From Chaos to Art

By Mark A. Taylor

I’m writing this accompanied by the sounds of paper piles thudding against the sides of a trash bin just outside my office. Today is the first of several cleanup days in a time line that will soon see Standard Publishing relocate to another part of our city.

The company’s offices have been here on Hamilton Avenue in Cincinnati for more than 50 years. And some of the paper squirreled away in our file drawers may have been there for decades. It’s definitely time to clean out.

Coincidentally (or was this the prompting of God?), this week I jotted down a snippet from Brian Jones’s October 4 blog post. (Find him at www.preachingstandard.com .) He shared a dozen or more quotes from Madeleine L’Engle’s book, Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art. The one I copied speaks to the state of our work environment, and that’s not all:

A life lived in chaos is an impossibility for the artist. No matter how unstructured may seem the painter’s garret in Paris or the poet’s pad in Greenwich Village, the artist must have some kind of order or he will produce a very small body of work. To create a work of art, great or small, is work, hard work, and work requires discipline and order.

Customers using the resources Standard Publishing produces may not view them as works of art. But few artists give more to their projects than our editors and writers and illustrators invest in this ministry. A more orderly office will surely help us do better.

But L’Engle’s quote speaks first about chaos in “a life,” an issue far more crucial than tidy files or neat bookshelves. It’s a concern addressed by Cornelius Plantinga Jr. in the September Christianity Today. He asks, “Do we expect a new Christian life will just happen without our having to make inconvenient changes in how we live Monday to Sunday?” He points out how silly this would be:

If so, we are like people who want to be solvent and who also max out their credit cards. Or people who want to be sexually pure and who also bookmark porn sites. Or people who want to speak Japanese without all the tiresome study that’s normally required.

The question is, “What do we really want?” Like practicing the piano or weeding the garden or perfecting a golf swing, spiritual growth takes time and discipline that may feel tedious. But the price is worth it if we really want the result.

Confession of sin, the subject of two articles in this week’s issue, is one of those spiritual regimens that never feels fun. But the godly life that results is more important and more beautiful than any other “work of art” I could produce.

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