About this blogger:
Ronda Chervin received a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Fordham University and an MA in Religious Studies from Notre Dame Apostolic Institute. A widow, mother, and grandmother, she currently teaches philosophy at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut. Write to her at chervinronda@gmail.com.
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“Today the Church has made a big mistake, turning the clock back 500 years with guitars and popular songs. I don't like it at all. Gregorian Chant is a vital and important tradition of the Church and to waste this—by having guys mix religious words with profane, Western songs—is hugely grave, hugely grave.”
— Maestro Ennio Morricone (10 Sept 2009)

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Spirituality and the Arts
published 12 April 2013 by Dr. Ronda Chervin

This is from journals in 2006. Even though this is longer than most of my blogs I think Watershedders have a special interest in this topic.

E DID OUR Spirituality and the Arts workshop at the parish. Fr. Ken Whittington, a former Episcopal concert organist before his conversion and late vocation to the piresthood, did wonderful talks. Here are some highlights from his talks, my spontaneous thoughts, and comments from the group. (By the way, Fr. Ken is a fan of Watershed which he heard about when it was just starting from me and others.)

I, Ronda, first gave my basic Called by Name: Following Your Personal Spirituality talk based on the booklet of that name (You can find it on rondachervin.com free e-books.) I added in about how artistic types often don’t fit any group spirituality. I also spoke about my sense of Mary as dramatist stage-manager of the apparitions, and recommended JP II’s Letter to Artists.

Carrie shared “I used to be an interior decorator; but now I live alone and decorate my interior!” She also says she plays sacred music when she wakes up in the night. In the old Cathedrals there were beautiful sculpture where no one could see them but God – now through photography we see them.

Someone said that art gives power to move forward.

Now from Fr. Ken:

We shouldn’t be looking for a 4.0 in holiness, Fr. Ken said. Keep your eye on Jesus, not on myself, and my progress in holiness. I thought that choleric goal-oriented people probably need to think of holiness as something to strive for more than more laid-back types who do things more organically.

Fr. Ken said he thinks of knowing Jesus not “face to face” but more seeing His back as he’s walking ahead of him.” James and John are behind talking about who will be the greatest and Jesus is walking ahead saying keep your eye on the path. We should be moving where Jesus is walking.

Later we talked about this – he is neither braut-mystique (bridal mysticism where Jesus is known mostly as lover) nor apophatic (imageless spirituality) – he thought it was more like glimpses. He might be working on a piece or music and then senses God on the horizon, beckoning. Only in heaven will it be face to face; now we have the foretastes. “Noli me tangere” Christ says to Mary Magdalene. “I have not yet gone back to the Father.” I joked – we could call it glimpse-spirituality, but that sounds awkward.

I didn’t like that image so much of walking behind Jesus, but I realized it is like that with peace-making where I am way behind where Jesus wants to lead me.

Fr. Ken mentioned that children are fascinated with churches – a sacred space, a sense of being pulled toward the transcendent God.

FR. KEN’S TEACHING at the workshop:

Transcendentals – the good, the true, and the beautiful. Von Balthasar – need for beauty, not only truth and goodness. Ronda: Do the Tridentine Mass supporters love the beauty of the chant so much as a balance to their emphasis on truth and morality? Beauty is the resplendence of God shining through creation. The role of beauty is to make the good and true attractive.

Lots of bad results came from the idea that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. This makes me the idol and arbiter vs. seeing that beauty is rooted in God, not in me. Good is what we should do; truth what has been revealed. In the West we have separated beauty from the good and the true. If the good isn’t also beautiful then, Balthasar warns, people will seek beauty in evil. Evil can be attractive; but the good and the true are glorious. Note Balthasar’s title: The Glory of the Lord.

Spirituality = the way we live what we believe. Moses is fascinated by the burning bush. God is a fascinating mystery that I cannot touch, or like Isaiah: a man of unclean lips – sense of distance, purging.

Holiness is a process – so we need not be discouraged because we are not there yet. Dogma is a door, not a wall. We are becoming.

It is terrible that the arts are being pushed out of the school curriculum. If we don’t have time for the arts we don’t have time to be human or godly.

The appreciators are an antidote to only wanting to eat, use, have sex. Great art brings even atheists into beauty.

But music now has become consumer oriented.

The arts can speak to you not in words. He remembers when he was 14 lying on the floor doing his homework and listening to the radio – Mozart’s D Minor Piano Concerto – a mystical experience where he was taken out of himself, held there and it was as if his whole future was planned and he followed it. Music is a way to flow into the mystery.

You do the best you can. then God seems to move away. What you were clinging to was not God but where you were to be at that time, with the degree you could understand God then. The great moving away is death. When you die He is walking you out of life.

Desert vs. the promised land. His spiritual director at the seminary told him “between Egypt and the promised land there is always a desert and you must cross that.”

Beauty open us to this process.

The Reformation gutted the art, but they compensated with the Cantata about the Gospel.

If poor art, like charismatic songs, helps, how much more would great art do?

We become smaller when everything is relevant instead of great.

Non-fiction is like a reporter and what we see is not very good. Great fiction brings us into another world.

We live in a culture of anger, depression – things aren’t going right, great losses of people we love, loss of job….

Depression is anger turned inward.

Beethoven is great for the depressed. He was born ugly, clumsy, rejected in love, was treated badly in his profession. then goes deaf – everything in his life blood is seeping away. He was going into despair. He wrote a lamentation. He became suicidal. But he was also writing the 2nd symphony. It is full of joy, and hope, and courage and inner vitality. It is the most optimistic piece in the world. Music heals vs. wallowing in our problems. Rhythm – life, vitality. The enemy of healing is inactivity. His whole music was about overcoming, moving forward.

The Gregorian chant has some parts for the trained, some for soloists, but then also simply chant for the priests.

Fr. Ken doesn’t see God as solving his problems, but pulling him out.

He prefers that people be enticed to pray more rather than feeling more obligated.

He studied the Mass in every detail in seminary so that he would feel pulled in to it.