And so I was particularly enchanted. Here was Zelda, as edgy and high-energy and fragile as Scott Fitzgerald depicts her in Tender is the Night. And charming Scott himself. Hemingway, talking in complex, monosyllabic sentences. Gertrude Stein, a brash, rich, arty lesbian who berates the artists and writers in her circle, comes across just as she does in the oddest autobiography/biography ever written, “The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas,” which Stein kindly wrote for her lover and companion, Alice!
T.S. Eliot appears, measuring out his life with coffee spoons. And artists—Dali, Picasso, Degas, Gaugin, and Cole Porter, Josephine Baker, and Luis Bunuel. The magic of a late-career director, free, liberated, confident and playful. Loved it!
* * *
There were years in my twenties and thirties in which I immersed myself in the arts obsessively—in reading poetry, and novels, and essays, in haunting art galleries, and watching good films and now that my daughters are older and self-reliant I am so enjoying soaking up the arts again.
That’s one of the great gifts of the arts: Lethe. Forgetting everything. Forgetting time, sorrow, failure, undone tasks.
And that’s a great gift, isn’t it? Forgetfulness, and being immersed in beauty, and the greatest wisdom the artist learned. Camus wrote, “If man needs bread and justice, and if what has to be done must be done to serve this need, he also needs pure beauty, which is the bread of his heart.”
The arts are one of the most enriching and delightful ways we can spend our time. I can only persist on my long walks (now morphing into runs) because I am immersed in a good audiobook: I listen to a mixture of novels, memoirs or spiritual books.
* * *
I went through three and a half difficult years from 2006 to 2009, when I was first trying to establish, then trying to run, our family business.
During that time, I barely read books, barely watched movies, rarely went to the art galleries and museums I so adore. I guess I felt a little bit would be a painful reminder of how much I used to read and write and enjoy the arts, and the longing and sadness would be too intense.
But also, I had more urgent questions to which I needed the answer, riddles I needed to solve partly because I was working so hard which made my life so hard that I could cry just thinking about it!
And the questions to which I urgently needed answers were: How do I find joy and happiness? How do I hear the voice of God? How can I be filled with the Spirit? How do I live continually in the waterfall of God’s presence and power? And always, always, “Lord, teach me to pray.”
And I have found some answers, and am burrowing away in the right direction to experience the full richness of other answers.
* * *
Though I am stunned that I took such a long break from reading, for reading has always been my life’s greatest pleasure, I am not heartbroken I did so.
The arts do not solve life’s ultimate riddles. They can help you forget the passing of time if your spouse leaves you, or suddenly dies; if you lose your job, or are reduced to bankruptcy, if your health vanishes, or your friends; if illness or mental illness comes calling.
But they do not even begin to answer the great questions of Why?
Why was I born? What does God want me to do with my life? How do I find joy and peace? Or the power to conquer bad habits, sin and addictions? How do I find that constant high that Jesus describes–“That my joy may be in you, and your joy be full,” (John 15:11).
To find these answers, we need to burrow into God, and into the Word of God.
* * *
But just as man does not live by bread alone, very few of us are called to live by the Word of God alone.
I can happily read my Bible, pray or read Christian books for a couple of hours or so.
Then I want life. I want to move, to run with an audiobook. I want to garden. To get my house tidy. To have coffee with a friend.
I want to write. I want to read.
God gives us both the richest of foods of Scripture (Psalm 63:5), and the bread of the arts, and for both I am grateful
* * *
Christ is the sturdy, magnificent, all-encompassing world vine, whose sweet life gives life to all things.
And when his life flows through us, and we begin seeing through his eyes, life—and the arts– becomes even sweeter: books and poetry and gazing at paintings and going to the ballet and lazy films in bed with the Sunday morning coffee. All things were created through him, and in him all things hold together, Col 1: 16-17.