Ben Keiser & Literature

Hellooo from Colorado! I’m sending a big hug to all the friends and family of our summit crew!

Fall is here and the colors are beautiful.

The weather is getting colder, and we’re getting smarter hahaha (but for real, we are learning SO much and have been challenged in SO many ways). We have a little more than a month left of the semester, which is crazy! How has it gone by so fast? It’s been encouraging to look back on what I’ve already learned though. My perspective of God has grown, and I’m looking forward to what’s in store for the rest of the semester, woohoo!

Ben Keiser came to speak earlier this month.

He worked as a staff member for Summit Semester a few years back. He has since studied literature in Oxford and is currently working for Summit. While he was here, he lectured on literature, specifically the importance of fiction and what makes a good story. I found that most of the ideas and messages he posed can be translated into art as well, which has deeply impacted me in the way I approach my creative practice as an artist.

As an artist, I have always been attuned to the beauty in the world.

There’s a desire in me to recreate and extend this beauty in my own work. This runs parallel to the author who writes fiction. Ben explained to us how the ideas we see in fiction literature are imaginative and open our eyes to see beyond the broken world and into the dynamic design of it. We can see a bigger story at work, one that is written by the ultimate Creator. It also hints at life as we experience it in the secular world while prompting us to step into our roles as sub creators because we have been made in the image of God who wants us to join in his creative work.

This idea of creating in the secular world has been one I have constantly thought about over the past few years. I want to make art that exposes the souls longing and transcends the viewer to what is good, true, and beautiful, without making art that is confined to the walls of the Church.  I think good art gives us a glimpse of the grandeur and holiness of Christ, without having to be visually literal in its depictions. This act of making physical work in itself reflects the incarnation of Christ and gives us hope in what is material. It allows us to see the beauty in the now but also draws our gaze and imagination to something greater. Ben talked about these ideas in regard to the fiction writings of C.S. Lewis and Tolkien. They used their creativity, along with rationality in their presentation of the Christian faith, and didn’t feel the need for religious justification in it. This quote by C.S. Lewis is one that has shaped my view of Christian art over the years, and how I’ve thought about my place in the art world. He said,

“[J]ust as God’s very good creation is God’s very good creation in and of itself and without need of so-called “religious” justification, so we live in an intrinsically good world and we create creatively and imaginatively as something very good in and of itself without need of pragmatic or didactic justification because we are made in the image and likeness of a creative and imaginative Creator”.

Christian art and literature should thus be something that goes beyond the Church walls, and the incarnation is the best possible representation of this. It embodies both a spiritual form and a material form of an artwork to be in the world. If religion is too important to be confined to church services, then so is art that explores faith.

This brings me to the call of the Christian artist/author to make good work.

We must understand the aspects of the creator who makes good work. Ben referenced the ideas of C. S. Lewis, who explains good art as a dichotomy between the ‘author/artist’ and the ‘man’. There are always two people at work when creating, and to make truly good work you must have both. In this relationship, the ‘artist’ figures out how to tell the story best through technicality and skill in the craft, and the ‘man’ encompasses the passion and beliefs that fuel the work and are revealed to the viewer. Passion and skill are necessary to create good art, and I believe as we strive for excellence in our work the gospel will follow.

I think the challenge for Christian artists and authors today is to think intellectually and imaginatively about literature and art and how we should embody a Christian faith that is more robust, textured, and expansive in the public arena we find ourselves. This is what we are called to do as Christian artists and writers, and it must be reflected in our work. It should challenge society and share the abstract reality of the Creator who has called us to create. We must work to see and reflect the beauty in this world. Lewis presents this challenge in his statement, “The real labor is to remember, to attend. In fact, to come awake. Still more, to remain awake”.

I’ve been prompted to think more deeply about my passion for art and how I can attend to what is true, good, and beautiful. I am an image-bearer of the ultimate Creator and it’s an honor to have even an ounce of that creativity.

My prayer for this semester, and for you reading this blog is this:

         “Heavenly Father, I come before Thee yearning to know and desiring to trust Thee. May my heart be open to whatever Thou hast for me so I can be where Thou wants me to be. May I yield to Thine Angel before me and come to the place Thou desirest for me. Keep me under the cloud by day and the fire by night. In Jesus’ name amen.”–A.W. Tozer

By Halle Rittgers: Halle Rittgers is a student at Bethel University in St. Paul, MN., studying Visual Art and teaching English as a second language. She is currently taking a semester off of school to attend Summit Semester. She loves people, animals, and the outdoors, and can’t wait to use what she learns to worship God and share the love of Jesus to all.