Problems: First World and Otherwise

Sometimes I read a book and I can’t even wait until I finish it before I am talking about it to anyone who will listen and composing blog posts in my head.  Other times I have to let a book work on me a while.  I need to live with its message, to let time show me the impact of its ideas on my journey.

It took me two years to finish The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy Sayers.  It’s deep and chewy and I’m probably not even scratching the surface yet, but it is working on me.  I love Sayers.  I adore the way she thinks, the fictional characters she creates, and I’m always challenged by her ideas.  They are big, very big, ideas.

The Mind of the Maker is about human creativity and the way it can be paralleled to the creation of God.  It’s all very deep and theological and Anglican, but above all it is Christian.  The main thing I got from the book is an understanding that the creative process can be compared to the Trinity.  God the Father is represented in the idea to be presented in whatever form of art is being created.  God the Son is seen in the bringing of the work into being–the writing, or the painting, sculpting, etc.  The Holy Spirit then is in the “ministry” of the work–the reading or viewing or experiencing of the creative work.   It’s a pretty cool idea and I really enjoyed reading about it.

The last chapter of the book, though, brought up an idea that has kept me thinking for months.  It keeps coming to mind and I keep chewing on it, but I haven’t really managed to figure out how to apply it yet.  The chapter is titled, “Problem Picture,” and Sayers is reacting to the way we humans deal with life.  She says, “To the average man, life presents itself, not as material malleable to his hand, but as a series of problems  of extreme difficulty, which he has to solve with the means at his disposal” (186).  She goes on to say that the more technology we acquire, the more science we understand and harness to our will, the more problems we seem to have to solve.  This, she says, is upsetting because we have been led to believe that as we conquered nature through science, our problems will be less, not more.  We are supposed to be the masters, not the mastered.

Sayers suggests that the answer to this dilemma is found, not in science, but in the arts.  Speaking about modern man she says, “Perhaps the first thing he can learn from the artist is that the only way of ‘mastering’ one’s material is to abandon the whole conception of mastery and to cooperate with it in love: whosoever will be a lord of life, let him be its servant” (186).   After reading this I’ve found myself noticing just how often I hear and use the word “problem.”  I have come to realize that I really do see life that way–from the problem of how to get through the day, the week, the month, to solving the minute problems like what to have for dinner or how to get the laundry done and also attend a meeting.  We brainstorm.  We consult.  We read how-to’s and look for answers on Pintrest.

Mathematical problems, Sayers points out, are finished when the are solved.  They are over, complete–dead–in a sense, but life is never like that. “The problem is never so solved that it is abolished; but each time it is restated, a new thing is made…” (208).  And we are left in frustration and feeling like failures. So I am trying not to look at life as a series of problems to be solved, but instead to see it as an artist, “as a medium for creation.” I’m not exactly sure what this means, or how to do it, but I believe that thinking about it is the first step. Sayers says that when we stop looking at life as a set of problems, “…we shall be beginning to make something with our minds–instead of ‘solving a problem’ we shall be creating a new way of life” (204).  I like that.

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