Most artists whom I know-whose primary medium is words – seem to have gone through at least a season where they felt that their best art was produced in times of melancholy, sorrow and suffering.
It seems this trend is also largely true in the visual arts, dramatic arts, and musical arts.
Today I wonder if such art is so powerful because it connects with a reality in which we all live, but experience on different levels all the time?
I remember a friend challenging me when I was a teenager to write a “happy poem”. I did so indulgently, and half-sarcastically. I decided that the the technical component of my poetry was sound, but that the over all product was garbage nevertheless. I felt that such poetry did not reflect reality. not that reality was a miserable existence, but something about rainbows and flowers just felt juvenile and dishonest.
I think my feelings about my poetry had merit… I think it was juvenile and dishonest. The majority of my writing at that time was melancholy, morose, gritty, sometimes angry… and I felt it was good. It was honest, and it reflected my experience of reality.
That said, I believe that there is a place for positive poetry and art. . . I have greater and greater appreciation for pure joy and happiness in visual art than in other realms, I admit… more room for whimsy and whatnot…
But mostly, I’m coming to find that art that is positive is art that is redemptive. It doesn’t ignore the sorrow and suffering. It acknowledges or even embraces it, but believes that there is joy, and delight in spite of, in the midst of, or even because of it.
So why have I come to believe that sorrow plays an integral part in art? Why do I believe that sorrow is the close companion of honesty and true human experience?
Last night all the grief and sorrow and pain that I have experienced in the past year snuck up on me. In part, I’m sure, because I am working through grief and loss, and the story of Job at the moment… and in part triggered by the recognition in only 5 days it will be the one year anniversary of the death of a friend.
Suddenly I was swarmed with sorrow. The grief for this beautiful life lost was followed by indignance at the injustice of then losing yet another person from the same house this past fall-winter, and the grief that followed for him, the grief for this infant for whom I prayed and the empathy that swallowed me for his parents, the grief that had led to unforgiveness of a friend, the pain of abuse that I had suffered, the loss of my unborn children, the pain of broken dreams and shattered hopes, and lifetime yearnings yet unrealized.
It was more than I could bear. Tears burned on my cheeks like acid rain. A lump formed in my throat which I thought would surely suffocate me. My stomache informed me of its plan to reject any and all foods that i might consider placing in it.
I gave up. I didn’t put a single thing away-and that is not like me. I merely locked the computer and walked to my room, fell into bed and begged sleep to relieve me of the silent scream that was piercing through me.
I laid awake for hours, silent tears wetting my pillowcase, which i felt too hopeless even to turn-over once the tears gave way to a deadness out of which no emotion would come.
Eventually my thoughts became incoherent, and my last coherent thought was that sleep was soon to wash over me.
My last coherent thought was one of hope!
and when I awoke, a profound apathy seemed to be attached to me. I did not know what day it was, nor did I particularly are. I wasn’t sure what time of day it was… had i awoken from a nap, or was this morning? I had a dull sense of responsibility, knowing I had work to finish. I didn’t care, and rolled over to sleep some more.
When my daughter’s calling out for me awoke me sometime later, I dutifully placed my feet on the floor, and in that vertical position, something happened.
Song after song paraded through my heart!
Even last night, I think the one thing that kept any hope alive in my heart was the phrase, “suffering anguish, despised and rejected, Bearing our sins my redeemer is He”
but this morning, song after song, “When Peace Like a River” “Lo How a rose e’er blooming (WHAT!?) ” “Abide with me” “Glory of it all”–> (in particular the verse that says, “all is lost, find him there”, “Glorious Day”
these songs were not answers to my sorrow…
but rather IN my sorrow, they drew me in to worship.
So my thought through all of this is simply this…
Is the beauty of sorrow–the gift of it–that it makes us profoundly aware of an experience that we already live in? Sorrow that comes after catastrophic loss, such as the writer of “When Peace like a River” experienced, the sorrow that has a mitigating circumstance.. does this connect us with the state of brokenness in which we are already living? It does this in a profound, sometimes terrifying, agonizing way…
But I think that it connects us with the honest, real experience that is part of being human– we live in a broken existence.
and it seems to me… that out of THIS awareness, we are more keenly aware of how things ought to be… how they were created to be… how WE were created to be!
And in this place.. I think two things happen.
First, I think our awareness of our broken state and our longing for an unbroken state leads to an awareness that we need help! that we can’t get there on our own…
ultimately… that we need Jesus.
Second, I think that it stirs in our hearts a longing worship… petitions for help, mercy, and an appreciation of grace, an expectation of the redemption of creation… of the restoration of the unbroken, created order of this world!
And I think this state also gives us a unique opportunity to be comforted by our beloved Jesus, who knows sorrow, suffering, and grief intimately.
And I don’t find any of this to be an answer to suffering. It does not rebut pain. It does not dissolve grief, and it does not expel anguish.
But I think it finds the hope and redemption that is present IN suffering.
“All is lost
find him there, find him there
Dawn is there, Dawn is there
After all falls apart
he repairs he repairs”
~David Crowder Band