I’ve never read Walt Whitman’s masterpiece Leaves of Grass, but I came across this excerpt from it in Chasing Francis, by Ian Morgan Cron.
After the seas are all cross’d, (as they seem already cross’d)
After the great captains and engineers have accomplish’d their work,
After the noble inventors – after the scientists, the chemists, the geologist, ethnologist,
Finally shall come the poet, worthy that name,
The true son of God shall come, singing his songs.
This is really quite wonderful! God is at once all these things, and we, in his image are reflections of those facets. He is a great captain and warrior. A meticulous engineer and designer, crafting the very fabric and physics of our universe. He created all the foundations of biochemistry and how protein in our cells interact in our bodies to keep us alive. He tossed all the stars and heavenly bodies into space in just such a way and even fashioned our own earth our of many different materials. Finally, he is very concerned about ethics, obedience, but also grace and gifts. He has hard rules of justice written on our conscience from birth, yet in his kindness finds all sorts of ways to break them.
And yet, God is NOT finally about ethics (and I’ll include the rest of philosophy and theology in there too). He is an artist. A painter, a musician, a sculptor, and creative designer. A writer of poetry and not just prose. The arts end up getting closer to explaining/describing God than do any of the other disciplines.
Cron goes on to quote some great commentary by Pope John Paul II on this subject:
In order to communicate the message entrusted to her by Christ, the church needs art. Art must make perceptible, and as far as possible attractive, the world of the spirit, of the invisible, of God. It must therefore translate into meaningful terms that which is in itself ineffable. Art has a unique capacity to take one or other facet of the message and translate it into colours, shapes and sounds which nourish the intuition of those who look or listen. It does so without emptying the message itself of its transcendent value and its aura of mystery.
The last part is the best. Even when the message is “converted” into art, it doesn’t lose it’s contents. The Bach B minor Mass surely points to God, even if you don’t understand the German being sung. The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel isn’t just illustrations off passages from the Bible. The skill that went into the choice of colors, the lines of the figures – all of it points to the Lord. Good fiction points to God. Must smarter people have explained this all better than I can right now.
One of the character’s in Chasing Francis adds his commentary to this:
The church is realizing that there is an awareness of God sleeping in the basement of the postmodern imagination and they have to awaken it. The arts can do this. All beauty is subversive; it flies under the radar of people’s critical filters and points them to God. As a friend of mine says, “When the front door of the intellect is shut, the back door of the imagination is open.”
The emphasis above is mine.