Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Art as Religion

Two fuzzy words and that’s not a bad thing.

I don’t mean Art as an investment or hedge against inflation. And I’m not referring to Religion as some sort of hollow ritual reeking of piety and drained of relevance.

In their best sense both are experiential and share the common goal of transformation and transcendence. They reach. They move us past words. And yet each is an expression grounded in the world of human possibility. The most intimate moments between people or a solitary in-dwelling have a religious dimension. When I was drawn into Van Gogh’s iris flowers hanging on the wall in Amsterdam I was as transfixed and lifted as I was viewing a Japanese ceramic exhibit or Oaxaca wood-carving.

The way dance or sculpture redefines visual space music rearranges acoustic space. They each bring us a sense of the sacred. So too does poetry by reinvigorating language and evoking what is ineffable. Peggy brings me her daily poem and I enter a realm beyond explication; not religion, the noun but, religious the adjective, as in a religious experience.

We need, at least I need, to be fed in this way. To find, in the quotidian, what is resoundingly and overwhelmingly true, felt palpably in my senses. There is an essence, a mystery to existence which poetry yields in glimpses. Particularly in these late innings as I approach the ultimate unfathomable state of non-being I look to the arts as an entre into the unimaginable.  

I avoid the word spiritual only because it seems to have been hijacked by the New-Agers, those inhalers of incense, quasi-Buddhists, who have changed their names to Sunset or Sylvan Glen Glade. Same with the word soul which has been debased by overuse. Too bad, I welcome these words back into ordinary discourse…. whatever they may mean.

I think of spirit as the breath, an outpouring of vitality, celebratory, an offering of oneself. Soul is a metaphor for that most vulnerable inscape; the place where we live in quietude, contemplatively. To live fully is to bring them together. One derivation of the word religion means to bind. It says nothing about the supernatural. As a humanist I feel no need to traffic in the heavens. It is enough to live wholly rather than holy. Or to put it another way, what humans do out of their spirit and soul is holy, worthy of wor(th)ship.

Here where winter hardly happens a burst of pear blossoms parody snow drifts ahead of the starter’s blank pistol. Elsewhere is on thin ice, fissures can be heard parting. Clocks leap an hour. Late light slips through. Bulbs erupt. The gulag becomes a grove. Bats crack and aging bones. A sense of yeast.  At dusk a comet will streak naked across the western sky. Haley’s? No, but Twains will be born everywhere, fathoms of huckleberries. Somewhere shadows will fall and somewhere defendants will rise and be forgiven.  

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