Day 13: Generativity / by Jeff Tacklind

I’ve been enjoying a book called Culture Care, by Makoto Fujimura.  It is specifically about creating a generative community for artists to inspire beautiful creation that will feed our souls.  Without beauty, our souls wilt.  Without artists, we starve.

I love new words, and generative was a new one for me.  It means the power or function of propagating or reproducing.  I guess I should’ve been able to figure that out myself.  Its opposite is ‘to degenerate.’

Fujimura, (or Mako if you know him, which I don’t) uses an example from his own life when he was young and newly married and strapped for cash.  His wife came home from the grocery store with some food and a bouquet of flowers.  He was alarmed at the apparent wastefulness of the purchase.  His wife, wisely, responded, “We need to feed our souls, too.” That was a genesis moment for them and has become a powerful symbol of how they desire to live their lives. 

I resonate with that.  So often I can see art as the dessert of life, not the meal itself.  Art and beauty can feel gratuitous.  We pay for them only when we have some money left over.  But this is exactly what this book is pushing back on.  Beauty is what brings our souls to life.

Do you remember that movie, Dead Poets Society?  I can still picture Robin Williams saying,

“We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for."

My friend, Kate, mentioned to me that generativity is one of Erickson’s stages of psychosocial development…and just so happens to be the one I’m at in my own life.  Generativity vs. Stagnation.  It happens to us at midlife and can go on for quite a while (up to 65).  It means we’ve passed through the identity stage, and the intimacy stage, and are now prepared to give back, to enrich others, to pay it forward.

As I look at those stages of development, it makes me pause.  At 45, I still find myself struggling a good deal with identity and intimacy.  I still wrestle with the question of when I am truly being myself, and what is the façade I’m hiding behind.  I still hate the feeling of being inadequately defensed.  I am confident only when my guard is up.

But as I look at the last few months, weeks, even days, I see a theme to where God is at work in my life.  And it is generativity. 

The temptations I face are much more towards isolation and withdrawal.  I can retreat to where it is comfortable.  I find myself more and more possessive of my time and energy.  I call it self-protection, but if I’m truly honest, there is a bit of avarice in it.

This is where Erickson is so helpful.  By connecting our withdrawal and possessiveness with stagnation gives me just the sort of push I need.  Because the thought of being stuck is one of my greatest fears.  I see how easy it is in life for us to drive ourselves into a cul-de-sac that we cannot get out of.  Generativity protects us from this.  It protects us from our small selves.

And it gives us vision.  Because a beautiful life is a generous one.  It is self-sacrificial love that speaks to the deepest parts of our soul.  A mother’s love for her child.  A teacher pouring themselves into their students. A father running to greet his lost child returning home.  This is who I long to be.

But the reality is, it happens in small steps.  Doing the dishes. The unlooked for favor.  Bringing home flowers.  Considering others as more important than ourselves.

There is a dying involved in this.  A dying to self.  But an awakening to beauty.  My friend, Kori, reminded me that the path of Lent is not specifically preparation for Easter, but for the cross.  I needed to hear that.  The depth of the celebration of Easter comes as a result of the vision of love that would bear such a price for me, and you and us.  The celebration is not merely the grace alone, but the generative beauty of the sacrifice. 

As Scripture says, “There is no greater love than this: than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”