This is the conclusion of a series of posts about money, art, commerce, and the Kingdom. It’s not so much about money, but a closing thought about the artist’s calling.
The Great Nashville Flood of 2010 was devastating. People died. Homes were lost. We watched our neighborhood street turn into a muddy river. On one of our walks down the hill from the Warren to see the flood’s progress we spotted a family of field mice who had been forced to higher ground. Then we saw two or three moles. We and a few neighbors gathered them up and moved them to safety.
Later, in the woods, we found a drowned baby rabbit, soaked through and pitiful. Their warren had flooded and it was too small and fragile to escape in time. I imagine its mother pulled it out with the others and this was the unlucky one. I have a thing for rabbits, you see, so it gave me pause. A few minutes later I heard my son Aedan screaming through the woods. I ran. Our dog, a huge Great Pyrenees named Moondog, had found another baby rabbit, this one still alive. Before Aedan could stop him, Moondog’s instincts kicked in and he attacked. Rabbits scream like humans. Aedan saw it all–and heard it all–as Moondog bit and shook the rabbit till its back broke. When I found Aedan he was weeping in the mud with the little bloody rabbit cradled in his hands. It was awful.
Later, while the rain battered Tennessee, Aedan sat on the couch and wept. He punched the cushion and cried, “I’m sorry. I feel terrible and stupid that I’m crying over a little rabbit when there are people dying all over the world. It was just a rabbit!” I was astonished, as I often am by my children. I held him and told him to cry all he wanted. “You’re mourning the same thing,” I said. “Death is death.” He wasn’t just grieving the little animal, but the Curse itself. The rabbit in the dog’s jaws only signified the presence of the serpent in the garden of his boyhood. He was grieving the slow dusk of his own death as manhood’s shadow gathered in the east. The world, the rabbit screamed, is broken. That truth intrudes and slays the days of youth. Nature, in the words of Tennyson, is “red in tooth and claw.”
So we grieve and we rejoice, like breathing in and breathing out. The little things matter, and the big things matter, and hearts far and near need hope.
Art, if it can be ascribed value, is most valuable when its beauty (and the beauty of the truth it tells) bewilders, confounds, defies evil itself; it does so by making what has been unmade; it subverts the spirit of the age; it mends the heart by whispering mysteries the mind alone can’t fathom; it fulfills its highest calling when into all the clamor of Hell it tells the unbearable, beautiful, truth that Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again. None of these songs and stories matter if the beauty they’re adding to isn’t the kind of beauty that redeems and reclaims.
That doesn’t mean every song and every story has to be a sermon. Not at all! But the very existence of great stories and stirring music and good art is a sermon itself. That anyone at all in the world would set their sad heart and tired hands to the work of wreaking beauty out of chaos is a monument to Grace. It reminds us of light and high beauty, and it laments the world’s great sorrow. It gives the heart language to rejoice and language to mourn.
Creation groans like a woman in labor? Even so. And we know every birth is a tight-wound cord of fear and joy, pain and pleasure, striving and surcease. Let those who can, tell that story. Let those in Christ whose hands paint worlds, whose tongues limn loveliness, whose ears hear astral strains–let them make, and make, and make. And let the made things adorn the dark and proclaim the coming Kingdom till the King himself is come.