Jared Witt - May 2, 2019
The most creative genius of the Renaissance world: go.
If you got the era placed correctly, I’m guessing that Leonardo Da Vinci popped into a lot of your minds. And it would be tough to argue with you.
We throw around the term “Renaissance Man” as if there was a time when it was commonplace for someone to be good at geometry, science, architecture, painting, sculpture, poetry and everything else under the sun. There wasn’t. True, this was a time, especially in cosmopolitan centers of Italy, where it was possible for sharp and curious minds to work across a few different disciplines: Fillippo Brunelleschi of giant dome fame as well as Donatello, Michaelangelo and the other Ninja Turtle, the red one, to name a few. But mostly, when we say “Renaissance Man” we’re just thinking of Da Vinci. And it was by no means commonplace.
Now imagine if the most prolific and otherworldly creative “Renaissance Man” had been saddled with an occupation as pro forma and mind-numbing as “notary public.” As Walter Isaacson points out in his well-known biography of the man, this would’ve been the case if Da Vinci hadn’t been born out of wedlock. The first born of a legitimate marriage was expected to take on the family trade. And the Da Vincis came from a long line of envelope sealers.
Now this would’ve been seen as an advantage by any measure. Notaries might never fill museums with their work, but it was good and prosperous employment in a world where most people were like, “Oh Crap. We’re poor.”
If his birth status was an issue, how much more would we have thought it helpful for a mind like LdV’s to get a formal education? But Isaacson is quick to point out that his real genius was not the size of his brain but its tireless curiosity. He was who he was because he was constantly wondering why goose feet are shaped the way they are, and how to square a triangle, and what minds the trick plays to make us think we’re seeing three dimensions on a two dimensional painting.
Now everyone who has ever seriously gone after an academic pursuit or a trade is aware of the streamlining effect of guilds and scholarly institutions. Any discipline has subtle ways of informing us of which questions we shouldn’t ask.
But Da Vinci’s greatest strength was that there was no question he wouldn’t ask. Isaacson even goes so far as to say that his methodical approach to observation was an early predecessor to the modern scientific method.
Now imagine if this fiery spirit of inquiry were quelled by the same inaccurate answers that the formal education system had been handing down without update or improvement for centuries. Imagine if Mona Lisa had been painted according to the medieval insistence on sharp lines and contrasts rather than the sfumato method of softening and gradating colors and textures, which Da Vinci himself largely originated.
Basically, if Da Vinci had had all the advantages as the world understands advantage and had inherited all the strengths that the world recognizes as strength, there would have been no Da Vinci. We would’ve lost one of histories greatest minds.
What if Da Vinci became a Renaissance man not because of his gifts but because of his shortcomings?
Maybe you anticipate where I’m driving with this. When Jesus says, “Blessed are the meek…” and when Paul talks about the “foolishness” of the cross, it’s true that there is an aspect to what they are saying that is impenetrably paradoxical and can’t be fully understood. But in another way, what they are saying is practical, provable, and can be observed in a thousand different real life metaphors for those who have eyes to see.
You know the metaphors well, if you stop and think for a moment:
Now instead of relating to it in metaphors, apply this directly to the spiritual life. It’s disappointments that attune us to the disappointment of others. It’s pain that drives us to compassion. It’s shortcomings that make us reliant on each other. When we win all the time we develop relationship repelling qualities like arrogance, success addiction, and over-seriousness. When we don’t, we develop relational qualities like humility, and grace, and a sense of humor. Knowledge puffs up. Love builds up.
Go with your weakness. Celebrate your weirdness. Find the opportunity in not getting what you want. #keepcastlechurchweird
Somehow, that’s where the kingdom of God is.
Cheers and Peace,
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