Faith and art have a lot in common.
In this passage, we see the apostles begging that their faith be increased. We might compare this to our begging that our artistic gifts be increased. Our artistic gifts that we are so often uncertain of and even frightened of and about. PAUSE. The writer. The poet. The musician. The painter. Even the artist dabbler.
We beg that our gifts be increased, to “make it easy”, “easier”, or to “be absolutely certain this is what we’re meant to be doing”. That this is useful and important. That our gifts matter. That we matter. Anyone who has struggled on the path of art knows this feeling of uncertainty and fear. Fear of wasting time and resources. Fear of failure. The desire that there will be some increase that will show us once and for all, and for certain, that we are doing what we are meant to be doing. That we can’t, or won’t, fail. Most often “increase” comes in the form of money or glory/recognition and we can finally prove everyone wrong that our commitment to a degree in basket weaving was not, in fact, a waste.
Make me a better artist.
Make me more faithful!
Let’s be honest, most of the time the day to day dedication of faith is work. The day to day dedication to artistry is work. Alright, I’ll agree that there are rare exceptions when faith is awakened in loud, big, Mysterious ways…that creativity is awakened in loud, big, mysterious ways…but most of the time it’s down right boring, nose to the grind, unacknowledged WORK. Work against all those many, many distractions and “more important things”. Not only is it work, it’s HARD work.
Most of the time, beautiful words, epic paint strokes, incredible notes of music don’t magically appear. Or…when it seems they do, it’s usually after the hard work of putting in the time to show up against all uncertainty and self doubt. Most of the time, the same could be said of deep and abiding faith.
What does this have to do with the mustard seed?
It’s about quantity and quality. That’s it’s not the amount of faith that one has, but the quality of one’s faith. That the tiniest amount of pure faith is powerful. Quality.
Whenever I think of the concept of quality and quantity, I always (with a half giggle) think of the writing project of NaNoWriMo (you may have heard me talk of this before) which inverses the truth that it’s quality that matters. In NaNoWriMo, the goal is not quality, but quantity. As many words as you can muster in a single month. The month of November and 50,000 words to be precise (that’s 1667 a day—this reflection is about two thirds of that—and it wasn’t completed in a day). The important thing in that project is quantity with little to no regard to quality. Unlike the mustard seed.
Why? When the mustard seed reinforces the idea that it’s quality that is powerful. The smallest faith can move mountains…or mulberry trees. Not quantity.
But it takes a great deal of work to be that strong in faith. I’ve yet to see a mountain or mulberry tree moved on faith alone. Although (PAUSE) we can all come up with deep cases of moving faith or moments of deep mystery (PAUSE). But, most often after deep commitment and work and practice.
This “Increase our faith!” is skipping over the steps of work and hard work. Skipping those places of uncertainty that strengthen faith (and craft). Those places of fear and doubt that make us stronger in faith (and craft). The painful work of perseverance that is the real character building stuff. The stuff that wakes us fully and uniquely to our potential. Our gifts.
We want to have the great American novel published and glorified (and making us money) now! We want to be the next Picasso (and making money off our work) now! We want to be more faithful now!
But there is artistry to faith. All great art takes times and work and perseverance. It takes mountains of pages and words. Stacks of canvases. Notebooks of practice. Quantity to get to Quality.
Too often, we’re so worried about the end results. Who will read this? Who will see this? Did I spend more than I will make? Is it worth my time (always valued by money)? Too often, we doubt ourselves and over talk about what we’re doing and planning and desiring to the detriment of…actually doing. We’re so busy showing off that we never actually, truly do.
We’re attached to what will I get out of this? What will the apostles get our of an increase in faith? What will we get out of an increase of faith? If it’s not solid, quality faith, it still is a mountain of work instead of a mustard seed of perfection in love. That takes deep practice. More time working on love rather than talking about love. More time practicing being a good person, than talking about being a good person.
The artistry of art is doing it because you love it and its your passion and your gift. Doing to work out of the pure love and joy of it even, and especially, when it’s hard.
The artistry of faith is doing it because you love it and it is what you need to do. Doing it because you believe in love so much that you much act in the world with love even, and especially when it’s hard.
Regardless of outcomes and regardless of who is watching.
Faith is powerful. Even tiny faith. Faith is planted within each one of us. It’s planted with the potential be the tallest of trees shining over the world or the tiniest of mustard plants with the tenacity to grow and spread however small and ordinary it seems. These little, tenacious roots invading our souls and spreading from our hearts into the work we must do in this world. The work of Love. This little plant, the plant that is each of us, is the love and hands of God in the world when we act in ways of Love. That’s our work. It’s hard. It’s enough. That’s it. Do the good work. Practice the artistry of faith, however small it seems. Leave the outcomes to God.