Reflection on Only the Lover Sings, Chapter 5, Talk 3

We come to the final section of Josef Pieper’s book, Only the Lover Sings, a series of reflections on art and contemplation. Follow the links to read my reflections on Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, and Chapter 4. Below is my reflection on the third talk of this final section.

Vita Contemplativa—The Contemplative Life

Contemplation, c. 1875 by Thomas Couture (French, 1815 – 1879)

What is contemplation?

“It’s immediate and direct meaning indicates seeing, beholding, perceiving some reality

“…To contemplate means first of all to see—and not to think!

“…Also contains a special intensified way of seeing. – The gift of retaining and preserving in one’s own memory whatever has been visually perceived.”

“…it certainly perceives more than mere appearances.”

To see and not to think. Thus are more of the Church’s mystics women rather than men. There is something in the nature of woman that enables her to simply sit, to enjoy, to delight. She does it most naturally with her children, perhaps in a quieter age. So this features opens her up more easily to contemplate, to actively receive, to see the divine. Man is able as well, but woman has a particular inclination to simply sit and watch and see. Typically, man would analyze, and act.

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See how she delights in nature, while he is actively destroying it.

I am not so simply made that I think this is always the case. My incredible levels of energy cause me to do quite often. But I see between my husband and myself a difference. Although I am the achiever and one more likely to want to discuss, between us, I am the one who can more easily sit with the children, just sit, not think, just be and watch.

This piercing of the word contemplation also calls to mind my work, as in an earlier section. I must sit and contemplate the information and the person presented to me.

“The eyes see better when guided by love; a new dimension of “seeing” is opened up by love alone! And this means contemplation is visual perception prompted by loving acceptance!”

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Vincent VanGogh, Women Miners Carrying Coal, 1881-82

“And yet, nothing in this affirming closeness to reality smacks of false idealization, nothing is embellished as if all reality were wholesome and without rough edges.”

I think back to an earlier reflection on the art of the work I do, working with people. I must see them as they are, with love, in order to give them what will really help them. It is not uncommon for me by myself to take a moment after meeting with a troubled client to contemplate the story they have shared. I do not analyze it. I take it in, I let it “simmer” so to speak. Inspiration comes.

“Those who have seen enough…who are satisfied with the outward appearance of things, may easily be content with contriving some smooth and crowd-pleasing yet shallow fabrication.”

 I hear stories often about therapists who have not been helpful, who have rambled or given simple strategies but not fully entered into the story the client has shared. I suppose they have seen enough.

We cannot contemplate in a crowd. It calls for silence, for us to be alone. I have always needed to see art alone. I am an extrovert. I am too inclined too talk, too inclined to awareness of the feelings of those around me. When I am alone, I could stay and look and remember that the art evokes. I could really take time for prayer.

the mission:

If we grant Pieper the truth of his statements, art becomes a teaching tool for children. If children are surrounded by beautiful art and given space from technology and media, they will have the opportunity to recall, to allow the great art to resonate inside them before they even have words to recognize it. They will be too young to sit and contemplate. But if we believe it to be true, opportunities will create a greater facility to contemplate and to love, to understand deeper mysteries of the universe. It is a tall order, but if we believe it to be true, it can do great things.

It will do great things if we allow our senses to be restored to the real. First, the church’s were stripped of their art, their tactile and aural references to the divine. Second, technology came about to help facilitate active participation by project song lyrics on the blank wall. The artist in me recoils at the thought! When people desired some color or change to the building, they hung plain banners, for art had grown too foreign and expensive in the culture. Or too ugly.

But art has great power. Harnessing that power, bringing art and beauty back into the life of the Everyman, we can re-awake his consciousness to the divine. He can see again and be reminded that life is more than simply the task at hand or the news on the screen. There could be hope. There could be joy. There could be a festival.

Reflection on Only the Lover Sings, Chapter 5, Talk 2

We come to the final section of Josef Pieper’s book, Only the Lover Sings, a series of reflections on art and contemplation. Follow the links to read my reflections on Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, and Chapter 4. Below is my reflection on the second talk of this final section.

Those “Guests at the Festival”

In the first section of Only the Lover Sings, Pieper explores the nature of a feast and the ability to celebrate a feast. He described the “festive contemplation of universal realities and their sustaining reasons” as the key to leisure. In this section he tells us, the festive character is “at the same time the remembrance of primordial bliss and the anticipation of future fulfillment.” It is for this task we need the poet and the artist. Understanding the celebration of feasts, Pieper finds the “connection between fine arts and festival becomes evident. Both build on a loving acceptance of the world and of human existence.”

