Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Sweetest Thing

"The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing — to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from — my country, the place where I ought to have been born." ~CS Lewis, "Til We Have Faces"

It was Thursday night. Dutch was out of town. Both babes were in bed -- at last. I sat up, stubbornly, in my bathrobe and slippers, writing... or, trying to, but the words just wouldn't come. Instead, I became enraptured by the music of Regina Spektor...

I happened upon one particular video (!) featuring an incandescently blue-eyed Ms. Spekter, her tousled head full of black curls, sitting on a hillside beneath a brilliantly blue sky, pounding away on her piano...

All at once, inexplicably, I began to cry. And once I started crying I couldn't stop.

What was it, I asked myself, that was arousing so much emotion?

Was it the sheer beauty of the setting - a landscape entirely unobstructed by manmade ugliness? Was it the impact of seeing someone - a woman, about my age - applying her talent for music in such an extraordinary way?

Or was I merely jealous of her powers of expression, wishing I could cast off my own shortcomings and constraints, banish the dumb hesitation, the awkward fumblings, and speak the words which burn in my soul like embers? Was that why I was crying?

"If only you could..." a voice seemed to whisper,"...then you would be..." - what - satisfied? content?

That is what the Serpent would like me to believe. That satisfaction is not only possible, it is a hand's breadth away... near enough for me to pick and sink my teeth into...like the fruit in the garden long ago. For that, after all, was part of the appeal: "When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was...pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it."

But I cannot possess Wisdom and Beauty any more than I can pluck a star down and plunk it into my pocket. I imagine even Ms. Spektor looks at the fruit of her labors - the combined effect of countless takes, film editors, sound editors, clothing designers - with a certain measure of astonishment. All those lights and all that makeup, the gear that littered that gorgeous hillside...turned into... this...something so flawlessly pure it almost takes your breath away.

Still, countless millions spend their whole lives worshiping Beauty - whether they ever come to realize it or not. I understand these people - who seek out any means of experiencing the 'sublime' - even if it means exploiting artificial substances, hallucinogens of one kind or another, to suspend or "create" the feeling.

But this, too, is a trick; another dead end street... For the truth is that nothing, outside of Jesus Christ, can satisfy my deepest desire for beauty and wisdom.

The best artists enable us to feel as though we are touching the divine...just as Adam and God touch fingers on the ceiling of the Sistene chapel. In this way, artists are magicians. They make us 'see' the footprint in the sand, even if only for that one moment before the tide washes it away. In this very great sense, Ms. Spektor's music succeeded for it aroused within me an unquenchable longing for that which nothing in this world can ever satisfy. And as CS Lewis famously noted, “If I discover within myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

But the artists fail us, or we fail ourselves, when we mistake the poem for the Prize; the footprint for its Author. Unknowingly, we "exchange the truth of God for a lie..." and begin to worship the created things, rather than the Creator of them all.

The most beautiful song, the most inspired poem -- the most evocative film sequence, enchanting sunset, or decadent meal -- these do not quench my thirst for beauty. They only arouse it. As CS Lewis says, "they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never visited." If we are wise, we will recognize that all art and beauty are pointing us in a particular direction... they are lighthouses, illuminating the darkness, pointing us to the safety of the Shore.

1 comment:

Joseph Anfuso said...

So beautiful and wise, Heather. I love your writing, your insights, your honest reflections.

But most of all...I love YOU.