Perhaps it was my vision of music heard in a forest, piano notes calling someone up the path through the front door of a historic mansion to a salon where a young man was playing Beethoven; perhaps it was my recent meditation on poetry and prose and what the difference was, my wondering as to what art was, what spirit was, what man was, thoughts triggered by Jacques Barzun’s The Culture We Deserve; perhaps it was the unique “audition” in church today, the listening and comparison of a new electronic organ and our old pipe organ, the latter long in need of repair.
Perhaps it was all these things, and even as well it might have been the smooth ride, flight, through the new Caldecott shiny silver tunnel, the spanking fourth bore, our wheels spinning along as though we passed through a bullet chamber and shot out on the other side; whatever the reasons, I sensed this morning in church a sudden coming together of beauty, goodness, and truth, a vivid moment of heaven as the priest said, approaching me along the altar rail with the golden chalice, “The Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was shed for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life…”
The sense of intense beauty could also have been our coming in from the cold outside, coming into the warm nave with its red carpet leading to the great marble altar with its medieval Christ above, the giant flaming candlesticks framing the tented tabernacle. It could have come from the shimmering images of red, green, and blue stained glass that filtered the outside light, pulling it, transformed, into the inside. I was in the beauty of all of it, part of it, for I was kneeling with the Host, His Body, in my ordinary fleshy open palm, waiting for the priest with the chalice.
Being a participant in a poem, particularly a real and true one, is no small thing. But it seems to me that we are all poets, that a poet is a person who sees life, or simply desires to. The desire itself opens the door to seeing, noticing. The expression of what is seen (felt, heard, even learned in sudden epiphanies) we call a poem if the words are arranged in a distilled fashion, a closely knit pattern of images sculpted with care, with love, images colorful, powerful, and perfectly chosen. The reader of poetry often says, “Yes!” or “Aha, that’s it!” or “I couldn’t have said it better, she has it! She gets it! She sees life. She has shown me myself.”
Simon Humphries, in his introduction to Christina Rossetti’s Poems and Prose, seems to separate her faith from her poetry, as though such a surgical operation were desired or necessary. He writes as though apologizing for her. He admits we really can’t separate these things, and of course he’s right. But more to the point, faith is poetry and poetry is faith. The spiritual impulse is the creative impulse. Believers are poets. Religious man is artistic man. A poem with Christian themes and symbols weaving through its stanzas is no different in this sense than a poem with agnostic or Muslim or Hindu themes and symbols. Every poet has many aspects that make up his or her character, his or her spirit. Everyone has a belief system of some sort, and if not Christian, then pantheistic or nihilistic or often despairing. These aspects are not separate layers informing the poems, to be peeled away, but are intrinsic to them.
So the more I work with words and writing and images and the creation of characters, the forming of human beings on pages, the more I realize that all of it is spiritual, all of it is poetic. Which is why all forms of art are spiritual expressions of some kind, expressions of the inner desires of man (and woman). We are spiritual beings. So I want to explore musical art in my writing a bit more, explore the sound on the ear, the enormous pull of the heart made by not just the melody, the beat, the instrument, but the words too. Hymns entrance me for they are poems set to music, and not just any music, but Beethoven, Hayden, Mozart.
And then there is the organ. Yes, I said with my eyes as I glanced at my husband sitting next to me, I can hear the difference between the pipe organ and the electronic one. But even so both sounded spectacular, filling our warm nave and sanctuary, bursting upon the rows of pews and the ears of each of us, the electronic notes bundled and funneled through the speakers, the pipe organ notes singing through each pipe and meeting in my ear. The Mass was over and it was serious listening time, serious comparison time. We listened. We compared. And we sat with one another together, the Body of Christ, bathed in this moment of glory, bathed in the creative and artistic love of God pouring through those notes.
Dorothy Sayers wrote a book called The Mind of the Maker, in which, as I recall, she describes the artist as being a creator as God creates, and in this sense, full of a inspire-ation. I think we all have this seed in us, we all desire to create, to impact our world with ourselves. If we are Christians, we desire to create beauty, truth, goodness. If we are not Christians, we desire to create something else, something that might have these things or might not. If we are Christians we want to reflect the love of God, if not preach it; we desire to distill themes of selflessness and sacrifice; we seek to give order to the chaos around us, to provide meaning where confusion corrupts.
So my vision of a pianist playing Beethoven in a forest, the jeweled and poignant notes calling me to follow the path to the open door and into the salon of sounds, remains. In the meantime I shall enter the front doors of our parish church, kneel against the shiny oak pews, pray alongside the walls of shimmering stained glass, and fall into the color and song of worship, a beautifully real Sunday poem in which I can reside for an hour.