Have you ever been swept away inside the rhythms and sounds of a piece of music that expresses what words cannot? Have the sounds of a great singer ever seemed to rise like incense as s/he sang? There are times that have a timeless quality of human existence. There are some times of sensing the “deep down of things,” as Gerard Manley Hopkins put it. There is the “more” to life than meets the ordinary eye. Behind all the ordinary stuff there are some “ultimate realities.” It is in music, art, literature that we come to respond to aspects of these realities (the word “art” is commonly used for all aspects of creative work, including, e.g., sculpture and architecture).
There are the creative persons, the creative minds, who bring sparks of enlightenment scattered through the darkness of the world. There are the creative titans: Mozart and Bach, Handel and Brahms, Shakespeare and Tolstoy, etc. who awaken us. Their names are associated with creativity and genius.
I believe we can listen to God through great music, paintings, literature, and art. We glorify God who has given such artistic gifts to human beings. Great artists are revealing God to us. As Goethe said of one of his own writings, it contains more than the author himself knew. All true art is revelation.
Great art, great paintings, sculpture, music, literature, film, poems, and other works can be marvelous aids in our journey to God. Pope Benedict XVI wrote that beautiful art is an important way to experience God.
From creative musicians, artists, painters, writers, we can experience new levels of reality, have an awareness of a deeper sense of being alive, learn to live life more fully.
Where does the creativity come from? Interestingly, creativity has traditionally been called inspiration, a word that implies a touch of divinity. There’s a beautiful Norwegian legend that before some souls are put into a body, the soul is kissed by God, and during all of its life on earth, the soul retains a memory of that kiss and relates everything to it (cf. The Holy Longing, Ronald Rolheiser, p.15). Artistic ability is a God-given blessing we marvel at.
Creativity is a lonely affair. It generally involves those who are willing to take on solitude. Creativity, such as writing, is done alone. There is the solitude and loneliness that surrounds the act of writing. Creativity is also hard work. Ernest Hemingway stated that he rewrote the concluding pages of A Farewell to Arms 70 times. He also stated that he thought it appropriate to do 100 rewrites of The Old Man and the Sea. There is often the sheer labor involved in creativity. With writing, a huge amount of time and effort may be expended on a single word or phrase. There is the power of carefully crafted words. The best plays, with their immortal lines, can evoke the big questions of our lives.
Poetry can have very important parts to play in life, and in the spiritual life. The reading of poetry is an excellent preparation for prayer. With the best poetry, the moment may come when the eyes of the blind are opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped. There are the moments when a poet captures an emotion perfectly.
We need creative people in our lives: poets, painters, writers, actors, etc.—such gifted people are a precious gift. They give God a way of coming to expression. For example, Flemish painters do many paintings of home interiors, especially the way light moves about Dutch rooms. They make us see the domestic scenes with a sense of revelation—life is enhanced. Art is life-enhancing. It enables us to participate more fully in life. Plato believed that children should be taught music before anything else; in learning to pay attention to graceful rhythms and harmonies their whole consciousness would be magnified.
Most Catholics are deficient in a rudimentary appreciation of literature and the arts. In the late 19th century, Cardinal Henry Newman had to defend having literature courses in Catholic Universities.
The purpose of education and preaching is to highlight and make people more sensitive to the fact that we can listen to God through great music and art and literature. One tries to help people sense the beauty in art, music, paintings, poetry, the beauties of language. There is the power of great literature and music to change our lives. Words and music don’t merely say something, they do something. There is their awesome power. A handful of words, artfully arranged can be a magical thing. They can enable us to participate more fully in life.
Every gifted artist is a mouthpiece of God. Even great plays reveal God to us. When we read and study literature at its best, incorporate into our lives the best of creative artists, we glorify God who has given such gifts to human beings. Life is lived more intensely. There is more to life than surviving, thriving, and dying. Great art is the helpmate of religion. Gifted artists enlighten us. They can bring us face to face with some real, true reality. There is the artist’s gift of seeing things in their beauty and truth and weaving them into melodies that other people can understand. Great art evokes moods as well as ideas. So much of the common world, the hum and bustle of ordinary life, receives spiritual expression by painters, musicians, writers, etc. There are some words from Hopkins again: “For I greet him the days I meet him, and bless when I understand.” There are moments when the eyes of the blind are opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped.