This past Saturday, I spent the day at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Carnegie at an Ecclesiastical Arts Fair. I have not been to one of these before; and I think it’s a brilliant idea. Fr. Poecking, pastor of the church, has a keen understanding of Beauty and the whole body and soul experience of being in church. During a talk on Saturday, he commented so eloquently on the purpose of art and music in the church. Since I wasn’t taking notes, I will have to paraphrase.
“It’s the difference between attending Mass in person and watching it on television. You can hear good preaching on television, but you cannot smell the incense or hear real, live music. You cannot light a candle. You cannot greet your neighbor with the Peace of Christ. You do not get to see great art. The celebration of the Mass cares for the whole person.”
Patrick Murphy, the organ builder, commented that going to Mass with a real pipe organ might be the only time that a person hears live music, played by a real person, on a carefully crafted instrument. We are all so plugged in each week. We listen to music on iPod with our earbuds in. It is a private experience. And if we look at art at all it is through a screen. At church the music and art are real, made with real human hands.
And this is significant to worship. We don’t only worship God with our minds, but with our whole bodies, all of our senses. When we have an aesthetic experience, we are awake, fully connected in body, spirit, and mind. It is the opposite of an anesthetic experience. Jesus bids us to love God in this way, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, Love your neighbor as yourself.” Worship with your whole person. God nourishes us and enables us to overflow into loving our neighbors.
This is why I love making sacred art. Art is always a spiritual act, but with sacred art, people approach it seeking God. And there is that hope that the piece you made, carefully, painstakingly, lovingly with your own hands, somehow connects the viewer to something, Someone Higher.