Without A Doubt
MICHAEL CHANEY is a professor of film and television at the Savannah College of Art and Design. Independent filmmaker and visual artist, Michael wrote, produced and directed the award-winning short film, “Luke”.
The essay below is an adaptation of a sermon Michael gave as a guest preacher on the occasion of this year’s Feast of St. Thomas.
At Seymour, we felt that Michael’s words also resonated outside of a religious sphere and would be helpful to artists in helping them to overcome doubts about their creative capabilities, encourage them stay the course, and have faith in the intrinsic value of their own personal expression.
By Michael Chaney
If art instructs in specifics or orders us to think or process in a particular way – it’s what I like to call propaganda. I teach my students that good art provokes a question.
There is a wonderful painting by the 17th century Italian baroque painter, Caravaggio, called The Incredulity of St Thomas that does just this.
I grew up in the Deep South where the term Doubting Thomas referred to someone who will refuse to believe something without proof; in other words, a Doubting Thomas is a skeptic.
Personally, I think Thomas gets a bad rap. Yes, he is known most famously for his crisis of faith. But come on, it only lasted a week! How many of us can say that?
Yet, the term Doubting Thomas has become part of our vernacular. It means… one who cannot accept something without empirical evidence.
I often find in the arts, that there is both a great thirst for the spiritual and a great disappointment with the institutions of religion. A lot of this boils down to what is frequently comprehended as the imbalance and incompatibility between faith and reason.
The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Katherine Jefforts Shori spent her early adult life as oceanographer – a vocation with an emphasis on both creation and the hard sciences. I recently watched an interview in which she described faith and science as two very valid ways of looking at the world.
“Science, she says, “looks at the world with questions of mechanism. Faith questions meaning.”
In short, science asks “what?” while Faith asks “why?” Yet, somehow, popular culture has contributed to creating a sense of incompatibility between science and faith.
Faith is not intellectual or physical – it is spiritual. It is rooted beyond our physical response of fight/flight and beyond our analytical response of pros and cons.
The Anglican theologian Verna Dozier insists that doubt is not the opposite of faith – fear is.
Do not be afraid then, to stay the course; you will know more and different things tomorrow than you know today… and you will be open to the new possibilities you cannot even imagine today.
Which leads us to hope. Hope is the motivation to stay connected to your work without fighting or fleeing. Hope gives reason to work for something better.
And how might we achieve this hope?
By retaining faith in possibility, faith in the future, faith is what moves us from fear to hope.
And hope is what inspires creation. And creation births new life, new ideas, new solutions, new innovations.
Hope gives reason to work for something better. Hope gives strength to endure change and the time of chaos that always precedes the new beginning.
In light of all this, Thomas becomes for us not a symbol of faithlessness, but of courage. Doubt will not be resolved- we must live with it – we must live confidently without answers. Because in this lifetime we’re just not going to get them all. Yet, we can still seek…
-Michael Chaney 2012
Published: April 24th, 2012