“What good are poets in barren times?” he quotes. Indeed. This line strikes me, as Pieper interprets these barren times to be those times when we have lost the ability to celebrate a feast, to be at leisure, to contemplate our original state, the purpose for which we live, and the promise that lies before us. I feel myself living in these barren times.

In a rural land, little time is spent in such leisurely pursuits. The questions seem superfluous to many, as do the arts. Why would you drive a distance, spend two hours listening to an orchestra when you could be home, doing something? Music in the liturgy becomes utilitarian, meant for people to participate, rather than an instrument to lead us to contemplation. Barren times. When one is struggling to fulfill the bottom levels of the hierarchy of needs, he cannot see any benefit to those spiritual pursuits which seem so distant from his immediate needs.

And yet, we are not so rural here. We go to grocery stores, have neighbors within fifty feet, do not own livestock. Yet the mindset persists. It can be so difficult for an artist to find their place in a town, where neither religion or community tradition occupy the central space of culture, only existence, one step to the next, one click to the next, mindlessly, numbingly walking through life without stopping observe the flowers in bloom or the warmth of the sun. Barren times.

The hierarchy of needs it not fully accurate because we are made by God. Therefore the spiritual can imbue each level with life, making up for deficits. Suffering at each level becomes filled with meaning and is then bearable. So art and beauty at any level are a benefit to man, they can remind him of a life worth fighting for.

Chinese peasant painting, Lantern Festival, kids
Watching Lanterns by Wang Jinxi

 

 

 

Reflection on Only the Lover Sings, Chapter 5, Talk 1

We come to the final section of Josef Pieper’s book, Only the Lover Sings, a series of reflections on art and contemplation. Follow the links to read my reflections on Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, and Chapter 4. In my attempt to finish this reflection, I come to realize I need to divide my posts it into two separate reflections.

Three talks in a sculptor’s studio

On a special occasion, Pieper presents this series of three talks in the studio of a sculptor. In his first talk, he considers the mythology of the Muses, who inspire remembrance. Remembrance of what?

“Something that all too readily is ignored and “lost”—precisely because it is ‘different’ —yet must not be forgotten if our existence is to remain truly human.”

Giovanni Strazza’s Veiled Virgin

Art evokes a memory in us of paradise, of what it truly means to be human. As there are “large areas of reality in danger of being thus forgotten” the role of the artist is revealed with greater depth.

“Here we somehow sense the artist’s inner relationship to the priest, who is called, above all, to keep alive the remembrance of a face that our intuition just barely perceives behind all immediate and tangible reality—the face of the God-man, bearing the marks of a shameful execution.”

Goethe refers to the artist as “someone called to be the custodian and eager herald of an avowed sacred reality.”

First, the artist:

What a massive undertaking! The risk of distraction, losing direction and aim arises. An artist may have great technical skill, but if the artwork lacks substance, “such a product, above all, contains no remembrance nor any power to elicit remembrance, and thus has nothing to do with the Muses.” The artist must shield himself from the numbing of thought and attention that occurs when one takes in the culture and the life on the internet and the endless onslaught of images. A good artist would have to take to the hills or to the sea; to seek solitude as Anne Morrow Lindbergh reminds us, in order to reach that quiet place inside oneself, where one can breathe and create again. We cannot remember in constant noise. We cannot create. We must retreat. The artist will not find his muse without the quiet of his studio, his interior hide-a-way.

What if he does not? What is the danger other than banality? Ugliness. And I don’t mean modernity, but the kind of image that makes one desire to turn away and erase it from their mind. Because art is a powerful thing. The ugliness by an artist who has ceased to believe that life matters, that there is purpose and meaning, invites the viewer into his emptiness and says “you belong here too.”

I think there is devastating art by artists full of despair, but their art reveals a longing for something greater.

Old Man in Sorrow (On the Threshold of Eternity) by Vincent van Gogh

It is that art which has no longing that hurts us, that I refer to. Sigrid Undset is a beloved author of mine, author of Kristin Lavransdatter and The Master of Hestviken. Before those novels, before her conversion, she wrote a novel called Jenny. I would describe the plot as watching the deterioration of a young woman, and it is devastating. Undset’s insight into the person is remarkable, but at the end I am shaken. I experienced a similar feeling after watching Revolutionary Road, a film about the deterioration of a marriage.

Second, the viewer:

Turning from the ugly to the banal. We can recognize such art. If one is sensitive to this sight, or remembrance, he or she will find that art without substance evokes nothing. It leaves us empty, without reaction.

