This past weekend the impact of art and creativity to heal and align us in hard times came home to me in several refreshing ways.
First, my friend Aaron Stern, president and founder of the Academy for the Love of Learning in Santa Fe, New Mexico, forwarded me this wonderful video. I dare you to listen to it and not be moved. Not be awakened anew to the wonder of our species and how, as I have written often, through our creativity and imagination, we humans bring even more awe into the universe. And gratitude. And joy. Might that be the reason for our existence? To up the ante on beauty? And memory of beauty?
Secondly, Phila Hoopes, a fellow worker in this DM project, forwarded me this moving video of a Native American poet, singer and activist, Lyla June Johnston. I offer it here as a gift in support and solidarity.
Thirdly, I found this history of black folk musicians on line and was struck by its headline—that Bob Dylan’s career was profoundly shaped by Odetta whose own life of singing and healing was born of her exposure at nineteen years of age to prison songs and working songs of her lineage. She talks about that “conversion” experience in the strongest of terms—how it allowed her to spit out the “venom” and “hatred” she carried toward life and toward people in general due to the horrible experience of growing up in the Jim Crow south. How the music allowed her to get in touch with her anger and outrage in order to be free of it.
Her testimony is a testimony to finding a way out of her grief for anger is the first level of grief that we must ultimately address if we are to let things go and co-create ourselves.
I am reminded in her story of the powerful Maori grieving haka ceremony we shared in a recent DM (May 14) that also contained deep energy of anger. Better to deal with anger knowingly than unknowingly when it can so easily add to the fuel of flames between peoples. This is what “non-violence” means—not holding anger in but finding an appropriate outlet. And art—music, theater, poetry, and organizing—is such an appropriate outlet for anger.
And so I offer this Library of Congress interview with Odetta about the history of black folk art:
Each of these three examples is a testimony to the power of art to heal and awaken, to allow us to face the truth of loss and suffering and grief—and not run from it or be overwhelmed by it. As Otto Rank reminded us in yesterday’s DM, conflict is often the starting point for the artist.
When Meister Eckhart instructs us that “the soul grows from subtraction, not addition,” I think he is telling us this same lesson in his own way. A pandemic is a prelude to going deeper and birthing more fully.
See Matthew Fox, Creativity: Where the Divine and the Human Meet.
See Matthew Fox, Prayer: A Radical Response to Life, pp. 140-151.
Banner Image: Billie Holiday, who brought the protest anthem “Strange Fruit” to the stage, protesting lynchings, and died as a result (see the tragic story here and here). Photo taken at the Downbeat jazz club in New York City, February 1947, by William P. Gottlieb. Wikimedia Commons.
Queries for Contemplation
What do these gifts of art and music do for you at this time of pandemic?
Creativity: Where the Divine and Human Meet
Because creativity is the key to both our genius and beauty as a species but also to our capacity for evil, we need to teach creativity and to teach ways of steering this God-like power in directions that promote love of life (biophilia) and not love of death (necrophilia). Pushing well beyond the bounds of conventional Christian doctrine, Fox’s focus on creativity attempts nothing less than to shape a new ethic.
“Matt Fox is a pilgrim who seeks a path into the church of tomorrow. Countless numbers will be happy to follow his lead.” –Bishop John Shelby Spong, author, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, Living in Sin
Prayer: A Radical Response to Life
How do prayer and mysticism relate to the struggle for social and ecological justice? Fox defines prayer as a radical response to life that includes our “Yes” to life (mysticism) and our “No” to forces that combat life (prophecy). How do we define adult prayer? And how—if at all—do prayer and mysticism relate to the struggle for social and ecological justice? One of Matthew Fox’s earliest books, originally published under the title On Becoming a Musical, Mystical Bear: Spirituality American Style, Prayer introduces a mystical/prophetic spirituality and a mature conception of how to pray. Called a “classic” when it first appeared, it lays out the difference between the creation spirituality tradition and the fall/redemption tradition that has so dominated Western theology since Augustine. A practical and theoretical book, it lays the groundwork for Fox’s later works.
“One of the finest books I have read on contemporary spirituality.” – Rabbi Sholom A. Singer