Reflections on Only the Lover Sings, Chapter 2

The art of God

There are a great many things to see. Josef Pieper in Only the Lover Sings, section two titled “Learning to see again,” discusses the need for us to see and the great poverty that occurs when we are no longer able to see the world as it is really is, in its depths, in its glory, as the work that reflects the hand of the artist, God himself.

It must be a great and magnificent world we live in. Why should this modern age in America be so numb to the transcendent, the glorious? Instead of beauty, so much “modern art” reflects disgust and the trouble within the human spirit. It is the noise of the age that makes it difficult, Pieper astutely points out.

“Yet one reason must not be overlooked either: the average person of our time loses the ability to see because there is too much to see! There does exist something like “visual noise” which just like the acoustical counterpart, makes clear perception impossible.”

He wrote these words in 1950. Had he even written these words in 1980 there would still be a vast difference between then and now. How much more noise is present with our internet-age, our smartphone-age? With the constant barrage of advertisements and visual noise it is no wonder we are so uncomfortable with silence.

“At stake here is this: How can man be saved from becoming a totally passive consumer of mass-produced goods and a subservient follower beholden to every slogan the managers may proclaim?”

There is a large segment of the population very much taken up in this passive consumption, totally unaware that so much of the personal business is guided by the business of advertising. All of our precious social media websites are ultimately about making money for the creator or company that runs them.

I will acknowledge though, a thread of hope that runs throughout: the power of the news. Though many are still taking their news from those companies who, at the end of the day, hope to make a profit, there is a great wealth of information now being shared to get a clearer, more informed picture to people. Likewise the DIY movement, the homesteading movement, the homeschooling movement. There is a lot at work now in society very much focused on creation. Perhaps those involved have grown weary of the noise, of the profiteering, and recognize in the silence and stillness of earth and home, joy can be found.

Another thought stirs me as I read this chapter. Mother Theresa said, “The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty — it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There’s a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.”

Pieper calls our inability see as the most abject poverty. What do we fail to see most, with the visual noise, the clutter, the consumerism? We fail to see the human person. Is there any greater art? Is there any greater creation than the intricate, wild, free-willed, rational human person?

Christ could look at the woman at the well and see her. He possessed, as Pieper describes it, “a deeper and more receptive vision, a more intense awareness, a sharper and more discerning understanding, a more patient openness for all things quiet and inconspicuous, an eye for things previously overlooked.”

We can possess this too. Pieper, indeed, does not describe this possession as being that of Christ’s, but necessary for any man. In my field, where we work using a set of scientific tools artistically applied, those who are big in the business can look at a person and instantly take in a great deal of information about that person. We are trained to look and to look deeply, take it in and then process in order to understand this person.

“In short: the artist will be able to perceive with new eyes the abundant wealth of all visible reality, and, thus challenged, additionally acquires the inner capacity to absorb into his mind such an exceedingly rich harvest. The capacity to see increases.”

I know Pieper is talking about art. My mind continues to go back to the work. It is the same act. Each client I encounter is a gift to me. It is a gift to know him or her, to see into their world, to feel their pain, and to celebrate their joys. I have to move silently, listening, watching, waiting, not putting forth my own thoughts, but rather seeing the world as they see it. Only then can I really help them.

Perhaps this is why the field suffers so at times, or so with particular practitioners. If they cannot see the person as art, cannot see the One who created this client, then there is little hope, there are only techniques. It would be the person with eyes to see, who could guide that suffering soul to the heights for which God has made them, at least to see those heights exist and that they are worthy to approach them. Then God’s grace will guide them the rest of the way. We are so broken. We have lost the vision of ourselves.

Learning to see.

What is man that thou art mindful of him,
and the son of man that thou dost care for him?

Yet thou hast made him little less than God,” (Ps 8, 4-5)

One of the greatest things we can do is to see this in each other.

To live out this call, this necessary skill, one does not need to be a writer, a sculptor, a painter. What is art? What is leisure? It is something we are all capable of possessing. I look into the faces of my children. Their faces light up. As I receive what my eyes set upon, they come alive and provide a great show. I can contemplate their beauty.

The noise, the distraction, prevents all this.

Visual noise. I have long thought about this. Having a cellphone simply present on a table is correlated with more superficial conversation than when no cellphone is visible. Using a laptop in a classroom setting changes the dynamic dance of knowledge from teacher to student. We become machines, consuming, spitting out data.

Here is a moment. We stood at the fence when Pope Benedict XVI would pass by. I decided I would not take a picture. I would look. I would take it in. He looked right in my direction. I still see his gaze, as if upon me and me alone. I have seen many photographs of the man. But that moment is in my heart.


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