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Classics in whatever genre—words, notes, pigment, marble, metal—require the artist to dig for inspiration into his/her psyche, realm of the Sacred. Facilitating the process is a servant heart, a willingness to change direction, and a letting go of the work—it never being finished. Indeed, the artist is co-creating with the Creator of the universe and learning a new way of being-inside-and-outside of the world.  Fortunately for us, there have always been such individuals who embraced this sacrifice of arduous becoming.

Aaron Copland is one of these artists whose music invariably opens me to the Beautiful where interludes of stillness speak. Appalachian Spring (1944), commissioned for the dancer Martha Graham and company and interwoven between the 1848 tune, Shaker Gifts, evokes such gentle hushes. Its war-weary audiences flocked to performances, their psyches uplifted by this new vision-in-sound that was awarded the 1945 Pulitzer Prize for Music. 

War-weary myself this afternoon, I turned away from the news and listened to Appalachian Spring, scored for a chamber orchestra of thirteen instruments; its barely audible opening notes excised my scrambled psyche of turmoil and pried open my imagination. Immediately, I was in another world, deeply soothed, until twenty-five minutes later, again muted notes brought closure to the piece, and with it, an aching within me.

But the memory remains…

Lifelong inspiration of the canvas, Starry Night (1889) painted by the Dutch Post-Impressionist, Vincent van Gogh, finally nudged my exploration of his genius. Something about his more-than-alive colors and rough sweeping brushstrokes enliven ordinary subjects with an inner brilliance that shocks—as if channeling something of the Sacred’s energy. Simplicity, in its purest form, crowns his canvases, eight hundred of them, many produced during the last decade of his short life.

However the beauty and order he produced on his canvases fly in the face of his thirty-seven years of rejections: from his parents from birth, from three women to whom he proposed, from employers and church authorities, from Impressionistic artists, and the public’s distaste for his paintings. The Red Vineyard was the only painting that Van Gogh sold.

Despite coming from an upper middle class background, he lived and worked as a peasant. Chronic anger besieged van Gogh’s entire life, manifesting in gloominess, sadness, and melancholy, augmented by slovenliness in his person and the room he lived in. People were uneasy around him.

Only his brother Theo supported him emotionally and financially. He, alone, knew of his fluency in four languages, his voracious reading and intelligence, his gentle soul as gleaned from their shared letters.

Yet, Vincent van Gogh’s oils scintillate with a life of their own. One commentator saw Starry Night, the sweeping view of Saint-Remy-de-Provence from the barred window of his asylum just before sunrise, as the culmination of his life’s work. In his art, alone, did van Gogh find his God.

While I was dozing atop my bed, my blinds slating the afternoon sun, soft tendrils of a violin solo nudged my spirit into shimmering realms. Eyes closed, motionless, l listened lest I interrupt the visit, for that’s what it was—I was in the presence of Beauty. Forever passed in a flash as Korngold’s Violin Concerto in D Minor (1947) concluded with its virtuoso climax. Slowly, I opened my eyes, turned off the radio, and stirred my toes.

What had been an ordinary day morphed me within ecstasy, my senses enlarged, my breathing expanded. No matter my chronic conditions, I felt whole.  

Such experience speaks to the critical importance of feeding beauty to our psyches, wherever gleaned—the arts or sacred texts or the outdoors. Such nurturance opens us to the transpersonal in our lives and we thrive until the next dry spell with its antidote.  

Our God is generous …

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