Our Lady of Grace Painting

It’s nice, but does it leave us with any other feeling? Doesn’t our Lady look bored? I imagine the church goers who feel the same. They simply sit. Nothing stirs them. Some preachers simply speak louder and for a moment might have their attention. But when the preacher’s speech is banal, the viewer settles back into his pew.

When in town to interview for graduate school, I wandered around the Smithsonian museum. I happened upon a replica of this piece, The Kiss. I was so struck by it, I paused and took it in. Oughtn’t I be embarrassed by it? But I was not. It was beautiful, striking, and spoke to something deep inside. The passion with which she holds him, the delicacy of his hand which slightly touches her, but will not grasp. The artist, inspired by his muse, whether he realizes it or not, recalls the original innocence and self-gift John Paul II illuminates in the Theology of the Body. I do not think I have ever seen a more beautiful statue, and this photograph hardly does it justice.

The Kiss, marble sculpture by Auguste Rodin, 1886; in the Rodin Museum, Paris.

I should use a closer comparison to the bored Virgin Mary, now. Below is Bouguereau’s Piet, which you can see in San Francisco’s Legion of Honor.

Bouguereau’s Piet

Great art must be view in person. It is only in person that can you can be drawn into the depth of her suffering in her eyes, into the largeness of her suffering by examining the weight of Christ upon her. This is art with substance, which recalls, which invokes.

 

Reflections on Only the Lover Sings, Chapter 4

Below you find my reflection on the fourth section, titled Music and Silence, of Josef Pieper’s book, Only the Lover Sings. Click here for reflections on Chapter 1, Chapter 2 and Chapter 3.

Music and Silence

“Music opens up a great, perfectly dimensioned space of silence within which, when things come about happily, a reality can dawn which ranks higher than music.”

Music creates a listening silence wherein we are opened up to the divine. It clears the channel of noise, distraction and thought so we might receive.

1 Kings 19:11-13

11 And he said, “Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. 13 And when Eli′jah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him, and said, “What are you doing here, Eli′jah?”

God is to be heard in the quiet, in the receptive, listening silence.

This is why music is essential to the liturgy. Youth programs such as Life Teen and the National Evangelization Team understand this powerful role of music to lift the heart to God. It seems the music one encounters at a typical Sunday liturgy ignores this fact. Jennifer Fitz, who is wonderful at saying it as it is, acknowledges part of the problem is choice. Some parishioners or priests, whoever it is who makes these decisions at some parishes simply do not want better music. We have experienced that. There may be many psychological reasons for it, but it comes down to a lack of openness and a lack of recognition of what the fine arts have to offer.

The self/we-centered hymns of OCP keep one firmly grounded, they do not open us up to a listening silence that goes beyond the music itself.

Considering more on silence, let us contrast this power of music with Edward Munch’s, The Scream, discussed by Daniel Siedell via a Peter J. Leithart post on First Things. The Scream, we read, expresses Munch’s desperate silence scream through art.

“The painting is ‘the sound of our response to nature’s brute silence and indifference, undisclosed as gift through God’s Word’ (21).”

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The Scream – an 1895 lithograph

There is a silence that is a barricaded silence, a solitary silence, a silence in which you find you are truly alone. Then there is the silence that is peace, rest, respite, hushed, that opens our hearts to hear the word of God.

Pieper describes the former which is the “malignant absence of words which already in our present common existence is a parcel of damnation. Isn’t this the silence we, in this society, are so afraid of? With the constant distraction, I’m not sure I agree with those who say we are afraid of silence because are afraid to look inside. Many are, it is true, fearful of that introspection found in silence. But I think, for many who do not know God or the celebration of life made possible by the knowledge of a life beyond this life, the silence is a frightful fearful thing because it is empty. It embodies the scream, the solitary life without meaning.

Fine music opens the heart and mind. The silence is not empty and so need not be a cause for fear. One must be willing to listen. When one is ready to listen. The use of music as a path to interior silence must not be underestimated as a tool for evangelization.

Reflections on Only the Lover Sings, Chapter 3

Continuing the conversation as I read Only the Lover Sings, by Josef Pieper.

Thoughts about music

What do we perceive when we listen to music with the ‘right ears’?”

I have been married five and a half years. My husband is a musician. He is the kind of musician who breathes music, who writes music more fluidly than he writes English, whose vision and life goal is to be an old man with a beard, quietly writing music in his study, preferably at the top of a tower. For at least three of these years I have nagged him with the question, why does music strike the listener so?

As a lover of the field of psychology, the words of “why” and “human” come together so frequently, it is for me as musical sounds are for my husband. In the invaluable Hitchcock movie, The Wrong Man, Manny says he likes to figure, like many musicians, he seems to be good at numbers. That’s the type of musician my husband is.

