Martin Buber’s basic thesis–God is the context of everything; to the degree that we engage, show up, this is the degree to which we will know (encounter) God. All of life is an opportunity to know God. But God does not demand us to engage with the universe, rather He invites us! And we choose the degree to which we open to it. God is here, not just there, as i would augment Francis Shaeffer’s thinking. He is there, and here (immanent), and He has invited and even kindly asked us to know and love Him through all that we encounter in this life. To the degree that we engage, we find and perforce, fall in love with Him. If we want an “I-Thou” life, we have to engage our “thou”-our deeper inner self (our true, or “un-phony” self, as Thomas Merton would name it)-in a spiritual dialogue with all that is around us. We have to fall in love with God, through His universe, that He created as a medium through which we could meet Him, including other people. To the degree that i engage, I will know God through other. That in short, is Buber’s great idea.
In many ways, Abraham Joshua Heschel taught the same thing. These two men-Buber and Heschel, i think are the most globally relevant Jewish teachers in the last 100 or so years. They taught a true spirituality-that life was about coming to know God, and that our actions on earth all stemmed from this core relationship. Both, offered a true picture of who God is, and what our role of engagement is (our style of partnership), in His narrative. Each intimated, that all of us have a choice as to what degree we truly learn to live. But the stage is set. God has made His offer, and the level of engagement is up to each person. Heschel, really turned the world on to a God who was extremely empathetic and present with human concerns. One who understood the humanness of our daily experience. In his book on the prophets, he focuses lots on Jeremiah and Amos, and really hammers home the immanence of God–even emotionally towards His creation, towards His children. This is not a deist God–way up there-with little daily concern for our struggles. Heschel’s image of God is very incarnational, and encounterable. Both of these great thinkers, and livers of life had a precious sense of who God is in their writings, and, in their own way carried His actual Presence in and through their writings.
These two thinkers basic ideas, speak also to the artist. Buber, overtly wrote much about aesthetics and theories of art. But I think both of their basic suppositions apply to all areas of life–whatever your medium of knowing God is seasonally–parenting, marriage, relationships, community building, art making, business and so on…
But specifically in the area of making art, we are basically attempting to encounter the essential nature of our subject or the “other” (the “thouness” of someone or something). Some of the art historians have called this the “absolute”, or the absoluteness of the other. Many think, that most self portraits are about trying to capture this absolute self or “essential nature”. I think that the ultimate essence of the other, must be found in God Himself. Spirit knows spirit. We ultimately know the essence of other by our spirit, through His Spirit. The very act of creativity is a dialogue with God through whatever we are meditating on. We are always, in the same situation as humans (whether artists or not)–we are desperately seeking our Creator in all our actions. And to the degree we find and encounter and know Him, we are satisfied. This is our motivation in our hunt for essence. This is true in art as well as every other activity. Perhaps it is most symbolically pronounced or amplified in art making. We are all seeking God, and as we create, we meet Him–our art becomes a tabernacle-and as it does, becomes, this “place of meeting”, where we are able to reveal the nature of others in a way which becomes universally recognizable. We reveal the inner nature of a landscape, a city, a person’s face, or whatever happens to be our area of conversation. We reveal it, because we are meeting God there, and, in this way, honoring His poetic creativity in making and expressing Himself through this particular person place or thing. We are encountering God through creative dialogue with our subject. That is the higher calling of creativity. This is when our art making becomes a part of our true spirituality.