Creator Spirit: The Holy Spirit and the Art of Becoming Human. By Steven R. Guthrie. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011. Pp. 240. $24.99.
During a homily at St. John the Baptist Cathedral in Charleston in 2009, the homilist made a humble yet striking prediction: For much of Christendom's history the Holy Spirit has operated invisibly in the background; but in the new millennium, the suggestion was, we would be hearing "a lot more" about the Spirit. Interesting, but what would that mean? What a spirit-infused creativity might look like is the question Steven R. Guthrie sets out to answer. The result is a rich and detailed meditation on the Creator's and the artist's work in making artwork, though it is not without a couple of bumps.
Creator Spirit is ostensibly aimed largely at the artist, who echoes God's work of making - as when God made humankind "male and female," according to the first Genesis account. As such, the book reads as a prescription: an outline or sketch of how to engage the Holy Spirit in an age and in a milieu that has lost track of God. That is, much of the contemporary art world has rejected God altogether - art criticism along with it - and therefore, just knowing how to begin the engagement is impossibly onerous, left unaided. In the introduction there are examples of recent popular books (e.g., The Zen of Creativity), and Chapter One draws many references from Robert Wuthnow's Creative Spirituality: The Way of the Artist (2001), yet Creator Spirit is squarely a work of theological aesthetics. Guthrie tries to cast a wide net, satisfying the concerns of art makers, scholars, and appreciators, alike - a difficultbalancing act, but this is the reality of the specific-yet-diverse audience for art and religion.
The book intends to offer "a Theology of the Spirit," words at which some rightly wince. Spirituality exists precisely as something that is ineffable, by definition indefinable. The author tempers the desire to get a handle on the ungraspable by appealing to mystery - yet throughout the book prescription tends to outweigh mystery. It may be that the newness of the spirit - the newness of our awareness of it - calls for greater specificity, though at times exploration can read as command: "The new creation will be beautiful because there will be harmony and right relationship ...," a line much later in the book reads (205). Theology /Spirit is just one of many dichotomies that Guthrie aims to harmonize. He frequently alludes to John Coltrane as an example of the musical artist's particular gift for praying while playing - invoking the spirit, co-collaborating with structure, adding the specific flavors that only that particular individual or instrument can. Both humanity and community are broken and need to be remade, and Guthrie's notion of artistic "freedom in submission" is a fairly compelling one (chapter four). It is also a somewhat brave use of terminology, given the potential pitfalls. Spirit is gift, but one must be sensitized and sensitive enough to receive it.
The second part of the book treats the tensions inherent to an exploration of concepts of the spiritual versus concepts of the creator. The ancient examples, Guthrie argues, are as dissatisfying as the postmodern: the Platonic rhapsode Ion is possessed by (the ancient Greek version of) spirit and so has no voice of his own. He further argues that the postmodern dilemma is a lot like the old: we are but products of a repressive regime, therefore there is no "author." The "given-ness" of the Spirit is the remedial third option: pulling from the likes of Moltmann, Augustine, Athanasius, and Barth, Guthrie argues that the Spirit is both a gift received and a gift to give, a complementarity of "receptivity and creativity" (130). These conceptions are rather satisfying precisely because Guthrie takes time to clarify and even emphasize that one has his or her own voice to find. Nietzsche's complaint that "the priest or the prophet is [merely] the mouthpiece of God" was one bound up with class and vocational warfare (138) - the priesthood irreparably stained by wealth and power. …