But here I am, once again, stumbling my way through Bach two-part inventions when a passage suddenly makes that “AHA-moment” leap to a larger context: first to the Lord’s prayer and then, if I can be so bold, to the very purpose of art.
Let me walk you through this.
Here’s a snippet of the piece. I know that for those of you who don’t read music, this is not all that illuminating, so perhaps I should whistle a bit of it.
There. Does that help?
You notice, I’m sure, how the melody in the larger selection above is passed from the right hand to the left. One in the higher registry, one in the lower. Usually, I enjoy these stanzas with a sense of relief that Bach is allowing me to only have to play one hand at a time. (Kind of him.) Today, however, it reminded me of the Lord’s Prayer.
On a long drive last week, I worked my way through the prayer, expanding each section as I went. In my mind, this call and response of Bach points toward Jesus praying, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” The theme is echoed back and forth. Upper and lower registries are aligned.
Could that be the true purpose of all of art? Willa Cather once wrote, “What is art but a mould in which to imprison for a moment the shining, elusive element which is life itself – life hurrying past us and running away, too strong to stop, too sweet to lose.” What if we thought of that elusive element as the kingdom of God – the beauty, order, and truth of the world as God intended.
Then landscapes serve as a celebration of God’s purpose in nature, like in the Van Gogh painting above. Or, in contrast, an accentuation of our disconnection from it in Wyeth’s Christina’s World or the paintings of Hopper.
Portraits remind us of the value that God’s kingdom brings to each person. All our individual qualities are treasured. No one is marginalized. All God’s loved ones are drawn into the frame of his attention and care.
In Hosea 2:21-23, there is a beautiful description of the alignment Jesus was praying for. In “that day,” there will be a resonating response between the Lord and heaven and earth, where the prayers of the people and the answers from heaven result in rich blessing, both material and relational.
“And in that day I will answer, declares the LORD,
I will answer the heavens,
and they shall answer the earth,
and the earth shall answer the grain, the wine, and the oil,
and they shall answer Jezreel,
and I will sow her for myself in the land.
And I will have mercy on No Mercy,
and I will say to Not My People, ‘You are my people’;
and he shall say, ‘You are my God.’”
This is what art can let us peer into.
It’s what I pray my art and writing does, as well.
God, the world you created has vestiges of your order and beauty and truth. Help us to see them as an echo of and a window to those qualities undiluted in your kingdom. And give us eyes to see them through works of great art.