I’m writing what may appear to some readers an unnecessarily abstract piece. But I believe it’s a good thing to rethink root convictions from time to time.
In 1999 Pope John Paul II wrote “Letter to Artists.”
The letter is inspiring and profoundly insightful, a solid foundation for a dialog about the ongoing conceptualization and design of our Cathedral Arts.
Some of the Pope’s fundamentals:
· The artist is inspired by the Creator Spirit. She imitates consciously or unconsciously the great acts of creation recorded in the Bible (and one might add in the sacred literature of many religions and spiritual communities).
· The artist is always involved in a process of self-discovery and of revelation, finding the deepest grounds of her being and gifting them to others.
· The artist works always for the renewal of the common good, even if her art takes the form of harsh cultural critique.
· The artist’s work keeps alive a sense of mystery. The Pope: “ . . . a momentary glimpse of the abyss of light which has its original wellspring in God.”
The Pope provides a history of the glories of spiritual art from the Byzantine era to the present. Of great interest to us who worship at a great Gothic cathedral are the Pope’s words about “. . . the soaring splendors of the Gothic,” forms that “ portray not only the genius of the artist but the soul of a people. In the play of light and shadow, in forms at times massive, at times delicate” these forms create “the tensions peculiar to the experience of God, the mystery both ‘awesome’ and ‘alluring.’”
Nothing so beautifully expresses this experience as the music of our Cathedral Choir of Men and Boys.
Beauty is a watchword for the Pope, a means of transcendence, but he knows that modernity has brought us art “marked by the absence of God and often by opposition to God.” How does Cathedral Arts confront this grim contemporary reality? Here is my thought.
To begin, we confirm our spiritual ground. Every person who picks up a paint brush, arranges words, sings, dances, and does so with the serious intention of discovering and expressing a unique self and offering it to her fellow humans is an artist possessed of a divine spark. We reserve distinct celebration of artists and artworks past and present that bear witness to the endless quest for spiritual fulfillment.
But for those many contemporary artists and their works that seem spiritually barren or even a violation of the spirit, we reject nothing. We take the position that the artist is unconsciously crying out to fill a spiritual lack. She yearns to commune with the Creator Spirit, to discover and reveal an inviolable self, to join herself to that long train of seeker artists that winds through the centuries. We say to her we need you. Come to us. The absence you feel we have felt and often still feel. And you need us. We offer you, however imperfect and incomplete, a homeland of the soul.