I firmly believe that the arts have the power to completely transform our lives. The arts can help us to make some sense of the incomprehensible, provide an outlet for emotions that might otherwise tear us apart or simply lighten a heavy heart. So today, I thought I would share some of the books, songs, paintings that have spoken to me deeply. In some cases, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say they changed my life. So here, in no particular order, are a few of my favourite things.
The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho. Reading this book for the first time, I was knocked over, flattened, left breathless and reeling from the idea of literature as a spiritual calling. It wasn’t the subject matter that blew me away, it was the writing itself that showed art and spirituality could not only could co-exist, they may even be the same thing.
“The Return of the Prodigal Son” – Rembrandt. I first saw this painting on the cover of the book by the same name, written by Henri Nouwen (which I also loved) and felt drawn to it on a spiritual and emotional level. When I saw it hanging on the wall of the Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, it was all I could do not to fall to my knees. I cannot explain it, but to this day, looking at that painting makes me want to sob in gratitude and shame all at the same time.
The Ragamuffin Gospel – Brennan Manning. One quote sums it all for me: “I am a saint with an incredible capacity for beer.” I was raised to do the “right” thing, to obey the rules and play fair. But none of that works when it comes to God. In Brennan Manning, I found a teacher I could relate to, because he, too, had blown it more times than he’d gotten it right, and he didn’t mind telling me so. Outside of the Bible, this book probably has had the most influence on my walk with Christ.
Walking On Water – Madeleine L’Engle. Another book that truly began to cement the idea of creativity as a spiritual endeavour. For me, this book is an absolute gem that I return to several times a year. It is a spiritual and creative touchstone for me.
“Concierto de Aranjuez” – Joaquin Rodrigo. I’ve said it before but the second movement is the most heartbreakingly beautiful piece of music I’ve ever heard. That it is preceded by one of the most joyous movements only makes the heartache more excruciating and more beautiful.
“Simple Prayer” – Dave Beegle. Personally, I think Dave is the best guitarist on one has ever heard of. Well, few have ever heard of. When I don’t know what to pray, I listen to this song because it says everything far better than I could.
“Guitar, 1914” – Pablo Picasso. I never understood Picasso until I saw this sketch in Barcelona. It was my one great “Aha!” moment and I’ve been a fan ever since.
“Ave Maria” – Franz Biebl. I have sung this piece a number of times and each time I am transported, transfixed and transformed by its beauty. It is one of the rare pieces that moves me whether I sing it or hear it. It is beautiful.
“Sacred Rain Arrow” – Allan Houser. I love the elegance and energy of this sculpture. As with so many of his works this combines the sacred with the beautiful. The result is absolutely incredible.
“David” – Michelangelo. What can I say? It is stunning, plain and simple.
Veronika Decides to Die – Paulo Coelho. The idea that passive refusal to live life is an illness was astonishing to me and yet I had been guilty of a less severe malady. Honestly, this book shook me out of a long stupor and made me start paying attention.
The Lord of the Rings – J.R.R. Tolkien. Pure, 100%, unadulterated literary genius. Enough said.
‘Til We Have Faces – C.S. Lewis. There are some things that can only be seen with the heart and this book illustrates it beautifully.
Traveling Mercies – Anne Lamott. This book along with Plan B and Grace (Eventually) make up a triumvirate of unconventional books about faith. I kind of think of her as the opposite side of the coin from Brennan Manning. Both of them have views of faith that a lot of “religious” people would find threatening if not heretical.
Blue Like Jazz – Donald Miller. I honestly don’t know what to say about this book. All I can say is that Mr. Miller’s style is so easy to relax into that this book is like having a conversation over coffee with a good friend.
“Symphony No. 9” – Ludwig van Beethoven. My love affair with classical music began here. It wasn’t the choral section that did it for me; I didn’t even know I was a singer at that point. All I knew was that this piece felt as real and as tangible to me as the ground beneath my feet.
The Collected Works of William Shakespeare. What can I say – part two? He’s the Bard. I fell in love with words because of him. That and the fact that my Dad was a big fan and quoted him liberally.
I could go on and on and on about any of these and more. Despite the comments I’ve made, I cannot honestly tell you why I like any of them. All I can say is that these works intersected my life at a crucial point, spoke very softly into my heart (or yelled and bludgeoned me to the point where I couldn’t ignore them) and I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that there was a tribe I belonged to if I could only find it. Not only that, but I got a glimpse of the kind of Creative I wanted to be.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not about to claim that I will ever be able to stand in the shadow of a Lamott, a Shakespeare, a Beegle or anyone else on this list. That isn’t the point. What I hope to emulate is their passion, their willingness to be vulnerable and their boldness to be a servant to the art that has chosen them. And it seems that these are good traits to cultivate if I want to remain in the sunlight.
What about you? What encounters have you had that have led you to your tribe? What inspires you to keep following your calling? What traits in other Creatives do you see that you want to emulate? For that matter, do you think being a Creative is a calling?