Hebel, Grace and the Art of Andy Goldsworthy: Part 3, The Spirit of God

In the previous post I suggested that the art of Andy Goldsworthy is a metaphor for how we might "practice resurrection" in the world by becoming sacraments of life, grace and beauty.

In this post I want to suggest that Goldsworthy's art might also be a way of thinking about how God exercises "power" and influence in the world.

The idea I have is that God acts in the world in a way that is non-coercive but ordering and creative. I'm thinking here of the Spirit of God hovering over the deep in Genesis and bringing order out of the chaos. God is creator here in an artistic sense, working on rough, disordered raw material. God is that creative, artistic Spirit at work bringing beauty into existence. Goldsworthy's art seems to be a perfect metaphor for this.

The idea I have in mind is that God's power and activity in the world is this creative, ordering, nourishing force that swims against the tides of entropy, death, decay and disorder.

And because the force is loving, non-coercive, non-rivalrous, non-competitive, and non-violent it is ever vulnerable to the dark tides of life. Consequently, this loving, creative force is fragile, episodic and transient.

But this force is always present, always working, always inserting itself, always interrupting, always haunting, always calling, always healing, always whispering, always nourishing, always mending, always enchanting, always singing, always knitting, always soothing, always caressing, always weeping, always laughing, always composing, always painting, always nursing, always creating. 

It is that Divine Spirit hovering over the face of the chaotic deep calling life and goodness into existence.

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10 thoughts on “Hebel, Grace and the Art of Andy Goldsworthy: Part 3, The Spirit of God”

  1. Wow, fantastic art -- I googled images using his name and really enjoyed more. Thank you for the introduction.

    Today I did some "experimental theology" and read your post substituting "the best of us" for any phrase (or allusion) where you used the word/idea "God". The result: I could totally and enthusiastically agree with your post.

    I am a former believer. So doing this, shows how perhaps only language, not ontology, separates many believers from non-believers -- a separation that is unfortunate & caused by allegiance to language, identity and peverse soteriologies (which I know you don't have). We must heed that which is the best of us (what you call "God"):

    And [the best of us] is loving, non-coercive, non-rivalrous, non-competitive, and non-violent it is ever vulnerable to the dark tides of life. Consequently, [the best of us] is fragile, episodic and transient.

  2. So doing this, shows how perhaps only language, not ontology, separates many believers from non-believers..



    Well put, sir. I feel like if people becomes less invested in their labels, we might find we have far more in common than we think, and can accomplish so much more.

  3. Thanx, Vogel. The challenge is, however, that god-talk is always parochial (someone's god - Krishna, Vishnu, Allah, Yahweh, Jesus ... ) so conversations are blocked that way. And if we use neutral language (like I did with "the best of us"), the religious folks are upset that their god is not acknowledged. And, as you know, it is hard for atheists to generously translate "God" into secular terms as I have done, because, among other things, it is felt to reinforce religious parochialism. So the challenge is huge.

  4. I have enjoyed reading the comments between R Vogel and yourself. Being, and here I go with a label, a Christian Humanist, I seek to live in the thought that God is always more than we can imagine God to be as I strive to see how each person reaches beyond self.


    My two favorite spiritual writers are Abraham J. Heschel and Thomas Merton. Heschel, in all his love for Judaism, as he mentions in his book, GOD IN SEARCH OF MAN: A PHILOSOPHY OF JUDAISM, still could see the unity in all human beings, which is love. Also, Merton, as he progressed, still interpreted God for himself through the Catholic faith. However, his respect for all humanistic thinkers continued to grow until the day he died. I believe that Heschel and Merton, while the word "God" described a personal experience for both of them, had no problem embracing the universe.

  5. I'm not even looking at the art, but feeling as though this definition of God is the one I've evolved for myself over decades...

  6. Thanx, JohninAwe. I agree that "the best of us" is more than we can imagine.


    On my way out of Christianity, I read Merton and liked him a lot for his ability to see truths in many traditions -- in the end, he was still very Catholic for me and thus I moved on to read other mystics that don't use theism as their language of expression of principles that don't need gods.

