“There is no such thing as an artist: there is only the world, lit or unlit as the light allows. When the candle is burning, who looks at the wick? When the candle is out, who needs it? But the world without light is wasteland and chaos, and a life without sacrifice is abomination.”—Annie Dillard
“Art is only a means to life, to the life more abundant. It is not in itself the life more abundant. It merely points the way, something which is overlooked not only by the public, but very often by the artist himself. In becoming an end it defeats itself.”—Henry Miller
“The public have always, and in every age, been badly brought up. They are continually asking Art to be popular, to please their want of taste, to flatter their absurd vanity, to tell them what they have been told before, to show them what they ought to be tired of seeing, to amuse them when they feel heavy after eating too much, and to distract their thoughts when they are wearied of their own stupidity.”—Oscar Wilde
“I would have played piano and then [gotten] Jason Segel and Walter the Muppet up on stage. And then bring in a chorus of background singers with all the Muppets across the back of the stage. Maybe get Clooney and Pitt out there, as well, singing along.”—
It turns out the Christian story is a good story in which to learn to fail. As the ethicist Samuel Wells has written, some stories feature heroes and some stories feature saints and the difference between them matters: ‘Stories … told with … heroes at the centre of them … are told to laud the virtues of the heroes—for if the hero failed, all would be lost. By contrast, a saint can fail in a way that the hero can’t, because the failure of the saint reveals the forgiveness and the new possibilities made in God, and the saint is just a small character in a story that’s always fundamentally about God.’
I am not a saint. I am, however, beginning to learn that I am a small character in a story that is always fundamentally about God.
“We live in a time when many religious people feel fiercely threatened by science. O ye of little faith. Let them subscribe to Scientific American for a year and then tell me if their sense of the grandeur of God is not greatly enlarged by what they have learned from it. Of course many of the articles reflect the assumption at the root of many problems, that an account, however tentative, of some structure of the cosmos or some transaction of the nervous system successfully claims that part of reality for secularism. Those who encourage a fear of science are actually saying the same thing. If the old, untenable dualism is put aside, we are instructed in the endless brilliance of creation. Surely to do this is a privilege of modern life for which we should all be grateful.”—
This certainly reflects my own experience. When I first began to move to a true rejection of science/faith dualism (extraordinarily difficult to do, even with a reasonable education), I was frequently disturbed by the vastness and complexity of nature, by the mind-blowing age of the universe, by the sheer, barely comprehensible size of the thing. It made me feel so small. How could humans possibly matter?
But then I actually remembered 1) the Incarnation and 2) how the Psalms, for instance, speak of God’s wonderful works, and their incomprehensibility; of His true greatness and mystery. And I realized that what I had come up against was not a dethroning of God, but of the limits of my own mind. It was—and continues to be—mighty, mighty humbling.
“I don’t know what I think of that. Because I think, actually, one of the things that’s a comfort in marriage is that there isn’t a door at seven years. And so if something is messed up in the short-term, there’s a comfort of knowing, well, we made this commitment. And so we’re just going to work this out. And even if tonight we’re not getting along or there’s something between us that doesn’t feel right, you have the comfort of knowing, we’ve got time. We’re going to figure this out. And that makes it so much easier. Because you do go through times when you hate each other’s guts. You know what I mean?”—Ira Glass, in response to Kurt Braunohler’s comment, “I do have a theory now. I do have a theory about if I do get married in the future. What I think I would want to do is have an agreement that at the end of seven years, we have to get remarried in order for the marriage to continue. But at the end of seven years, it ends. And we can agree to get remarried or not get remarried.” (via wesleyhill)
Q: So how do you see your faith and your art interacting, ideally?
A: That question is important but it can lead into ways of thinking that become cul-de-sacs. First of all, every artist who is also a thoughtful person has beliefs—a faith—about what we are and what it means to be here and to act and express. This is as true of a strict materialist as it is of a theist.
Yet the wrong kind of focus on “interaction” or “integration” can turn the “problem of integration” itself into the subject. This can lead to narrow polemics that are an artistic dead-end, whether the goal is sacred or secular.
When T.S. Eliot gave his lectures on the varieties of metaphysical poetry, he said the failures were hybrids of two kinds: poetic philosophy and philosophical poetry. He actually used the word “occult” to characterize their inadequacies. The successful poems happened when these two things “were fused at such a high temperature that they became a new entity in their own right.”
I also like a childhood analogy for the problem. When I was a little kid learning to ride a bike, I kept looking straight down at the front wheel to see if I was falling over. As a result, the front wheel wobbled and I fell over. My father told me to stop looking down and instead just to look ahead, forget about myself and enjoy the ride.
“All God’s deeds are inexpressible. We can dishonor them all by speaking about them in an irreverent way. But all God’s deeds want to be confessed, in spite of—no, on account of—their inexpressibility. God wants us to love him with all our mind and with all our strength. True theology is an act of love. In this act we cannot be silent about a single one of God’s mighty inexpressible deeds.”—Hendrikus Berkhof, Doctrine of the Holy Spirit, 9 (quoted here) (h/t)