From The Wrong Man

 

So when I ask the questions, “why does ‘Let it go’ capture so many people?” “Why does ‘O God beyond all Praising’ give me chills?” “Why does —- sound so ugly?” he gave answers here and there, but it never quite satisfied. We were both looking at the music through a theoretical-scientific approach. I even thought it would be good to research the brain studies done while listening to music. That might open the door.

Along came Josef Pieper. It appears, it is not a scientific question at all, but a philosophical question. After all, if it can give you chills, if it can make you weep, if there is just that something about it, it must speak to that something spiritual, where no mathematical or scientific instrument can reach. For this we need, philosophy.

“…thus has the nature of music variously been understood in Western philosophical tradition…as wordless expression of man’s intrinsic dynamism of self-realization, a process understood as man’s journey toward ethical personhood, as manifestation of man’s will in all its aspects, as love.”

This is a revelation to me. Pieper puts into words so perfectly the sense that was just beyond my grasp.

Continuing, because music also involves the role of the artist performing the music, it cannot be divorced from that personhood. We do not only have the potential of music to do that which he describes above but we see music is capable of other things:

“Thus the musical articulation may include a shallow contentment with the facile availability of the cheapest “goods”, the rejection of any ordered structure, the despairing denial that man’s existential becoming as a goal at all or that such a goal could be reached.”

And the other instrument in this dynamic? Music also involves the role of the listener who receives it.

“We now realize why and to what extent music plays a role in man’s formation and perfection—as contribution or hindrance, and both, once again beyond any conscious efforts toward formation, teaching or education.”

I give you the conclusions he reaches, you’ll have to obtain a copy of the book to see the steps yourself. I will have to read this at least three more times to understand them myself. We learn from Pieper that music is related our quest, our movement whether towards perfection or destruction. His next step fascinates me all the more.

“…prompted by the disturbing observation equating the history of Western music with the ‘history of a soul’s degeneration’.”

He references a claim that we can see the development of Western music with the degeneration of the spiritual domain of the person. I’m fascinated by the influence of marketing in American culture for those who do not take their primary culture from their religion or ethnicity. What happens when Black Friday and Superbowl Sunday become the two biggest holidays of the year?

My mind is struck silent and requires meditation to ponder this question. For those whom mass marketing fills the cultural vacuum, what will the impact be with the only music they encounter is that which has been turned out through a marketing machine?

Certainly part of the answer will connect to the “shallow contentment with the facile availability of the cheapest ‘goods'” in this culture of instant gratification. Marketing deepens as music is never waited for. We don’t need people to play before us, we don’t need disc jockeys to hear our song requests. We download it and play it when we like. We don’t need speakers or sound systems. A person’s phone could have better speakers than anything else in their house. He or she can listen anywhere, any time. Instant gratification.

And because music is digital and personalized, it does not require any community to hear it, I can listen on ear buds. I am an island unto myself. When I am lifted up, I am lifted up alone, my feelings are witnessed only by me, they are not shared. And so they need never be defended.

The music of “Let it Go” was transcendent and uplifting. So often popular music is trite or banal or ugly. The message of the words resonates with the anxiety of the age. We are overwhelmed by our world and our responsibilities. Contemporary Christian music is sickly sweet and all to often high enough to make a contra-alto’s vocal chords bleed (or so it feels should I ever attempt to participate through singing). In the anxiety of our age we look for comfort, we want to know we are loved, we are perhaps too anxious to allow ourselves to be accused.

Have you ever heard “God of Mercy and Compassion“? An exquisite rendition can be found on Lent at Ephesus by the Benedictine Sisters. This is amazing stuff. But culturally, we want what is easily accessible. If we are content with that, we will accept what the marketers push at us, and so it deepens.

Click here to read my reflections on Only the Lover Sings, Chapter 1 and Chapter 2

Click on the Literature Tab at the top of the page to see my reflections on other works.

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.

Reflections while reading Only the Lover Sings, Chapter 1

 

 

 

As a child, there was just something different about me, different from the rest of my family and the people I met at church or at school. I hardly knew what that difference was. I enjoyed play outside, like any child. I had a deep imagination and richly patterned tapestries put together during that play. In 5th grade, a friend received attention in class for writing a poem. Desiring the same attention, I began to write poetry. I wrote and wrote and wrote and the thing became something I desired for its own sake. In 6th grade, I began to write stories. I fancied myself a great novelist, destined to be famous. This was an important development from my days of singing loudly in the front yard while I swung on my play set, imagining a radio producer would drive by and discover me.

