In flesh and on billboards, out of the corners of our eyes or right in front of us, we see them each and every day. We may give them some fleeting observance, or disregard them altogether. Or we may identify them, know them from somewhere and stop our own forward motion to communicate with them. We don’t usually give thought regarding whether or not they have equally identified us and desire as well to pause from their own affairs to dip into our life.
We see them not only with our physical eyes. Reading books, we construct them in our mind’s eye. While writing – as my class does each day – we create new ones, forming them from the spare parts of real ones that once resonated with us, fashioning them from the miscellaneous features strewn upon the work table of our imagination. When I read a book, I see them differently than when I go out in public and use my own rods and cones. Our reason observes them differently than our empiricism, but there is nevertheless a commonality that runs through them all, real or make-believe.
The ancient Hebrew account of creation, the story we find at the beginning of the Book of Genesis in the Bible, claims that God said (…to someone, the Scriptures are not clear on who God was hanging out with when the idea struck him), “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.” The Scriptures remain ambiguous when it comes to what exactly “our image” is, whether it means a similarity in physical appearance, intellectual free will, anatomical organization or some mystical merging of the “spiritual” with the corporeal. To make it easier and avoid the headache, we assume it means that the people we see, as well as those we call to mind, are a reflection of the Creator. We like to think it is a loving inscription, a link between the Divine and the earthly.
If that’s the case, then I hope we will train our eyes (both the ones with retinas and the one that exists in our mind) to perceive that reverential image in the faces we see.
For my Sono Libero kids…
On Tuesdays, thirteen students saunter into my classroom a few minutes after the final school bell chimes. They gather here to commit themselves to something none of them can do alone, something greater, requiring their collective talents and a communal vision. Granted, some days the vision is dulled by the fog of pressing schoolwork and college applications and rival clubs, but I know that they participate in our creative endeavor because somewhere inside of them burns a flame of innovation and imagination. And, when they choose to fan that flame, mountains move.
We’re putting together a literary magazine, a compilation of artwork, prose works and poetry from the student body. The students who come to my room are the ones who not only believe in the power of art in general, but are convinced that power burns confidently within the hearts and minds of their fellow students. Essentially, they adhere to a notion that people are so much more than what is found on their surface. They have faith in the existence of depth, of mystery, to life, and they want to celebrate this fact rather than disregard or deny it.
Maybe there’s hope for the world after all.
Several days a week, my Creative Writing Prose students draw their pens from their scabbards, turn to a blank page in their journal, and begin littering the clean, white page with words that come straight from their imaginations. There is no middleman or weigh station for these words on their route from cerebrum to sheet. No filter but the one the student fashions for him or herself. It is a rewarding exercise – an opening of the floodgates, if you will. The stream of consciousness may begin as a mere trickle, but given room to flow this tributary soon becomes a torrent once the creative juices, which have lain frozen all night, thaw and gush and jump the banks.
I’m continually struck by the level of creativity that lies dormant in the minds of so many people. I think the routine of life, sometimes on purpose but sometimes unintentionally, causes us to neglect the seed of creativity planted within us. Sure, some are born to be “artists” (like the students in my Prose class), but I believe that seeking to awaken our individuality, and by extension our own internal artistry, is a healthy pursuit worthy of anyone from poet to plumber.
The creative mind is essential to recognizing this world of wonder. If we hold a terminal view of the routine and the commonplace, then our lives will regularly sink beneath the mundanity of each day. On the contrary, if we choose to believe that mystery exists within each day – as opposed to existing separate from it – then even a seemingly unremarkable quotidian agenda is infused with possibility, the potential to encounter the Great Mystery. We begin to realize that discovery is more often gradual than instantaneous, that revelation comes in degrees. Even when we open the floodgates on the surge of our creativity, the truth is that we find ourselves only able to express bits and pieces rather than the lot of IT. But better IT come little by little than not at all.
Each day is another brushstroke upon the canvas and, as each little lineament and feature receives shape and color, there is the slow recognition that what gazes back at us is no ordinary, created face at all; IT is the face of God.