Have you ever thought of yourself as an artist?
For some of you, perhaps it’s an automatic yes; for others, maybe more of a not-so-much. That’s fine. We all have our own different gifts and talents. But no matter which group you fall into, St. John Paul II has some words both groups should hear:
“Not all are called to be artists in the specific sense of the term. Yet, as Genesis has it, all men and women are entrusted with the task of crafting their own life: in a certain sense, they are to make of it a work of art, a masterpiece.” (Letter to Artists, 2)
It’s come to mind for me recently just how similar these two things are: our vocation to grow in holiness, and the vocation of an artist. The work of art making and the work of holiness echo each other in a surprising number of ways. Let me begin by briefly laying out some key points about the art making process.
At its most basic, making a true work of art requires looking outside of yourself. Nothing created mainly for profit, or for popularity, or for any other utilitarian reason ever stands the test of time. True art goes beyond that. Whatever the actual subject matter of the piece is, its gaze is towards something transcendent – Truth, Goodness, Beauty. It draws its meaning from it, and that meaning infuses every line, every shape and colour, and brings it all to life.
Also, as I’m sure is generally known, a work of beauty can’t be just half-heartedly thrown together. Anything else becomes no more than cute greeting card art – but a true work of art requires blood, sweat, and tears. It’s an agonizingly uncompromising process of working and shaping the piece until it becomes what it was meant to be. Again – it can’t just happen, can’t just fall into place because of some good intentions or because you’d like it to. It takes discipline. It takes dedication. And for all this, it takes time – tons of it.
More than that, however, true art requires a deep investment of the heart. It becomes an outpouring of the artist. The process of creating true art hurts, its making is an agony of sorts, but it’s the agony of a gift of self; of allowing oneself to seek that transcendent ideal, that spiritual thing, with passion and authenticity. And it’s faithfulness to this authentic artistic outpouring that makes or breaks a work of art.
Perhaps you’ve already noticed the correlations.
In fulfilling our call to holiness, whether it be in growing our prayer life, growing in virtues, discerning our path of life, or whatever else, it comes down to a similar attitude.
Unless all our efforts toward holiness are given life in that process of drawing closer to God, in that act of fixing our gaze on Him and doing it all for His sake, they become nothing more than a pointless and frustrating mess.
Unless we “work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12), unless we make the effort of developing those habits of virtue, of creating those spaces for prayer, the masterpiece will be incomplete. We can’t just expect it to fall into our laps; we need to cooperate with God in its creation.
And unless we actually pour ourselves into it, allowing ourselves to be dissatisfied with anything less than an authentic search for God’s will to be done in us, people will not be anything near convinced of our Christian witness.
Hopefully that image helps a bit. Now, let’s go out and make “something beautiful for God”!