Artist and Musician Tribute
Mar 15, 2018
In today’s first reading King Cyrus boasts of rebuilding the ruined Temple of the Lord.
More than a building made of the finest gold, gems and stone...there is no greater, no more sacred Temple than us. As Saint Paul insists: 19Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20you were bought at a price. Therefore glorify God with your body.
This is why we hear Saint Paul say today: For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance.
We know that Jesus Christ is the Word of God…and we also know that from the creation account in Genesis, God spoke everything into existence. Using that one word…an imaginative and creative power that is infinite in scope, He created this awesome universe…and because of the Incarnation that power has been placed within man and woman…perhaps nowhere more beautifully and creatively than in the artists and musicians whose talents and lives we celebrate and honor today.
We know the power that words have. The pen is mightier than the sword…but perhaps the mightiest and most inspired use of words is when they are put to music. Are there not 150 Songs or Psalms in Scripture? Regardless of one’s culture, music has always had an intoxicating effect upon people so strong that often their souls give visible expression to this power through bodily movement we call dance.
One of the greatest authors of the 20th century was JRR Tolkien whose works the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings are well-known…but lesser known is his work entitled the Silmirallian which lays the foundation for the epic middle earth tale told in those novels.
Like the divinely inspired Genesis author, Tolkien penned his own creation account of his literary universe…and rather than having it spoken, Tolkien’s universe was a symphony of enticing sounds that produced a wonderfully visible and material universe.
Listen to these passages.
Eru (who would be God) conceived the Ainur (the Angels) from his thought and taught each of them how to make music. The observance of their brethren singing taught each Angel more about the others and the mind of God. Their "unity and harmony" thus increased, and eventually, He told them that they would be allowed to weave their own thoughts and ideas into this Music, since they had been kindled with the Flame Imperishable (Our Holy Spirit) and thus had the power of creativity.
Their voices, like the sound of harps and trumpets and choirs, passed "beyond hearing" into the depths and heights of sound. The great Music filled the Timeless Halls and passed beyond them into the Void, so that it "was not void".
But soon, faults entered into the great hymn as a result of the discords of Melkor, an Angel whose thoughts had become strange and unlike those of his brethren. God had given the Ainur permission to weave their own ideas into the Music, but Melkor's thoughts actually clashed against God's Themes, because Melkor wanted to "increase the power and glory of the part assigned to himself".
These discords of Melkor (who we know to be God’s once brightest and best Archangel Lucifer, now the hideously ugly dragon Satan) became evident in his music and dismayed those around him, and many faltered in their singing or else attuned their song to his. And as our Scripture reports then War broke out in Heaven and Lucifer and many of the Angels would lose their place there and come crashing to the earth and impose their disharmony, discord and ugliness upon it.
At that point, Eru responded by rising from his seat. It seemed to the Ainur that he then smiled. After his reaction to the Music, a new Theme began amid the chaos.
He then spoke to the Ainur about the Music and the consequences that would arise from any attempts to bring discord into it, as Melkor had done. To show them the result of their actions, he led them into the Void and spoke, "Behold your Music!" The Ainur saw a vision of what their song had created—"a World that was globed amid the Void... but was not of it". Even the discords of Melkor contributed to the glorious beauty of this creation.
The Ainur were amazed when the Children of God came into this vision, for they were a part of Eru's plan that had not been revealed to them before the Music was played. The Children were sung into being by God Himself.
The creation of man was reserved exclusively to God Himself as His supreme masterpiece. More than all the beauty and light and power of the Angels and universe combined, we are the perfect expression of the magnificent artistic genius of God.
Do we not boast to our human credit the Fullness of Grace who is the Blessed Virgin Mary from whose body this same author of all creation came forth yet always remaining the God in whose image we are created from? But to be like God, is a power especially entrusted to musicians and artists.
For example, of all the marvelous images that crowd the immense complex of the Sistine Chapel Ceiling in Rome, The Creation of Adam is undoubtedly the one which has most deeply impressed people. Here we are given a single overwhelming vision of the sublimity of God and the potential nobility of man unrivaled in the history of visual art.
The Lord floats through the heavens, His mantle widespread and bursting with angelic forms, and His calm gaze accompanying and reinforcing the movement of His mighty arm. He extends His forefinger, about to touch that of Adam, who reclines on the barren coast of earth, barely able as yet to lift his hand.
The divine form is explosive and paternal; the human form, receptive, and conspicuously impotent. The contact about to take place between the two index fingers has often been described as a spark or a current considering the river of life and energy which seems about to flow into the waiting body.
That divine spark or current is in anticipation of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ when with more than a forefinger touched to our human nature…the divinity of God touches and electrifies our entire body, heart, mind and soul as well because in Christ God is now Man.
One of the great debates in human history is what the essential nature of art is. At the conclusion of the famous poem ode on a Grecian Urn we hear these lines: “‘Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty,’—that is all/Ye know on earth and all ye need to know.’
As many have agreed regarding its nature: art imitates life. And there is no greater gift that God confers on the universe than life. Jesus says I am the way, the truth and the life...therefore if as the Urn suggests beauty is truth...there is no greater truth than Christ whose Divine Beauty, as the Transfiguration Gospel reminded us a few weeks ago, shines out the most magnificently in and through our human nature, our human body.
We are the beauty of God in bone and flesh...but in order that God’s handiwork be at its absolute best and most beautiful, we must imitate the artist...live our lives and love as Christ does. Art not only imitates life but must come to life. One of my favorite scenes in the movie Night at the Smithsonian is when the Art Gallery section comes to life, like the animated and talkative Degas ballerina. The beautiful and once static art all come to life.
As impressive as that first moment of Man’s creation when he was formed from the mud of the earth, there is no more incredible artistic expression of God’s beauty and love than redeemed Man formed from and perfectly modeled for us by the Master artist Jesus Christ, who created this Masterpiece from the Cross and whose power and enlivening beauty come to Resurrected Life through the Holy Eucharist.
We are to be living and loving and forgiving expressions of God who is perfect life, love, truth and beauty. As we hear these words from Psalm 8:
When I see your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and stars that you set in place—
and a son of man that you care for him?c
6Yet you have made him little less than a god,*
crowned him with glory and honor.
When I was the Chaplain at Notre Dame High School, I tried to model my chaplaincy on their Motto of art imitating real life: Be imitators of Christ...imitation does not mean sameness. Imitation is participation in the life of Christ who empowers us with a capacity for love and creativity whose scope is infinite.
Like the Smithsonian movie...art has come to life within us or rather the artist has...to remove ourselves from God...runs the risk of extinguishing that Divine Spark...and our efforts at living, loving, forgiving become impotent and thus more Melkor like ugliness and darkness will be heaped upon this world that God so loved as to send His only Son and from His Son create and redeem us.
Artists and Musicians dare us to ask ourselves the question...what are we doing to contribute to the harmony and beauty of this world.