Thursday, August 15, 2013

Dorothy Sayers on the Image of God and the Imagination

Dorothy Sayers was an artist in her own right, a virtuoso of words. She was an artist of the imagination. Of course, the imagination - like all other gifts of the first article - can be used for great evil or great good. It is the latter that drew my attention in my recent reading of the chapter The Image of God. Although Sayers never uses - or at least never explicitly refers to - Tolkien's idea of man as sub-creator, she writes in agreement of the assertion and illustrates it beautifully. Sub-creation is rather simple: "we make still by the law in which we are made" (Tolkien, Mythopoeia). In other words, man does not create ex nihilo (out of nothing), but as one with tools and means which are also created. The artist uses paint or other mediums. The film director uses sound, lights, motion, and so forth. The chef uses the bounty of the earth. The potter uses clay. The nerd uses Legos. The author uses words. But all of them alike have one thing in common, God's gift of imagination. It is this gift, says Sayers, that most resembles God's creative work. Good art and good literature (I would argue) point to the Primary Art of reality, in particular the Primary Story of reality, Christ's death and resurrection.

"Though we cannot create matter, we continually, by rearrangement, create new and unique entities. A million buttons, stamped out by machine, though they may be exactly alike, are not the same button; with each separate act of making, an entity has appeared in the world that was not there before. Nevertheless, we perceive that this is only a very poor and restricted kind of creation. We acknowledge a richer experience in the making of an individual and original work. By a metaphor vulgar but corresponding to a genuine experience, we speak of a model hat or gown as a creation: it is unique, not merely by its entity but by its individuality. Again, by another natural metaphor, we may call a perfectly prepared beefsteak pudding a work of art; and in these words we acknowledge an analogy with what we instinctively feel to be a still more satisfying kind of creation.

It is the artist who, more than other men, is able to create something out of nothing. A whole artistic work is immeasurably more than the sum of its parts.

...The components of the material world are fixed; those of the world of imagination increase by a continuous and irreversible process, without any destruction or rearrangement of what went before. This represents the nearest approach we experience to creation out of nothing, and we conceive of the act of absolute creation as being an act analogous to that of the creative artist. Thus Berdyaev is able to say, 'God created the world by imagination.'"  Dorothy Sayers, The Image of God, Letters to a Diminished Church, Nashville: Nelson Publishers, 2004, p. 30-31.

And what an artist He is. The rivers and trees clap their hands. The stars proclaim His handiwork.  Aslan's song  in The Magicians' Nephew echoes our Lord's speaking creation into being. God's word is an event. His speech is action. But there's more from this almighty maestro. The artist stepped onto his canvas. The Creator became creature. God became man. The incarnation changes (and dare we say hallows) everything - life, salvation, and yes, even art, literature, and the imagination.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

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