Art and Faith: Why They Go Together

Art and Faith: Why They Go Together

It’s a bright spring day in Colorado, with a snowstorm on its way tomorrow, and I am thinking of poetry, new growth, budding resurrected life, fresh beginnings birthed from stormy and frigidly dark days. Isn’t it the way of the earth? And also the way of the Creator in birthing us again.

It was the way that poet Christian Wiman experienced the wakening of a faith gone dormant. After struggling more than three years with despair and an utter writing drought, he learned of his incurable cancer. Wiman and his wife wandered into a church, and soon after he began writing again. “I was just finally able to assent to the faith that had long been latent within me.”

Now, after treatment and healing, Wiman speaks and writes about his continuing pursuit of faith and the way it gives life to artistic expression:

I want the kind of revelation that precedes all doctrine and dogma, is the reason for all doctrine and dogma. Christ’s life is one long revelation; everything after that merely grows up from it. … The energy of art may be prior to religion, but religion, paradoxically, is a way of sustaining and surviving the psychic storm of that original energy (just as ritual and doctrine are ways of stabilizing and preserving the awful power of mystical revelation). Art for its own sake, art that has no answering “other,” will eventually eat you alive.

Poetry and religion. Art and faith. Madeleine L’Engle wrote of the link, calling to mind the play Our Town and one character’s plea for another to see, truly see, life and people:

In Our Town, after Emily¬† has died in childbirth,Thorton Wilder has her ask the Stage Manager if she can return home to relive just one day. Reluctantly he allows her to do so. And she is torn by the beauty of the ordinary and by our lack of awareness of it. She cries out to her mother, “Mama, just look at me one minute as though you really saw me … it goes so fast we don’t have time to look at one another.” And she goes back to the graveyard and the quiet company of the others lying there, and she asks the Stage Manager “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?” And he sighs and says, “No. The saints and poets, maybe. They do some.”


Poets and saints. What an odd coupling. And yet Freud, too, puts them together, saying that they are the two classes of human beings who defy all his psychological categorizing , are full of surprises. Are we willing and able to be surprised? (Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art, p. 98-99)

Our surprise-ability, our eyes to really see life around us come from God’s Spirit, and from his masterful creating of this poiema that is our lives. He works beauty, for us to see, in the ways of both sun and shadow, rain and sprouting life. Poet Luci Shaw reflects:

I realize that God’s extravagant plan for living and growing things is very different from mine. Where I might crave only life and growth and beauty, God has included the cycles of decay and death as well as thriving growth; of mold, mildew, and rot as well as healthy buds and leaves; of fall and winter as well as spring and summer. God knows that the humus from rotting trees and vegetation will make the perfect culture in which seeds and spores can germinate, and ferns, mushrooms, and spruce seedlings can grow. He planned it that way. (Watering the Soul: Cultivating the Interior Life)

Today, take encouragement from the poetic prose of teacher Macrina Wiederkehr, O.S.B., in her book The Song of the Seed, where she teaches lectio divina, a practice of contemplative reflection on the Word that infuses us all with the poetry, the life, of God:

“Take the Word with you to the office, to the factory, to the classroom, to the kitchen, to the streets and fields. Stop occasionally and hold dear the memory of the seed that was sown. When you see a flower bending in the breeze, remember, what you see is the fruit of a seed. The seed that falls into the depths of the soil eventually grows into a plant that is visible to you. It is the song of the seed–earth’s prayer in living color.

“So too, the seed that falls into your soul slowly becomes a song. It is the song of God’s life in you, the Word becoming visible in you. It is the song of the seed–the prayer of your life in living color. It will continue to sing up the country of your soul.” (p. 18)

How is God working out the song of the seed in the poem of your life? Yes, we’re all poets! You are God’s poeima (Ephesians 2:10), and your life is an art. Tell us about it!

*For more from Christian Wiman and his story, see the interview (http://www NULL.christianitytoday NULL.html?utm_source=ctdirect-html&utm_medium=Newsletter&utm_term=10446663&utm_content=148151148&utm_campaign=2013) with this gifted editor of Poetry magazine. Wiman’s quotes above are taken from this article.

[Thanks to Flickr/dixieroadrash for the use of your photo!]

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