Spirituality and Art
I officiated at a wedding this past Sunday. It was outside, as most of my weddings are these days, at breathtaking Ocean Cliff in Newport. I looked out at ocean, jagged rock cliffs, a sailboat going by, the Newport bridge in the distance, the Island of Jamestown across the bay, and thought to myself, “What more spectacular cathedral could you find than the cathedral that God created?”
I always invite couples to select their own readings. This couple selected one reading from modern literature, (the “What is Love?” conversation from the Velveteen Rabbit) and one from a film, Serenity: “You want to know what the first rule of flying is?…Love. You can learn all the math in the ‘Verse, but you take a boat in the air that you don’t love, she’ll shake you off just as sure as the turning of the worlds. Love keeps her in the air when she oughta fall down, tells you she’s hurtin’ ‘fore she keens. Makes her a home.” I selected I John 4: 7-8, from the New Testament of the Bible: Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Everyone who does not love does not know God for God is love.”
In the almost thirty years that I have been ordained, I have noticed a trend. Thirty years ago weddings were in the church, even if the couple were not “church people.” Couples would seek out a church in which to get married. The prettier the church, the more wedding requests. Last year, only one of my weddings was in the church. The rest were outdoors. I can understand this. I myself, an avid outdoor enthusiast, got married outdoors, at Fort Adams State Park in Newport, under a majestic tree, where my husband and I always stopped to rest on our daily bicycle rides. Our weddings guest gazed at pretty much the same scene as the guests at Ocean Cliff.
More and more couples are also selecting readings from poets, films, song lyrics. I think of what Martin Luther said, that the Canon of the Word of God (the Bible) is open and ongoing. It includes the writings of the early church fathers and mothers, the saints and the mystics, sermons rightly preached, and our own mutual conversation and consolation. ALL OF THAT is the Word of God. So why not the Velveteen Rabbit and the quote from the film Serenity?
Last summer for my summer reading I asked my three young adult children what their favorite book of all times was. I read all three, to more deeply understand the the yearnings my children hold in their hearts: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez; The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand; and Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. Indeed, for each of my children these books spoke deeply to their own spirit. Part of my summer reading also included the books of the Apocrypha, (those books from the Greek version of the Old Testament, or Septuagint, considered part of the biblical Canon for Roman Catholics, but not for Protestants, whose Canon is based on the Hebrew version of the Old Testament, or Hebrew Bible). In truth, many of these books were grotesquely violent, and in no way spoke to my spirit.I also read Carl Sagan’s Cosmos and Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth and, if I had to compile my own Canon, would include those two books in the Word of God, as opposed to some of the Apocryphal books. Martin Luther said, “If you want to change the world, pick up your pen and write.” (or I would add, pick up your laptop and write.)
What about music? Sometimes I think, “Where are the Bachs of today?” Bach (a Lutheran, by the way), composed his music for worship. In fact, many of the great classical composers composed sacred music to be used for worship. Saint Augustine said, “The one who sings prays twice.” My own Martin Luther said, “My heart, which is so full to overflowing, has often been solaced and refreshed by music when sick and weary.” In true Luther fashion he also said, “A person who…does not regard music as a marvelous creation of God, must be a clodhopper indeed and does not deserve to be called a human being; he should be permitted to hear nothing but the braying of asses and the grunting of hogs.” Tell us how you really feel, Martin:)
Indeed, from the beginning of human history art was used to express the spiritual dimension of life, to give thanks and praise and gratitude to the Creator of the Cosmos. Poetry, sacred stories, songs, symphonies, paintings, sculptures, tapestries, murals, architectural wonders, athletic events (the origin of the Olympics) were all expressions of humanity’s deepest spiritual longings and experiences of communion with the Divine.
So today, why not films? Plays? Television programs? Music? Novels? Paintings? Mosaics? Photography? Graffiti? Blogs?
Those of us who lament the dwindling attendance in churches around the world, need to reflect on the events that are drawing huge numbers of people, like sports events, concerts, films, plays. The other night I suggested to my husband that the television programs he is so fond of, like “The Voice,” are perhaps so popular in our culture because they tap into that spiritual place within all of us, and move us to that same place of thanksgiving, praise, and gratitude for the gift of this “wild and precious life,” as poet Mary Oliver says. Perhaps artists are now, as they have always been, the “preachers” or communicators of the holy to those who are spiritually longing. That is my theory. So, part of the Oceans of Grace Outreach Ministry at our church includes a Faith in the Arts program.
if we want more people in our churches, maybe we need to open our buildings to artists, and invite them to share their gifts to help all of us open to the Artist who painted the Cosmos? And to you artists out there, whatever your art, CREATE! For in so doing, you give glory to God!
This day, may we see the Holy in all we encounter,
and may we reflect the Holy to all we encounter.
Linda Forsberg, Copyright May 5, 2015
Photos: With Victoria at the Cloister, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC; Wedding Site, ocean Cliff, Newport, RI; our wedding; our wedding, Fort Adams, Newport, RI; Jules’ photo of Newport Bridge at sunset; Greenwich Bay Brass performing at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Providence, Faith in the Arts; Tapestry exhibit, the Cloisters, NYC ( I learned that the Unicorn represents True Love); Mural of Martin Luther, Our Lady of Guadalupe, and Frederick Douglas, at Trinity Lutheran Church, Manhattan; Victoria and Madison’s wedding, Newport, RI