The First Sunday of Advent

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I’ve become convinced that I’d be a better person if I made more art with my children. The act of creating, not for completion or accomplishment, but for the slick of paint, the jazz of color, the wind of air over twirling arms is somehow the center of being. Making art— not for a paycheck or prestige, not of duty or deficiency— is somehow transcendent and elementally human.

When I paint by myself, I justify the mess by the product. There’s flour in my hair because I made a nephew’s birthday cake. There’s thread in the carpet because my son outgrew his pajamas. Making things still gives me a splash of fulfillment, but it’s not immersion in the current. I’m not cleansed, scoured, buffeted, carried by refinishing even the most beautiful desk.

When I paint with my children, the mess isn’t for anything. The mess is the thing. I’m as often frustrated by this as inspired. What do you mean you’re done? I just finished getting everything out.

Greg Pennoyer, project director of the international art exhibition Incarnation: A Recovery of Meaning, guesses most of us adults have difficulty relating to Christmas after the wonder of childhood in any way other than materialism or sentimentality. He thinks this might have something to do with our aversion to messes:

“The more I reflected…the more I realized that my own temptation to sentimentalize Christmas involved turning away from the messiness of my disenchanted, adult life.” But Christmas is “the story of a God who does not disdain this world, despite its frailty, ambiguities, and messiness.”

This advent I hope to see it: that the mess is the thing. That I’m as often going to be frustrated by this as inspired. And I hope I can manage to voice something in my soul other than, What do you mean it’s done? I just finished getting everything out.

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