Something that I was reading this morning at the gym brought me back with a snap to the moment when the idea for this blog was born…I was riding on a plane to somewhere, who remembers where, and I was reading an amazing book by John O’Donohue, Beauty: The Invisible Embrace (John O’Donohue is most known for his work with Celtic poetry and wisdom, published as Anam Cara). I am not a person normally drawn to the “celtic”…not in music or poetry or, well, anything, but I had heard Krista Tippet interview John O’Donohue one Sunday morning. I was moved by him as a philosopher and I was moved by the ways in which his eyes and his soul found beauty in so many things, so I picked up the book and threw it into my travel bag.
I remember that, sadly, I never finished the book…I never even got to the chapter on music. I never got past the introduction, in fact, because that introduction set off a firestorm in my soul at the time. It was one of those periods in life, probably the time following 9/11, when I was struggling with the whys of life…most importantly, why I was drawn to a life in music when there were so many more practical skills that I possessed and so much other work that the world needed done. While many around me struggle with finding their “identity” as artists, my struggle question has always been “why lead an artistic life at all”. And these words of John O’Donohue, written under the heading “The Cry of our Times: To Awaken Beauty” gave me a new sense of quest and direction, and frankly helped guide me to this very moment in my life:
At birth we are awakened and emerged to become visible in the world. At death we will surrender again to the dark to become invisible. Awakening and surrender: they frame each day and each life; between them the journey where anything can happen, the beauty and the frailty. …In the experience of beauty we awaken and surrender in the same act. Beauty brings a sense of completion and sureness. …
These times are riven with anxiety and uncertainty, given the current global crisis. In the hearts of people some natural ease has been broken. It is astounding how this has reached deep into the heart. Our trust in the future has lost its innocence. We now know that anything can happen, from one minute to the next. The traditional structures of shelter are shaking… Politics, religion and economics and the institutions of family and community, all have become abruptly unsure. At first it sounds completely naïve to suggest that now might be the time to invoke and awaken beauty. …Why? Because there is nowhere else to turn and we are desperate; furthermore, it is because we have so disastrously neglected the Beautiful the we now find ourselves in such terrible crisis. (Beauty, pg. 2-3).
And so, at yet another stage of great change in my life, I did not expect the firestorm that came from the essay “Beauty” by Diana Butler Bass in the collection Creating Change: The Arts as Catalyst for Spiritual Transformation . In the middle of an eloquent recitation of her experiences with beauty, art and creativity in thriving congregations, she writes:
People expect Protestantism to be intelligent, but few expect it to be beautiful. (pg.15)
Although the arts are, indeed, mystical, they are not entirely ethereal. Throughout my journey, people taught me that beauty is a faith practice — something people do that can be learned, rehearsed, and enacted — in our lives and community. In their churches I saw art shows, artist studios, art programs for children, and summer art camps. There were piano lessons, artist seminars, book signings, poetry readings, and web design classes. … Most of it was good. All of it was done with heart. They made me think of Genesis: “And God saw everything that he made, and indeed it was very good.” (pg. 21)
Awakening and surrender….beauty…creating…I realize that, for me, these words are just synonyms for faith, for God. What is more about awakening and surrender than growing in our life of discipleship? I know that I feel the peace of increased surrender on a daily basis.
And so, today is a beautiful day. Today is a beautiful day because I remember yet another saint who started me down this path. Today is a beautiful day because in these words about beauty I find peace for the next stage of the journey and I find comfort that my greatest fear for this change, that in it my self the artist will become lost and will be devoured by my self the intellectual, that this fear will not come to pass.
People in this country and in this century do expect faith to be intellectual, but I have a secret — I know that it is beautiful too.