Monday, May 4, 2009

God Talk

It somehow seems fitting that at the milestone of my 300th blog entry on Powderfinger, the subject that intrigues me today is God, religion, spirituality. For two reasons. The first, a movie--the first I've been to in a while--my spouse and I saw last evening, The Soloist with Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey, Jr. I won't dilate on the story any; you can look it up in IMDB. Wasn't all that great a movie, actually, but that's not the point. What was striking to me was the vivid reminder of how intertwined human beings are with artistic expression. The music of the movie was heavily Beethoven. There was a sizeable chunk of Symphony No. 3, part of the "Emperor Concerto," some Beethoven cello music, and also some Bach, from the unaccompanied cello suites. Which is to say the music was gorgeous. Out of this world.
And that's my point here: to say that music is gorgeous doesn't fully plumb what the music is to us. Music as transfixing as Beethoven's says something about who we are as human beings. What is this power of music over us? Indeed, why is it that art exerts such a powerful influence over us? People will pay millions for a single painting or sculpture. Why does it grip us, hold us, ensnare us? Why are we driven to create it? Why do we visit great art again and again? Who thinks a single view of the ceiling in the Sistine Chapel or "Winged Victory" is enough? I've heard Beethoven's Symphony No. 3 at least a hundred times. But its power is not diminished in the slightest by that, in fact, the symphony becomes more entrancing the more it's heard. Examples could be strung out endlessly. Quite simply, although the assertion requires book-length exploration, art opens a window on our origins, our destiny, the shaper of our souls. It shows us who we are--this need to create the beautiful, this drive to drink it all in.

We are spiritual creatures, fashioned in some way, I believe, by a power far beyond our ability to grasp. We try to do explain and probe this mysterious ever-present power in our holy books, our many religious expressions, even our creedal formuations and rituals. But in the end, it's only art that comes close to shutting our mouths in the sheer awe of this power. We know, we sense how subtle, yet how strong, it is, how transformative in its beauty, how awesome in its mystery. It's that power, I believe, that's revealed to us in the arts, and in music especially, that finest of the arts. And it's that power that resides in us that drives humans to make art, to crave art. It's not something they choose, like being an engineer. It's something humans have to do. Like breathing.

Oh, and the second reason for the God talk I mentioned up above? Well, that will have to wait till tomorrow.
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