A month ago today I introduced Jonathan Jackson’s book, The Mystery of Art, in my Faith on Friday post. This morning I picked the book back up and continued reading in his chapter on “Art as Listening.” This appealed to me because of the circumstances I’ve found myself in the past few days.
My husband is out of town. I had plans to host a women’s event last night, and four out-of-town friends were driving to Memphis from Mississippi and Arkansas for the event. The guest rooms were ready. The menu was set. Name tags were printed and other responsibilities were put aside for a few days. And then the winter storm changed everything. The event was cancelled. My friends weren’t able to safely navigate the roads to Memphis. I found myself disappointed and alone, and faced with some choices. What would I do with these days that were suddenly “available” again?
Thankfully I got over my disappointment quickly and began to make some good choices. As tempting as it is to veg out on the couch with junk food and TV when faced with several days of alone time—and I confess to giving in to some of that—I’ve been able to embrace the time as a gift. As Jackson says:
Artists were created to be listeners, and the noise of the world can easily drown out what they are listening for.
What am I listening for? As a writer I need to be listening for that inner voice that drives me to flesh out in words the truth of our lives—whether writing fiction or nonfiction. But I can’t do this with TV shows (or for me, even music) blaring in the background. I can’t hear that inner voice over the din of other noise. I need the very thing I often fear or run away from. I need silence. Again from Jackson’s book:
The Gift of Silence
Silence teaches the artist to listen—it creates space inside of him to discover secrets and encounter mysteries.
Silence breeds humility, and humility breeds true confidence.
Silence teaches the artist how to tell the truth. It allows him to be in awe of something other than himself.
So I turn the external noises off and sit down to work on the novel revisions again. Three hours later I have accomplished a good bit and feel encouraged. But those hours of work don’t come without a struggle. And without prayer. It doesn’t matter whether one’s art (writing, music, painting) is “spiritual” or not. We are spiritual creatures, so everything we do can and should be spirit led. I take a break from the work and prepare lunch, watch the birds eating the seeds I put out for them on our porch where they can find protection from the snow. A few phone calls bring with them a welcome break from the silence. My stiff body cries out for relief so I spend some time on the elliptical and yes, I watch a favorite TV show while I exercise. Then I work on an art project I’m doing for a Sunday school program at our church, this time without the accompaniment of the television. The silence beckons me back to the novel. I ask God’s blessing on the work, and entreat the Mother of God and Saint Mary of Egypt (my patron, who also is a character in the novel). Again from Jackson:
The artist’s words and deeds become authentic and purified only when they become manifest out of his inner communion with God.
The artist’s words, songs, or paintings must be birthed out of silence if they are to carry the creative and spiritual weight he desires. In a practical sense, this teaches him that the outward expression of his art is always the result of his internal life.
Silence is the food of the artist’s interior life.
Today is the final day of my spontaneous three-day “retreat” at home. My husband returns tomorrow and if the roads are clear I’ll be feted at a birthday luncheon in the home of a dear friend and Goddaughter on Saturday. (Sunday is the big day.)
So now I have this one more day to write and paint and pray, if I chose, in silence. I welcome it as a gift. The gift of silence.