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BOOK REVIEW: Art and Faith by Fujimura

BOOK REVIEW: Art and Faith by Fujimura

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May 10, 2024

Thanks to Jennifer-NeToi Claiborne, a 2024 Fellow in Ideas, for today’s book review.

“To see with the “eyes of our hearts” (Ephesians 1:18) would be the goal of an imaginative journey and training, and the arts provide a perfect vehicle through which we can move past clogged, cluttered self absorption into the reliable communal body to experience the Spirit’s leading.” – Makoto Fujimura

As a poet, writer, teacher, and person of faith, my journey has been one of exploration, discovery, and a relentless quest for meaning. In Art and Faith: A Theology of Making by Makoto Fujimura, I found a companion in my voyage that illuminated the intersections of artistry and spirituality in ways that affirmed and inspired me. I completed this book a little while after reading Fujimura’s Culture Care. Both texts are wonderful and can be read in any order. 

For me, creativity, faith, and spirituality are a trinity of human expression and exploration, igniting the fires of imagination and fostering connections beyond the material realm. It’s through this creative process that we tap into deeper layers of consciousness, where faith and spirituality reside. At the heart of it all lies the concept of “making” – the act of shaping and transforming raw materials, ideas, or emotions into something tangible. Making is humanity’s way of leaving a mark on the world, of expressing our innermost thoughts and desires, and of connecting with others on a deep and spiritual level. It is through making that we build civilizations, create art, innovate technology, and cultivate meaning in the human experience.  Fujimura states, “The path of creativity gives wings. The essential question is not whether we are religious, but whether we are making something” (24).  I think it is important to note that some folks may believe that faith and spirituality only applies to a specific group’s idea of God. However, I encourage you to be expansive and consider the light, All, the universe, Yahweh, Allah, and the ancestors. Fujimura narrates his ideas through his own lived experiences of Christianity, but a specific religion is not required to make and create a connection to something higher than one’s self is. Fujimura explores creation, by entwining theology, philosophy, and personal reflection with insight and inspiration. Drawing upon his own experiences as an artist and a believer, he invites the reader to embark on their own course of rumination, encouraging us to explore the sacred act of making as a pathway to encountering the divine.

Growing up in a Black church, where spiritual life burst with creativity, was a transformative experience that has left a lasting impression on my heart and my soul. In that vibrant community, the sanctuary was not just a place of worship but a sacred space where creativity flourished in a myriad of forms. From the soul-stirring melodies of gospel songs to the graceful movements of liturgical dancers, from the powerful performances of theater to the stirring recitations of poetry, every aspect of our worship was infused with an undeniable spirit of innovation and expression. It was in this sacred place of creativity that I first discovered the connection between art and faith—a connection that continues to shape my worldview and inform my understanding of spirituality. It is no wonder, then, that Fujimura’s book on art and faith resonates so deeply with me, for it speaks to a significant part of my upbringing, affirming the belief that creativity is not only a reflection of our divine nature but also a sacred act of worship.

As I navigated the pages of Art and Faith: A Theology of Making, I found myself connecting with Fujimura’s musings on the creative process and its inherent connection to the spiritual realm. His eloquent prose stirred something within me. Through his words, I was reminded that creativity is not merely a skill to be honed or a talent to be cultivated but a sacred calling—an invitation to participate in the ongoing work of creation alongside the Creator Himself. Fujimura asks us to consider what can be possible by creating together.  Whether it’s crafting, cooking, or collaborating on a project, making something with other people has a remarkable way of creating community, belonging, and inclusion. As we join hands and minds in the act of creation, we tap into something sacred within ourselves and each other. He asserts, “And through this act, I begin to feel deeply the compassion of God for my own existence, and by extension for the existence of others. My works therefore, have a life of their own, and I am listening to the voice of the Creator through my creation. I am drawn into prayer as I work” (4). In this space of creativity, barriers dissolve, and hearts open wide, fostering bonds that transcend differences and embrace the beauty of diversity.

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron served as a guiding light on my journey of self-discovery and creative exploration. Through Cameron’s insightful guidance and practical exercises, I was encouraged to examine the recesses of my creativity, unearthing hidden passions and untapped potential along the way. Her emphasis on the importance of nurturing one’s creative spirit and embracing the artist within also resonated with me, sparking a newfound sense of purpose and direction in my life. It was through Cameron’s transformative teachings that I began to revisit the connection between creativity and spirituality, paving the way for my discovery of Makoto Fujimura’s Art and Faith: A Theology of Making. Fujimura’s reflections on art and faith further illuminated the path laid out by Cameron, offering an understanding of the sacred nature of creativity and its ability to surpass the boundaries of the human imagination. Together, these two works have inspired me to embrace my identity as an artist wholeheartedly, guiding me on a journey of personal and spiritual growth that continues to unfold with each handmade object and every written word.

In a world often marked by divisions and compartmentalization, it’s not uncommon for people to overlook the ardent connection between creativity and spirituality. While many may perceive these realms as distinct and separate, for me, they are a dance of fervent expression and introspection. Creativity, in its purest form, is a manifestation of the divine within us—a spark of inspiration that ignites our souls and compels us to bring forth something new into the world. Similarly, spirituality offers a lens through which we perceive the interconnectedness of all things, inviting us to explore the depths of our innermost being and connect with something greater than ourselves. In my own experience, creativity and spirituality are not merely complementary; they are inseparable companions as I examine and explore ideas of truth, beauty, justice, love, and hope.

The ethos of humanity may lie in what we often consider “use-less” activities, as the quote suggests: “The deepest realm of knowledge is in Making, and, conversely Making is the deepest integrated realm of knowing” (19). This notion underscores the significance of engaging in creative endeavors, where the act of Making extends beyond mere productivity to encompass an exploration of self, community, and the world at large. In understanding the world, we must embrace a multitude of ways of knowing, from scientific inquiry to artistic expression, spiritual exploration, and communal engagement. Through the process of Making—whether it involves crafting art, nurturing relationships, or innovating technologies—we actively participate in shaping our understanding of existence. It is through these creative acts that we deepen our connection to the essence of humanity, going beyond mere intellect to cultivate empathy, resilience, and an authentic sense of belonging. By embracing diverse avenues of knowledge and actively engaging in Making, we not only foster personal growth but also contribute to the flourishing of communities and the advancement of a more compassionate world.

One of the most keen aspects of Fujimura’s exploration is his insistence on the importance of embracing the inherent tension between art and faith. Too often, we are tempted to compartmentalize our beliefs, relegating them to the realm of the spiritual while relegating our creative endeavors to the worldly. However, Fujimura challenges this dichotomy, urging us to see art as a form of worship—a means of expressing our deepest convictions and grappling with the mysteries of existence. I have often found myself wrestling with this very tension, struggling to reconcile my artistic aspirations with my spiritual convictions. Yet, through Fujimura’s wise counsel, I have come to see that these seemingly disparate facets of my identity are inextricably intertwined—that my art is, in essence, an expression of my faith and a testament to the beauty of the divine. Through his poignant reflections and wisdom, Makoto Fujimura has crafted a work that speaks not only to the artist and the believer but to all who dare to connect their belief in a higher power and creative expression. It is a book that has inspired me to continue exploring the sacred interplay between art and faith in all aspects of my life.

Works Cited

Fujimura, Makoto. Art and Faith: A Theology of Making. Yale University Press, 2021.

Photo credit: Shutterstock/Varun_m

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