Beauty and Religion

Hat tip to Deborah Gyapong as she found another article inspiring. So do I.

The person in question is particularly interested in the cinema. Indeed, it is frustrating to see a great film only to find that a portrayal of a priest or liturgical ceremony is totally wrong – simply because they didn’t have the right advisor. There is no excuse, because some films about churchmen are excellent, for example The Cardinal made back in 1963. I love good films as much as anyone else, but there are also other aspects of art and beauty both inside and outside the Church’s liturgy.

I say it another another time, that we who are sensitive to these things need to take our distance from the “world” as the monks do. I do use modern gadgets and machines – I can’t avoid them, but I keep as much distance as possible. Another thing is to keep out of towns as much as possible and close to nature. At the kind time, we have to be open to people and kind, not scowling or aloof. The balance is difficult to find.

For artists, there is scarcely any outlet for art and human sensitivity. I spent some years in my late teens and early twenties as a church organist, wherever the priest and people in charge of the parish had some aesthetic sensitivity in those brutalist days of the 1970’s (perhaps less brutalist than now). Since then, I have discovered the joy of making music outside church in chamber group singing and composing music for this kind of work. I have just completed another miniature of a setting of a stanza by the poet John Keats to go with In pace in idipsum for our concert next December. I hope also to do a song or two for my wife with piano accompaniment. Keep it small and simple, and it has a chance of getting performed!

As a young layman in the Church of England, most of my churchgoing was in cathedrals unless I was playing the organ, directing a choir or singing in a parish. Most parish churches, face it, are somewhat pedestrian and tedious. I found it that much worse in the Roman Catholic Church and even in some of the traditionalist places doing the old liturgy.

People need to be encouraged to soar high in whatever they have the talent to do. It is something to do with what Jung called individuation – learning to be ourselves and accept our difficulties. Most art involves a degree of acquired technique, but the basis has to be there in the first place, together with a determination to work hard and do our stuff – actually complete and achieve something. We can start small to build up our self-confidence, then we find out what we can do, and build on that. This is something I found with composition. I had no self-confidence and remained “blocked” for so many years. I’m sure the stuff I am producing wouldn’t stand up to the critics, since I “lack originality” in my Renaissance and post-Romantic sensitivities. I don’t care, if I give something beautiful to those able to receive it.

Indeed, any art is hard work, grit and self-discipline – rather like Lent in the Christian life. We need to be scoured out and get rid of the non-essential to find our true selves. That is true humility, not the kind of negativeness one often finds in spiritual writers.

Film making is an art too, but not one I know anything about. It has its acquired techniques and the flair of a born cinema producer. My own talents don’t lie there.

Deborah Gyapong quotes:

I think of the loss of the sense of the beautiful as one of the great heresies in the Church in the modern age. It has been devastating particularly because it undermines all of our efforts at evangelization. What good does it do to tell people that the Holy Spirit is Wisdom and Power in a hymn or movie that is lame and pedestrian?

Indeed, that is so right. If I were not a priest, I don’t know what I would do in the way of going to church (mine is the only ACC place of worship in this country). Perhaps I would go to a monastery, though nothing but Gregorian chant is gruelling, especially in the Dom Gajard / Mlle Denise Lebon tradition! What does someone do when there is more spirituality in secular music than in the churches? Perhaps that is how others feel about my odd way of celebrating Mass, otherwise they would be coming in droves. They don’t. Many of the things “they” like just kill me! That’s life…

There is not only the beauty produced by human art. There is also the natural world beloved of so many generations of Romantics and sensitive souls. We have the sea, the mountains, the forests and deserts, all depending on which parts of the world we live in. I have the soaring chalk cliffs and the English Channel, very similar to England’s south coast, except with the wind coming “the other way” – and a sailing boat to enjoy it all. Philistines are often insensitive to nature and respecting the environment.

We are now out of Lent and in what the Eastern Orthodox call Bright Week. Perhaps some of us could work on our writing skills, buy some tubes of paint, canvas and easel and some paintbrushes – and try it, and persevere. I am sure that many of you readers once played the piano or the violin in far-off days, and the instrument lies idle in your homes. We are each and every one responsible for resisting the culture of i-pads and mobile phones that do everything except make tea! Even with bashing away on a keyboard, just as I’m doing now, we can begin to wonder if we could write by hand any longer or even read a book! It is up to us.

I would love to read some comments from people deciding to take something up, do what they wanted to do as children, having the courage to do something about it.

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