Leaps of Artistic Faith
by Jae Newman
When I was about eight years old I watched Michael Jordan soar through the air from the foul line in route to winning a slam dunk contest. At the time it was one of the most remarkable things I had ever seen. Because of the photography and camera angles of the live shot, this moment became inextricably linked into Jordan's mythology.
Late one November, I went outside and shot a few baskets. It was cold. In Western New York if there isn't snow on the ground, you played outside no matter what the thermometer read. With black shale all over my hands, I stood looking up and wondered what it would be like to jump and dunk
My father used to keep a number of ladders underneath our back deck. I simply hoisted one up to as close to the rim as I could. Nobody was around. I quickly ascended and stood at the top. I was going to have to jump slightly in order to throw one down. The rim looked so big from up there. Leaping from the ladder, my trailing foot hit the top of the ladder and knocked it slightly askew. I dunked that ball with all the authority my little eight year old arms could muster
Hanging there, I found the euphoric moment didn't really last too long. Instead, I had a very real question to answer: How am I going to get down? I tried to shimmy towards the ladder and grab it with my feet. It was useless.
I was in limbo.
Working as an artist requires such leaps of faith. Although these leaps are often imaginative that does not mean they do not make demands upon our lives. Throughout my early twenties people were always trying to get me to adjust my love of writing into something profitable. I should be a news writer. I should be a reporter. I should write a novel. I should write a dissertation. All of it was bent on transforming me into something the world would see and recognize. There is a fine line in the arena of risk and reward in such attempts to carve out a sacred center where you can work from and simply be.
Sometimes you are rewarded with enriching solitude. Sometimes you stake a huge part of your ego on the line only find yourself dangling like an eight year old boy from a rim being plastered in the face by late November wind so cold it takes your breath away.
Is there a way to determine when it's worth it?
Poet and teacher Richard Hugo says that it takes a sort of "arrogance" to be a poet. You have to believe that you know where the poem is going when in reality none of us ever do. You have to convince your reader or audience that the images are going to connect and snap into some meaningful mosaic. You'd like to think that, at the very least, your words are not futile or random.
I had no idea when I was boy that I would become a poet. Nearly seven years after finishing my MFA in Poetry, I realize that I'm still not listening to others who want to turn the beautiful center of my heart and communion with God into something that can make money. This is hard. Sometimes I'm the one shouting the loudest that I shouldn't jump. Sometimes I am the one looking at our checkbook questioning why I am pursuing a Master's in Theological Studies to pair with my MFA in Poetry. Aren't you obscure enough yet?
Hanging from the rim, my frost-bit fingers knew what my mind wouldn't admit. Sometimes you have to just let go. Sometimes you have to ignore all the illusions of who you want to be and just allow God to shine through what works you can and should produce.
I fell down into a pile of snow. It hurt for a second, but I got up and went inside and took off my wet shoes and probably poured a giant glass of Food Club Cola and watched whatever was on television. I did not protest what God would have me do.
Looking back, there's much to learn from who we were as children. I would have rolled my eyes at the tortured artist (drinking another coffee from his Keurig) I sometimes pretend to be. The scale of our works should never be self-serving. If there is gain for kingdom, eat your spaghetti, wear an extra pair of socks, and just love your children by being with them. And stop wasting your time hanging in limbo because your children, when you aren't looking, are preparing to make their own leaps of faith.
Should you miss this, you really would be a fool.
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