9/13/2018 10:28:04 AM
The Baby Elephant in the Narthex
Welcome to the arts and culture blog! In this space I plan to write about all things arts and cultural happening at SOS. Last year, I realized that sometimes we did things that I wanted to expand on – I wanted to explain more to congregational members about where we got the idea to do this, or why we did that, or the liturgical significance of a change we implemented for a special worship. Sometimes there are behind the scenes stories to tell, and I’ll have a few of them in the next few months. I’ll also have some personal reflections on what I encounter out there in the big world, and as part of our church community.
But first, I’d like to address a question that you may be asking and, to be honest, I ask myself sometimes. Rightly or wrongly, I perceive it as the elephant in the sanctuary. Actually, it’s not a huge elephant – so maybe it’s just a baby, hanging out in the narthex. And this baby elephant asks an essential question: Why?
Why do we display art in our church? Why do we care about how liturgical seasons are reflected in the sanctuary? Why do we go to the trouble of coordinating extra musicians to play in worship when we have our own? Why do we bother expressing the many dimensions of the Holy Spirit through movement and dance? Is all this really necessary, or is it just self-serving luxury?
There’s a bunch of smart people at Yale Divinity School who write about this stuff. They should know what they’re talking about, so I read some of their musings. Eloquently and with profound insight, they explained answers that ranged from the mystical to the clinical; from the nature of transcendence to how our individual brains receive and process information. Though I won’t go into detail here, I get what they’re saying and I can’t say I disagree. But something else resonated with me even more. It was a passage I read in Laura Esquivel’s book, The Law of Love.
It’s easy enough to detect disorder in the “real” world; what’s difficult is to discover the hidden order in things that cannot be seen. Few have this power, and among them are artists, who are supreme Reconcilers. With their special perception they decide where on the canvas to place the yellow, blue, and red; where the notes and silences fall; what the first word of the poem should be. They go along fitting these pieces together, guided only by that inner voice telling them, “This goes here,” or “that doesn’t go there,” until the last piece falls into place.
This predetermined ordering of colors, sounds, or words means that a work of art achieves a purpose beyond the simple satisfaction of its creator. It means that even before it is made, it has already been assigned a unique place in the human soul. So when a poet arranges the words of a poem in accordance with Divine Will, he reconciles something within each of us, for his work is in harmony with a cosmic order. As a result, his creation will flow unimpeded through our veins, creating a powerful unifying bond.
Whew, it’s a lot to chew on, and granted, it was in the context of a fantastical story. You may agree or disagree with some of it, or all of it. But I guess that’s part of what I like about it. And I also think there is something beautiful about this passage. For me, it doesn’t provide an answer to the essential question, but starts to reveal its true essence.
So then, why? Because imagination compels the spirit and the spirit inspires creativity. Because beauty is a path to God. Because people experience divine presence in the world in all sorts of different ways. Because without expression of our collective soul we are untethered and disconnected. Those are some of my reasons. And if you have some, they are fair game too.
Baby elephant, we aren’t kicking you out, but you’ll have to move over and make room for us, too.