Sermonette: May 20, 2018

I gave the following sermonette in church on Sunday, May 20, 2018:

Elderhood and Creativity

We create and are created every moment of every day. We are never the same from one second to the next, because we exist within a context that changes us into something new every moment of our lives. The changes are usually subtle, but they are definite. You are not exactly the same person today, as you were yesterday.

Our responses to those changes are new too. We respond to our newness in ever-changing ways. We are creators while being created.

It is this dynamic of creation that helps to define us and enables us to define ourselves. It is also by means of constant change, both conscious and unconscious, that we find our way through the thicket of self to what is beyond. That is the richest aspect of creation. The projection of ourselves, in the course of constant change, into the greater world.

But there is a difference between the spontaneous, reflexive creation that is a critical aspect of our daily existence and the deliberate, purposeful creation that we call art or music or poetry or gardening or raising children. If our normal, daily, moment-to-moment creativity brings us growth - physically, psychically and emotionally - then it is the purposeful forms of creation that lead us beyond ourselves, into the passions of others who experience our creation. The effect of creation can have as great an impact on the receiver, the listener, the viewer, as it does on the person who creates. In that way, we both are led, hand in hand, into the transcendence of meaning.

I stood once before a small painting by Edouard Manet at the Barnes Museum. It was a very simple image that the artist spread across the canvass - a peasant man in a boat, fishing, his hat dipping over his eyes. He was apparently asleep, waiting for the nibble on the line that would awaken him and provide him with dinner. As I stood before that painting and let its unspoken meaning sink into me, I became aware of a mounting, passionate yearning arising in my body and mind. I was feeling a unity with that man, as well as with the artist, and I began to weep. It was a joyous weeping, born of a discovery of a long lost self. I wept long and thankfully. I wanted to wrap my arms around Manet and give him my open heart in deepest gratitude. This happened years ago, yet I have not forgotten it and never will.

Purposeful creation takes us outside ourselves. It is the bridge between the isolation of self and the connection that defines relationship. When we create we offer up ourselves for the world to see, to hear, to know. We reveal our deepest thoughts and passions. That is what springs forth, when we express the core parts of ourselves, the visceral, raw, animal parts, which we are unable to consciously control, but which form the underlying essence of art, invention, nurturing, and all other forms of conscious creation.

Successful transition to elderhood is in large part a redefining of self. We are different as elders in ways that are obvious, and many of those changes are dissonant with our thoughts and feelings about who we are, especially who we have been. That redefining of self is both guided and constrained by the fact that our identities are relative. We cannot adequately define ourselves outside a context that includes others. It is in our aspirations and connection to others that we define ourselves in a basic, social sense. It is our focused, purposeful creation that takes us most deeply into relationship, not only with others, but with the transcendent experiences that we call meaning.

So how do we incorporate a wizened, aging self with the identity we merrily created in our vigorous youth? How do we view ourselves in a new reality that has recreated us in ways that we often find both discomfiting and disheartening?

The answer lies in our own works of creation. Creation plumbs, draws on and reveals our deepest self, releasing in multifarious ways the richness that lies, often sequestered, in our unconscious and allows it to flow freely in our world - like a teenager in love. Creation can free us, enrich us, heal us and in the course of all that, redefine who we are. We can, in fact, recreate ourselves.

Finally, in our creations, we do not have to be great. We do not have to paint like Picasso or compose like Beethoven. We need only explore and reveal our hidden, but not lost, passions to ourselves and to others. That is what creation does for us. It enables us to leap into the world of our aging and fully live.