Sunday 11 August 2019

The Muses:Breathing Life into the Seeds of Genius

Sue and I are regular attenders at “Home” in Manchester, where over our time together we have seen all kinds of films and plays. Recently we went to see “Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love”. It was a film about Leonard Cohen and Marianne Ihlen, and their relationship that spanned several decades. It was described by the Guardian as a “tender, vivid snapshot of a singer and his ‘muse’”.

The film depicts a complicated and mysterious love story that began on the Greek Island of Hydra where the struggling writer Cohen had settled with many other writers and creatives. Here he met and fell in love with the beautiful and sensitive Norweigan woman Marianne Ihlen who was living there with her son. Marianne was Cohen’s “Muse”, inspiring many songs including “So Long, Marianne” and “Bird on a Wire”. The island was a haven of hedonism and free love, an example of the experimental lifestyles of the sixties.

It was a deeply moving film, but also disturbing. There were many casualties including Marianne’s son Axel, who has been institutionalised for decades. Throughout the film Sue noticed a man sat next to her in the cinema who wept from beginning to end. I understood why afterwards. While the artists described in the film produced some amazing works, there was a great deal of human cost to some who were around them and inspired them, pawns of the creative process ready to be sacrificed for the King or Queen that we call art.

The film did end tenderly with the telling of a beautiful letter from Cohen to Marianne as she was on her death bed and his own life was coming to an end. There was also a beautiful piece of coverage of Marianne attending a Cohen concert in Norway towards the end of their lives. She was there with her gentle sensible Norwegian husband singing along to the song he penned in her name.

“Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love”. was a beautiful, moving and deeply disturbing picture of creativity, the artist and the people in their lives. It got me thinking of the price of creativity. The power of creativity is vital, wild and I suppose somewhat dangerous. I know that it cannot be tamed.

Last weekend I attended “The Cambridge Folk Festival” with Sue and many members of her family and their friends. It was lovely to camp out with them and enjoy their company as we experienced a multitude of artist. Some of the greats of folk and contemporary music as well as many hoping to one day perhaps become great artists. Most, no doubt will not do so. I also camped with three members of “Two Day Coma” a young band trying to make their way in the music business. Sue’s nephew Jake is one of the guys. It was great to be in their company as they attempted to create as well as have a crazy time.

Last Wednesday I returned to Home once more. This time to see “Yesterday” another interesting take on “The Muse”. It was the story of another struggling musician searching for his muse and failing. After an accident when all the lights in the world go out he awakens in a world that never knew the “Beatles”, it turns out the world never new Coca Cola or Harry Potter either. He becomes famous by bringing the Beatles music to the world through his voice. He becomes known as the worlds greatest song writer as he brings alive their music for the world. There are only two other people in the whole world who are aware of this bit they are happy that he has brought their music to life, for as they say without the Beatles the world is a much harder place.

All this got me thinking about the creative spark, where it comes from? Is a gift, if a dangerous one, from the Divine? It certainly seems untameable, ungovernable and something that has to be wrestled with and brought into being, incarnated in life.

It got me thinking about the creative process. How is creativity breathed into existence? What is this beautifully dangerous thing that is the human imagination. I know when it comes to my own creativity, my writing etc, I sense that it comes from a place beyond my own frail human being. And I certainly do not feel that I am in complete control of it.

Now the great artists always speak of their “Muses”, Cohen’s was Marianne. It’s interesting that it’s always the male artists who speak of Muses, there does seem to be something patriarchal about the whole concept.

The ancient Greeks believed that the Muses were the sources of creativity. They believed that these Goddesses would come to a person in the night and whisper an idea into their ear. Now of course this is not literally true. This is “mythos” as it reveals a universal truth. I know with my own creativity it’s almost as if something seems to be whispered into the ears of my heart, into the core of my being.

The ‘Muse’ mythos speaks of the creative process that begins and ends beyond the individual craftsperson; the mythos speaks of an alchemy of mind, experience and wisdom that adds up to more than the individual who created the work. It speaks of a greater mystery. There is something divine occurring in the process; there is something at work here that calls the creation out of the individual; there is something going on here that is more than self, that cannot be controlled. I know myself that some weeks I am so full of ideas that they are seemingly bursting out of my ears and yet other weeks the well is dry. Some days I am completely blocked and then suddenly, as if something had just been whispered in my ears, the idea comes bursting out of me and I start writing again. Could this be God? Is God controlling this? Who knows?

Now artists like Leonard Cohen, as well as many other creative people are often called Geniuses. A genius is a person who displays exceptional superior intellectual ability, creativity. In ancient Rome, the genius (plural in Latin genii) was the guiding spirit or tutelary deity of person. The noun is related to the Latin verb genui, genitus, "to bring into being, create, produce"”

There are parallels here with the Greek Muses. It also brings to my mind “The Mustard Seed” that Jesus speaks of in the gospel accounts. Perhaps we each of us have these genius seeds planted deep in our souls. What the true genius does is bring that which is within us into being; to bring that seed of Deity within us to bear fruit. Maybe what the Muse does is breath these seeds into being and to share it with others, for it doesn’t belong to us alone and doesn’t truly come alive unless we share it with others. Much like the character in the film “Yesterday” did with the sings of the Beatles”, that had been lost to the world. I’m sure that most folks would agree that the world would be a poorer place without the songs of the Beatles.

Throughout human history this genius within us has been understood in different ways. Many, beginning with Plato I believe, talked of each of us being born with a companion, what some might describe as a spirit that remembers our true nature and therefore calling and which can guide us back to our greatest animation. It is this that truly brings us alive, that animates our very being that enthuses us. This inner spirit animates our soul, this is the genius within each and every one of us. It has been called by many names such as muse, inner voice, still small voice, higher self, guardian angel or Daemon.

Now the problem of course is that so many of us suppress our inner genius, we do not let it shine, we do not believe that we are the “Light of the World” or perhaps the opposite happens we keep it selfishly for ourselves alone. The key is to share it fully, to truly engage in the Creative Interchange. This is divine activity, coming to life.

Whatever we create is never complete until it shared with others and even then it’s only just begun. The worship I create each week does not exist until it is shared. Actually it’s never complete as I know that this leads to other interactions in all our lives. I often think I wish I’d heard that comment shared with me after the service before hand, as I know that it would have improved the sermon, but then without the words I’d shared the individual would not have felt inspired to share their thoughts.

A creation is made to communicate beyond itself. The Unitarian “Process Theologian” Henry Nelson Weiman called this “Creative Interchange”. We all create and we all pay attention to the creations of others; we are all craft workers and craft consumers. This is a creative interchange.

When we interact with one another’s creations we are deeply engaged with each other and all life. When we create we open windows into each other’s humanity, as we do so we create windows that can lead to a deeper understanding of what sustains all life. This can lead us to living a life that is for the good of all and not just ourselves.

We are all born with the ability to create and to appreciate the creativity of others. We are all craft workers and craft consumers. As we create and consume we experience a sense of interconnection with all of life, which enables us to nurture and sustain our world. For it is up to us to do so as we dance our dance with the divine creator.

None of us truly knows what seeds are planted within our souls. Many can lay dormant for years. It is only though the creative interchange that these gifts begin to come alive. It is our task to inspire each other and to become each others Muses. For by doing so we may just begin to bring to life the “Kin-dom” of Love right here right now. Our world so needs us to bring our souls to life.