Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Artists, read the lives of the saints and pray.

I have been reminded lately of the importance of humility and the necessary spiritual diligence required of a christian artist. I had and still have experiences of real growth as a result of the awareness that I am not as serious or faithful a christian as I thought. One thing has kept me honest when all the normal devices have failed: the wisdom of the saints. It is crazy to think that I avail myself of their wisdom so little. As artists it is so important, particularly in today's culture, to be guided by their living and tested example. It seems to me that we don't go to the saints because either we are ignorant of their wisdom, we lack the habit of seeking out their wisdom or we are prideful and don't like what they are saying. At one time or another I have been able to relate to all of these reasons and attitudes. I can remember reading St. Francis de Sales' "Introduction to the Devout Life" in college and really disliking it. I made myself believe that it was his 'style' and that his approach to spirituality did not appeal to me...Later I realized that I was the problem, I didn't like his advice, I didn't like being humbled by the truth about what he was saying which threatened my ego. God showed me my weaknesses so that I could grow from the knowlege of my character defects. The scales haven't all fallen off yet. Being faithful requires a spiritual life. It isn't an option for those who are hoping for the lasting vision of the Lord. I am talking about staying on track in real terms, in the work God has designed for your personal sanctification. But we need help, and the saints are there for this reason. Here are a few pieces of wisdom I have found to be helpful.

"Although in entering religion and taking care not to offend God, we may appear to have done everything, ah! how often certain worms remain, which do not allow themselves to be perceived until they have gnawed away our virtues! Such worms are self-love, self-esteem, harsh judgement of others, though in trifles, and a great want of charity towards our neighbor. But if, indeed, by dragging on, we satisfy our obligations, we do not do it with that perfection which God would expect of us." - St. Teresa of Avila

Here is a little more about perfection and God's will:

"Perfection consists in one thing alone, which is doing the will of God. For, according to Our Lord's words, it suffices for perfection to deny self, to take up the cross and to follow Him. Now, who denies himself and takes up his cross and follows Christ better than he who seeks not to do his own will, but always that of God? Behold, now, how little is needed to become a Saint! Nothing more than to acquire the habit of willing, on every occasion, what god wills." - St. Vincent de Paul

I can't help finishing this 'portfolio' off with a quotation from St. Francis de Sales:

"Observe that perfection is not acquired by sitting with our arms folded, but it is necessary to work in earnest, in order to conquer ourselves and to bring ourselves to live, not according to our inclinations and passions, but according to reason, our Rule [substitute your particular vocation], and obedience. The thing is hard, it cannot be denied, but necessary. With practice, however, it becomes easy and pleasing."

There is so much wisdom in those three quotes that if we got started living it out today, we might experience the union St. Teresa talks about, sooner rather than later. Art reflects the inner life, and the inner life feeds art. Let's get busy.