Part 4 in ‘Letters in a Pandemic’ series
A letter for the artist
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The night Kent State University’s campus made the decision to close for the semester, I was set to host a house concert. We went through with it, rearranging furniture in my friends’ basement and eating tacos in the kitchen with the musicians before the show. It was a strange day because so many things we were looking forward to the rest of the school year just got pulled out from under us, memories we looked forward to making were decimated with the swift and mighty hand of an administrative email. But we went on with the show, gathering about 20 people for a couple hours of music.
We joked that it was “our last hurrah;” in reality, it was. We sat in a crescent shape, singing along to the bridge of one song, nearly-yelling the lyrics to covers of Taylor Swift and One Direction. It was silly and it was sweet. A good piece of music, a concert with friends in a cinderblock basement, has a sort of holiness to it, a way of reminding me of what is good and true and beautiful. Music is one of my “thin places,” perhaps because it seems to foreshadow a chorus to come that I will sing along to when the new heavens and new earth are ushered in. Though I will not see those friends again for months, I have the memory to carry me on, reminders that this too shall pass. One day, we will be gathered together to sing again.
A favorite quote of mine comes from a rather stodgy philosophy book I was assigned in college. I read it during a time in life when I felt like the skills I had—primarily creative or “soft” skills—felt insufficient against the weightiness of the world (and job market) out there.
“To honor human creativity is to honor God, for God is the Heavenly Maker of that maker.” —Sir Philip Sidney
There are few times that the world has felt as collectively weighty as it does now. I once again feel the temptation to throw up my hands and render artistic skills “useless!” and say that creativity is simply superfluous. But I cannot. I cannot because I see and hear beautiful and good things happening around me, things that nudge me towards a thin place once again. I hear a skilled musician masterfully turn a tune on his banjo. I admire awe-inspiring photos of landscapes I cannot see with my own eyes, but may delight in from afar. I find a moment of peace in watching a master paint a daffodil. I read a book whose words are arranged so eloquently, I cannot help but cry, feeling understood, seen, inspired. I buy a handtowel my friend designed and hang it my oven’s handle, an object that seems so utilitarian, but provides a brief moment of beauty in an every day space.
I do not think any of these are examples of escape, but rather moments where creation comes back to its original design—beautiful, peaceful, true. A balm in the chaos, a calm, a reminder of the past and a foreshadowing of what is to come. A small redemption. It sounds a bit melodramatic to say that a handtowel or a banjo could be redemptive, but then I remember that the Creator is a unique communicator, delivering messages by way of talking donkeys, in a quiet whispering voice, in a pillar of fire, in mud mixed with spit—in the concrete, the every day.
To the artists in a pandemic—I hope you know that the words you write, the photos you take, the songs you play, the pictures you sketch, not only bring respite and delight in a season of chaos and distress but they honor God, too. To honor human creativity is to honor God, for God is the Heavenly Maker of that maker. The work you do helps us connect with others, foster empathy, build memories even while we are apart. And sometimes, when our brains are propelled out of our self-centeredness, they help us remember the Maker—the one who makes all good things, who will come again to restore creation to its original design. Until then, I will listen closely and look carefully—the sounds and signs are already here, glimmers of hope, signposts pointing towards a restored land.
Thank you artists for making, for sharing, for reminding me of what’s to come.