Little did I know that documentarian Thomas Riedelsheimer had much the same idea. His film "Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working with Time" captures the artist's journey through dozens of creative works. (The pictures I have included with this review are not from ones he works on in the movie itself, so as not to spoil any of the stunning reveals.) With the exception of commissions from a museum and a sculpture park, all of Goldsworthy's art in the movie is impermanent. He creates with leaves, thorns, stone, ice, wool, flowers, and whatever other natural elements he finds in the vicinity. His works are toppled by wind, covered by leaves, carried away by the river, and swallowed up by the sea, but he never laments the loss of a finished work. Instead, he sees nature contributing something to the process that he could never have hoped for. Although his photographs reveal pristine beauty, the real art in many ways is the process, from his selection of materials to nature's reclamation of them.
"Rivers and Tides" was the most meaningful spiritual experience I've had in the movies in many years. I've never been much of a naturalist; my older brother always had a better developed sense of awe and curiosity about the outdoors, and perhaps as a result I found my identity elsewhere. But in the past year I've become much more interested in the way God speaks to us in nature, particularly through the flavors, textures, and colors of food. I've been doing a lot more experimenting and exploration in the kitchen lately, and as I shop for specialty items I keep being amazed at how many flavors exist in the world that have never crossed my tongue. "Rivers and Tides" was a similar experience; Goldsworthy creates such exquisite beauty out of natural elements and natural shapes that he draws our attention to the beauty already present in nature that we have forgotten how to see. He reveals, without direct comment, the earth that God created for His enjoyment, which we are invited to take part in. The pace and focus of Riedelsheimer's film is deliberately contemplative, tailor-made for a dark and quiet theater where you can focus your whole attention on it.
Two particular moments in the film resonate with my stage of the spiritual journey. The first is Goldsworthy's insistence that if he hasn't worked for two or three weeks, he feels uprooted and not himself. The finished, saleable art isn't important to him except to feed his family; his real purpose in creating is as a type of grounding exercise. This is one of my biggest struggles in my spiritual life: the temptation to uphold my status within the church community, or my writings about the spiritual journey, as the measure of my value and the source of my pride. One of the reasons I've written so few reviews in the past year, and disappeared from the positions I held, was the need to reconnect with the day-in, day-out struggle to ground myself in God -- without anything of my own to prop myself up. I had to determine if I love God for who He is, or if I just love God for what He can make of me.
The second moment is tied to the first, and that is the impermanence of Goldsworthy's art. Human societies are driven to create buildings and art and children that will outlive them, as a bid for immortality, but Goldsworthy is happy to have his own efforts whisked away by the activity of a lively earth. He understands the illusion of permanence; seen on a long enough timeline even rock is liquid, as he beautifully demonstrates in one scene. Likewise, God has been teaching me that the words I say to a friend, the way I treat a stranger, the food I serve to guests are all avenues to share the love of God despite their lack of "achievement" in the eyes of others. As Christians we tend to honor those who have founded churches, defied governments, written tomes, and spawned movements, but I am finding myself becoming interested in the unnamed players, the faithful backstage folk, the unheralded lovers of God. I am, I hope, becoming one of them.
For the first time I feel the confidence to put words to these kinds of feelings: the stripping away of the need for success, the attempt to walk naked before God, the endeavor to shape my character rather than simply my words, the struggle to give full attention to small gestures of love. And the reason I think I can put words to my feelings is because, in "Rivers and Tides," Andy Goldsworthy had put images to them. His works have given me a context to see what I have been working on myself.