I wrote and wrote and wrote. Deep imaginative worlds. Richly patterned tapestries. My play dissolved, as is common, in junior high; the writing continued. I did not see at the time how much of myself I put into the main characters of these stories. The stories had to reach 100 pages, because that was the predetermined length I set for myself that would make it a real novel.

In 7th or 8th grade, while staying over at my best friend’s house I stayed up late speaking with her brother, a year or two older than she, who was two or three years old than me. There was something about that conversation, which I can no longer remember, that changed forever how I wrote. I learned about detail and description in that conversation. Now my tapestries were no longer patterned only in my head but on the computer screen as well.

With my conversion came an inclination to scruples and rather than my visions of grandeur, I pictured writing as a gift bestowed by God, an emotional outlet, a fantastical escape, a gift which he might choose to take away at any time. Each story I finished, I feared it would be my last.

One day it was my last, a story I began while serving as a missionary, which, if you have been reading this blog are familiar with. Called A Girl and Her King, it follows my adventures in prayer, not much else. It is neither descriptive nor imaginative, I think, but felt inspired as I wrote. I’ve not written any fiction since, though I have since learned that God is not the type of giver I once imagined him.

Beyond that story, which is a treasure to me, there are only three stories I would care to look back on. The first is called Mary’s Fairytale, about a girl who has no family and whose young brother whom she cared for died suddenly. She is alone and searching for meaning in the world. She finds Christ.

The second is Velveteen. The main character, also a girl, also lonely, at odds with her sister, who seeks meaning and purpose, a place in life where she is wanted and useful. She longs to see again a girl the family fostered for a short time who ran away. The girl represents everything the main character wants, the freedom to think and dream in a world where reality has made dreams unbearable.

The last is The Story of Marin. This story was an enigma to me for a long time. I find genuine ugliness in it, hopelessness, and sin. I shared the storyline with a fellow missionary, admitting that I had no idea how to finish the story, it seemed hopeless. I discovered the potential of relationships while serving that year, and in that sisterhood, I discovered a fulfilling relationship much needed by the main character. That relationship became a place of hope to lead her out of the darkness of her life.

In that year of missionary work, I also encountered people, in Oregon, who opened my eyes to the possibility that there were others like me: artists, poets. What is it exactly? That ability to see the world differently that makes some tasks others like so un-fulfilling and other tasks which bore to some to tears utterly engaging?

 

Josef Pieper seems to have some answers. In our book club we have begun reading Only the Lover Sings. In the first chapter, or essay rather, better yet, reflection, he explores the meaning of leisure and the claim by Aristotle “We work so we can have leisure.”

 

“For nothing less it at stake here than the ultimate fulfillment of human existence.”

 

“There do exist activities that are meaningful without being either work or mere respite (from work, for more work).” These are the liberal arts which are meaningful in themselves. Leisure is not mere play. It is the thing that sets us apart from animals. He does not say this here, but it is the thing that comes after the first few levels of the hierarchy of needs are fulfilled. It is the purpose for which we continue to invent machines to ease life’s burdens. It is art, as he calls it first, the liberal arts and they are the work that is meaningful in itself, not work done out of usefulness, to serve some other good.

 

He gives us two preconditions for work to be meaningful in itself.

  1. Receptive openness and attentive silence (unlike the concentrated exertion of work).
  2. Man’s willing acceptance of the ultimate truth “awareness of being in harmony with these fundamental realities and surrounded by them.” This acceptance enables man to celebrate a feast, to engage in leisure.

 

“Wherever the arts are nourished through the festive contemplation of universal realities and their sustaining reasons, there in truth something like a liberation occurs: the stepping-out into the open under an endless sky, not only for the creative artist himself but for the beholder as well, even the most humble.”

 

This was my experience writing. This was art for me. Though my imagination has cooled and the fantasies calmed, I still look at the world, look out my window and see the spiritual interwoven with the physical. I can sit and gaze, it does me no harm to do so, causes me no boredom. I decorate to create an interior space in which I can do this, gaze at the wall and take in the beauty of a particular color, or the shape of an arrangement.

And I write again. I photograph again. I look for the image, wait for the word to come, seek to find that inner voice which spills so willingly out my fingers while I type. It comes too quickly for my typing skill and so my words are usually riddled with errors. Oddly enough, the same happens when I write by hand.

I do not know if I should share more of my writing. I look back on it as child’s play, as I do the games with imaginary horses I played during recess on the playground. I’m not plagued with those visions of grandeur. Rather, it is a blank slate; I do not know what to think about it, except that it is special to me. Your responses are helpful. Your comments welcome. It is a pleasure for me to spill some digital ink before you, and I hope a welcome gift for you.