  7. I’ve absolutely loved these three posts! One of the more palpable aspects that Goldsworthy’s work appears to embody, is the concept “Wabi-sabi”. The Wiki definition is as follows –


    "Wabi-sabi is the most conspicuous and characteristic feature of traditional Japanese beauty and it occupies roughly the same position in the Japanese pantheon of aesthetic values as do the Greek ideals of beauty and perfection in the West. If an object or expression can bring about, within us, a sense of serene melancholy and a spiritual longing, then that object could be said to be wabi-sabi. Wabi-sabi nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.”


    “The words wabi and sabi do not translate easily. Wabi originally referred to the loneliness of living in nature, remote from society; sabi meant "chill", "lean" or "withered". Around the 14th century these meanings began to change, taking on more positive connotations. Wabi now connotes rustic simplicity, freshness or quietness, and can be applied to both natural and human-made objects, or understated elegance. It can also refer to quirks and anomalies arising from the process of construction, which add uniqueness and elegance to the object. Sabi is beauty or serenity that comes with age, when the life of the object and its impermanence are evidenced in its patina and wear, or in any visible repairs.”

    So given the description above, one can see the similarities between the concept of “Hebel” and those fleeting
    moments of pristine beauty and perfection that often slip though our hands, as well as our minds. –

    "Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; but I tell you, not even Solomon in all his glory clothed
    himself like one of these.” - Jesus

  8. I loved seeing this post. The phrase "God's power and activity in the world is this creative, ordering,
    nourishing force that swims against the tides of entropy, death, decay
    and disorder." really put in a short phrase my own thinking: I'd had similar thoughts a couple of years back and had begun the process of writing a meditation. http://nouslife.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/art-and-flow-of-spacetime.html. For me the scriptural linkage was with Genesis 1 (the seed for this can be seen here: http://nouslife.blogspot.co.uk/2009/01/tohu-wa-bohu.html). Clearly I've not been able to develop the thought further, so it's encouraging to see someone else making a similar link.

  9. A quote from W. James, and then a remark about where James got his view--to show that god-talk is not always parochial, but has been framed expressly to respect all moral points of view. First James:


    "...the emotion that beckons me on is indubitably the pursuit of an ideal social self... This self is the true, the intimate, the ultimate, the permanent Me which I seek. This judge is God, the Absolute Mind, the 'Great Companion.' We hear in these days of scientific enlightenment...many reasons why we should not pray, whilst others are given why we should. But in all this very little is said of the reason why we do pray, which is simply that we cannot help praying. It seems probably that, in spite of all that 'science' may do to the contrary, men will continue to pray to the end of time, unless their mental nature changes in a manner that nothing we know now should lead us to expect. The impulse to pray is a necessary consequence of the fact that whilst the innermost of the empirical selves of a man is a Self of a social sort, it yet can find its only adequate Socius in an ideal world." (P S, Vol. I, (1890) p. 314-5)


    To paraphrase, our empirical selves are aliens seeking an ideal Socius, in consequence of which we are essentially beings of prayer. But where does James get this (more specifically than as a historical echo of Christianity)? From Josiah Royce:


    "Truth is constituted by [the most] inclusive view [which has] "no stopping point short of Infinite Thought." And, Save for thought there is no truth, no error. Save for inclusive thought, there is no truth, no error, in separate thoughts." (The Religious Aspect of Philosophy, (1885) p. 431-2)


    To paraphrase, talk of truth and error is a slippery slope that leads to supposing "Infinite Thought." In James' hands, the supposition was a concession to the factual need to address our thoughts to an ideal realm, not a metaphysical endorsement of the reality of a metaphysical ideal of any sort. But James also respected the human tendency to treat our best hopes as prophetic in the way worked out by Royce.


    If you read Royce's work, you'll soon discover that he's working out the view that you're advocating above. (I'm told that copies are hard to come by now, and very expensive. But that is good reason to think that someone will see that it appears again in some format...)

  10. "Left handed power" is the phrase Robert Capon used to describe the action of the Divine Spirit. Thanks Richard.

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