creativity was rampant, where artists were empowered to lead, and where artistry was revealed in many other people as well.  A church of creativity for the many (parishioners), rather than the few (clergy). A few years back, I realized with some pleasure that I was in fact attending just such a church, though I was at a loss to understand how it had come to be.  My best hope is that we can somehow reverse-engineer that goodness in order to sustain it, because we don’t want the magic to end.

"Negative Space", by Carmon Rinehart

The way this goodness often happens is that the leader brings a small dose of creative content as a prompt or provocation, then pulls back to allow others to share.  One of visual artists in our midst once gave us a term for this: ‘Negative Space’.  It is that blank portion of the canvas that creates some real interest.  It is the space that draws you in.  The muted ghost note in a song that makes you bob your head.  The empty part of a photo that your eye lingers on, and your mind fills in with all kinds of rich details.  The space that a novelist leaves around the characters so the reader can see themselves in them.

We also call it ‘Creative Space’, because what often floods into that space is all kinds of creativity:  poems, images, sculpture, homilies, laments, and fresh philo-/theo-/psychological insights.  And not only from artists.  Or rather, from the artist that lives inside teachers, engineers, programmers, doctors, librarians, lawyers, and administrators. Ordinary people living out the Imago Dei, experiencing some small taste of the delight the Creator finds in his work.

This week’s example was notable because the liturgy preceding the time of creative meditation was almost entirely pessimistic– it was all darkness and bad news that the leader for the week provided.  The positive and hopeful stuff came from the people.  To borrow the Lutheran terminology, the liturgist gave ‘the Law’, and the people responded with ‘the Gospel’.  A gutsy move by the liturgist, to be sure, since there was no guarantee that the whole thing wouldn’t fall flat, with a bunch of depressed people shuffling off to lunch.  But the Gospel prevailed once again, and the creativity around it was electric.

What we’re learning is that creativity is not a scarce resource that must be piped into the church from outside.  Rather, creativity is an abundant resource that bubbles up, a font of blessing from the church, for the church, and to the world, for the glory of God.


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