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The Art of Being: Reflections on the Beauty and the Risk of Embracing Who We Are
[ shaw books, 2004 | 192 pages | review by hollie stewart ]

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The Art of Being - Click to view!As a young twenty-something, I'm approaching a stage many people enter much sooner or never at all: personal definition. I am learning "who I am," and this definition needs to come from the Creator rather than the creation. So often our jobs, marital status (or lack of it), children (or lack of them), and various hobbies label us. We do all we can to carve ourselves a niche so that others will see us as happy/successful/cool/sexy/worthy of value. We seek significance outside of the kingdom of God and put our entire focus on the temporal world surrounding us. It's not healthy behavior, especially since everything inhabiting this earth will vanish like a distant memory (see 1 John 2:17).

Author Constance Rhodes mirrors my dilemma (and the dilemma of millions of others) in her book The Art of Being: Reflections on the Beauty and the Risk of Embracing Who We Are. Even the title on the inside jacket cover, "Life is Not a Résumé," speaks hope to me. Rather than identifying themselves as "grown-ups" who have decided "what to do," this book documents the thoughts of fifteen musicians navigating the waters of their own identity.

Rhodes believes we can miss "the most thrilling part" of life while striving to climb higher and higher on the cultural ladder: the journey itself (2). God took her out of the corporate world for some time to learn what it meant to "be." (Yes, think Hamlet here.) During this sabbatical, she felt God begin to transform her thought patterns: "God was doing some deep heart work on me at the time, leading me on a journey toward freedom from a lifelong obsession with performance, appearance, and achievement" (3). How does she define the art of being? She says, "It's learning that we are not defined by what we do, or how we look, or what we have. It's learning how to be comfortable in our own skin and accepting that life isn't about the trophies on the wall or the Mercedes in the garage. It's about discovering who we are, beyond the stuff, and learning how to be content with that person, for this is the key to be living fuller, richer lives that we ever imagined" (7-8).

Each artist invited to contribute to this project has their own definitions, but they all center on the thesis. Sara Groves says, "When you know how much you are loved, you are free to 'be'" (14). In knowing God loves us unconditionally, we can have the freedom to discover ourselves and love who He created us to be.

Gabriel Wilson from The Rock and Roll Worship Circus writes about his struggle with the general population because of "strange" external appearance and artistic sensibilities. Yet in the end he knew he needed to stay true to God's definition, for "at every point of opposition to who we are or to what God has called us to do, we are presented with the options of either conforming and giving in or standing our ground and becoming stronger in who God has made us to be" (24).

We could choose to weave our own existence through the mind's imagination, but Ginny Owens advises against this. She says, "I will never survive by imagining my story to be better than it is, because God will always imagine it better than I can" (36). Instead we need to surrender to God's story for us, as Matthew Odmark from Jars of Clay says. His definition for the art of being is this: "To consciously choose a story that is big enough and beautiful enough that we not only believe it but are courageous enough to live it" (63).

Tammy Trent's tale of learning to be courageous in a story that kills her husband provides sobering food for thought. She admits that we won't always comprehend who we are, but these moments are allowed, because "being who God created [us] to be is not as simple as fitting into categories" (82). We have to step beyond the categories and really learn to live. Ashley Cleveland reflects this believe with a simple statement of truth: "it's difficult to be when you are so busy doing" (96).

So instead of rushing without purpose, we need to find truth in the moment, even if it's a "wasted" moment in the eyes of our cultural rat race. Lori Chaffer from Waterdeep deals with this balance every day as an artist, and she writes, "Jesus is the great I AM. He's not the great I DO or the great I WILL. His life began with an almost total silence that lasted for thirty years" (118). Shouldn't we, as our Savior, be unafraid of the same moments of waiting? Linford Detweiler from Over the Rhine mirrors this passion to savor the moments that may lack "importance," for "it's the so-called mundane that is most often chock-full of the eternal" (129).

Perhaps it all boils down to simplicity. Charlie Peacock wrestles with these thoughts in the book's forward and finds his own revelation:
The art of being is about cooperating with the ways of wellness that Jesus set in motion. Those who follow Jesus have put on a new self, a new way of being that's continually "being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator" (Colossians 3:10, NIV). Followers don't work at it like men pulling plows in cracked, dry soil. They cooperate with it, like swimming with a river's current. God is doing the work. He's making that art of being in us. Our part of the bargain is to live in agreement and cooperation with this wonderful grace. This means peace before productivity. There's an art to being anxious for nothing. (vi)
If we choose to define ourselves by the kingdom of man, numerous classifications will smother us. Once we've updated ourselves into a culturally correct figure, we will hear the call of a new humanist movement. There will never be an end to change.

But by choosing to rest in His definitions, we find finality in His embrace. Once there, we can take His yoke upon us—a gentle, light yoke—and learn from Him. By staring into His face, into His being, we observe a mirror for our own souls, and this mirror reflects our true nature.

The book ends with the verse, "Be still, and know that I am God" (Psalm 46:10). In light of everything written in The Art of Being, I can see no other statement more fitting. To be still is to know; to be still is to be.
- Hollie Stewart
June 2005

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