The Artistic Life of the Faithful

IN MY AUGHT YEARS (that time before teen-dom), somebody in my family left a hamburger on the stove, which proceeded to catch afire. The house didn't burn down, but the whole kitchen billowed with heavy grey smoke. The rest of the day was spent elbow-deep in grease-cutter, wiping down the walls and ceiling. That night I dreamt I was laying on a scaffold, sponge in hand, washing the ceiling when the whole kitchen was transformed into the Sistine Chapel: Before me spread Michelangelo's frescoes-acres and acres of them-all needing to be cleaned!

Even at such a tender age I seemed to have absorbed whole worlds of faith and art. Images still pour forth-a local potter, with his wheel set on the altar, throws an urn, while the lector reads, "Like clay in the hands of the potter, so are you in my hands, O Israel" (Jeremiah 18:7); the sound of bare feet scuffing and thumping on the wooden floor, as a dancer, arms akimbo, brings to life Ezekiel's valley of dry bones (Ezekiel 37); my father's voice rending the silence of a darkened Good Friday church, reading from Anthony Padovano's Dawn Without Darkness.

Beauty is essential to faith. It is, as Rilke says, "the beginning of terror" because it takes us to the precipice of God's burning passion and bids us "Jump!"

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 1996
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