We can never underestimate the healing power of art. Great art stays with you. Great art manifests the presence of possibility and a dalliance with a holy spirit; an immortal dance of death with the beholder’s imagination that invites us to participate in life’s sacred movement.
In a letter to Martha Graham, Agnes deMille writes that it is the artist’s duty to create and express this in her own way:
“There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening
that is translated through you into action,
and because there is only one of you in all time,
this expression is unique.
If you block it,
it will never exist through any other medium
and be lost.
The world will not have it.
It is not your business to determine how good it is;
nor how valuable it is;
nor how it compares with other expressions.
It is your business to keep it yours, clearly and directly,
to keep the channel open.”
Frank Lloyd Wright described this in his architecture. He understood that “The space within becomes the reality of the building.” I remember standing in the Guggenheim at the foot of the ramp and reading his thoughts on art and the power of creation.
He writes, “Let us call Creative-Imagination the Man-light in Mankind to distinguish it from intellectual brilliance. It is strongest in the creative-artist. A sentient quality. To a degree all developed individuals have this quality, and to the extent that it takes concrete form in the human fabrications necessary or desirable to human life, it makes the fabrication live as a reflection of that Life any true Man loves as such – Spirit materialized.”
As I stood in the lobby and studied the subtle spiral flow of floors snaking their way to the webbed skylight, I implicitly understood this. Wright made this space sacred ground through his vision.
Native American cultures looked to a shaman to literally exorcise negative energy in a community. It was usually a leader. This medicine person would fall into a trancelike state and dance, taking in the negative energy upon himself for the greater good of the community.
Lincoln did this figuratively at Gettysburg when he declared that they were meeting on the great battlefield to consecrate the ground as sacred. His declaration as to why the war was fought reminded us that “this nation, under God, shall have a new freedom; and a government by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”
This week we witnessed a young poet/priestess, Amanda Gorman, read her poem, “The Hill We Climb” for the Inauguration of President Biden. Gorman is a twenty-two year old African American from Los Angeles who stated that a few years ago she couldn’t have delivered this poem due to her speech impediment. Her free flow, rhythmic beat verse brought the crowd to its feet. Like Lin Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton” it had the feel of hip hop but giving a nod to the likes of Maya Angelou and great American rhetoric she brought the best of great literature to bear.
In six minutes she captured the spirit of the times and exorcised the destructive forces that raided the Temple of Democracy just two weeks before that.
“The loss we carry,
a sea we must wade
We’ve braved the belly of the beast
We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace
And the norms and notions
of what just is
Isn’t always just-ice
And yet the dawn is ours
before we knew it
Somehow we do it…”
She called us to the task at hand of uniting a fractured people. She identified the battle between good and evil and named division that we all witnessed. She represented her country to the world in fixing a vision of goodness for the work ahead saying, “A nation that isn’t broken but simply unfinished.”
She knows that love wins out and the power of the individual and society to recognize this will win the day. She reminded us that “We are striving to create a union that is diverse… She called us to “lay down our arms so we could reach out our arms to others… If we merge mercy with might and might with right, then love becomes our legacy and change our children’s birthright.”
She offered hope and optimism – the spirit of the “can-do” American even in the face of seemingly horrifying obstacles as we make the ascent to something greater. Her poetry culled a more perfect union and inspires all to recognize this holy light that is shining in us all. She implored us to start anew:
“We will rebuild, reconcile and recover
and every known nook of our nation and
every corner called our country,
our people diverse and beautiful will emerge,
battered and beautiful
When day comes we step out of the shade,
aflame and unafraid
The new dawn blooms as we free it
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it
If only we’re brave enough to be it.”
What an instrument for Good. What a channel for Redemption. What a light to lead and shine the way!