Art is in the details

Last Saturday I sat in a hall and listened to a Stradivarius.  I spent much of the day wondering if I knew anyone who could be persuaded to join me.  As the hours passed, I realized that none of my local friends have any knowledge of or interest in classical music.  Though it is one of the most famous signifiers of elegance, beauty, and craftmanship, “Stradivarius” is an empty word to these folks.  I confess that I’m fairly ignorant of music myself, but I’m grateful for my familiarity with a few of the classic showstoppers.  I’m more of a pop hound by nature, but I find that most of the pieces I play again and again and again are the few instrumental pieces I know well – Beethoven’s 7th, Brahms’ violin concerto, Bach’s cello suites, Arvo Part’s Tabula Rasa…

This got me thinking about the most significant disconnect in my present life – the fact that I work at a seminary and my spirituality is organized entirely around beauty and art.  My friends and colleagues at work ponder God and speak of being ‘present.’  I can only contemplate God in the presence of astounding beauty.  When I visited Toledo as a wide-eyed 17-year-old, I had my sole discernible near-God experience.  I walked into the city cathedral and stared at a ray of light shining through a slanted window in the cupola.  The image was so indescribably affecting that I though, “aha!  This is why people build cathedrals; people can fathom God when it is dressed up so nicely!”  Of course that only underlined just how superficial I really am.  I’ve struggled with this realization that I only find the divine in things that are beautiful.  And yet, I wonder if this is really so different from people who shape their lives around a conception of God as a force more special than anything else.  The God they imagine is benevolence and all that is right in the world – what are these if not pure beauty?  The God I entertain as possibility is one whose doorway is graced with art.  I cannot picture what lies beyond, but I’m sure that Irving Berling’s “Cheek to Cheek” will be there to greet me if ever I happen to cross the threshhold.


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