Many of you are familiar with what some call “imposter syndrome.” Harvard Business Review states: “Imposter syndrome can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. 'Imposters' suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence.”
I suspect most people in ministry and other creative fields suffer from imposter syndrome once in a while, if not every day of the week or every five minutes. An artist or person of faith whose identity is wrapped up in his or her work will feel the bounds of identity stretch when approaching a breakthrough in understanding.
Approaching writing another blog post, I was struck with the familiar feeling. I have experienced enough creative blocks to know a good thing to do here is to write about what will not go away.
Imposter syndrome came into the world with Jesus in a big way. Jesus tore apart what it meant to be competent—to be blessed. “Blessed are the poor….the meek….those who hunger and thirst….” What we call The Beatitudes are the gospel reading for All Saint’s Day. These remind us of the earth from which God forms saints.
The following is from a sermon by St. Irenaeus:
It is not you who shapes God
it is God who shapes you.
If you are the work of God
await the hand of the artist
who does all things in due season.
Offer Him your heart,
soft and tractable,
and keep the form
in which the artist has made you.
Let your clay be moist,
lest you grow hard
and lose the imprint of his fingers.
St. Irenaeus (c. 130 – c. 202 AD) was a Greek bishop who ministered in Lyons, France, called Lugdunum at the time. Among Irenaeus’ flock were potters who used the clay left in the confluence of the Rhône and Saône rivers.
An immigrant, Ireneaus must have suffered from imposter syndrome but he was an effective teacher by using images familiar to his flock to convey his message. He also understood that his message concerning relationship with the living God was impossible to convey without an image of process and its potential for mess.
This is because relationships are messy. Tackling them head on leads to things like imposter syndrome. This happens especially when the work begins from a place of lowered self-esteem due to illness, grief, or other disappointments.
Jesus, and then Irenaeus, remind us that in our raw and hungry state, having been disabused or our competence, lies the ability to blessed.
Nicholas Buhalis, now deceased, taught me how to draw, paint, and form with clay. He would patrol our easels and sculpture stands looking for breakthroughs. He regarded us as toddlers who, learning how to run, often headed for the road.
A few minutes after she heard him pass by, a student would raise a flat palm to wipe out what was unfolding on her easel. Nick would run from the other end of the room.
“Wait! You are doing something new and you can’t recognize it yet,” he explained. “Put it away until you can.”
Those of us who learned how to bear with ourselves had enough work left to become called “artist.” This is also how saints are also made. St. Thérèse of Lisieux (1873 –1897) told her sister, who was upset with her own faults,
"If you are willing to bear serenely the trial of being displeasing to yourself, then you will be a pleasant place of shelter for Jesus."
We cannot always find serenity, but we can be willing to engage in a process with what we have and with what we know, and with what we don’t have or know. Serenity breaks in as we learn to regard all these things with equanimity and, imposter syndrome notwithstanding, make our teacher a gift of good clay.
Be on the lookout for the release of the first in a series, “The Story of Love,” a visual meditation on process.
If you read the last blog post, you read about a Van Dyck painting of St. Jerome at the Albany Institute of History and Art (around the corner from the Cathedral). The painting was due to leave but it is still there! Go and see it.
All Saint’s Day is approaching. Come all, such as you are, to Evensong and celebrate our feast of title with us!