God’s story emerges in the power and beauty of artistic expression

By Archbishop Linda Nicholls

 

Can you imagine our church without the music, art, stained glass, hangings or sculptures that adorn our worship life? At the Reformation some Christian communities, fearing that art was supplanting a focus on God, demanded a simple, unadorned manner of worship and plain buildings with little or no decoration. Anglicans retained the possibility that music and art are not unnecessary distractions or idols but rather are vehicles to nurture and deepen faith.

The work of artists allows for the expression of our deepest feelings and longings. Stained glass windows tell the stories of our faith—so much so that a child is purported to have exclaimed that “a saint is someone the light shines through,” pointing to a stained glass window. Music moves the soul and draws us closer to God through our emotions. The power of a full choral service or of worship with an organ filling the space of a cathedral takes us into the power and majesty of God, while simple Taizé chant sung in community draws us together more deeply. Sculptures express the human condition in wood, bronze or stone in ways words alone cannot accomplish. The homeless Jesus statue moves the plight of the poor past our mental defences, challenging us to put compassion into action.

Every culture has its own ways of expressing itself. The variety of artistic expression across the human community reflects the creativity we share with God, the Creator. The art and music of different cultures uniquely express the hearts of their people. When the church denied the spirituality of Indigenous peoples by suppressing the music and art of their communities, we took away unique expressions of the heart and soul of the peoples. Elsewhere in this issue of the Journal, the art of children at residential schools is highlighted, a poignant expression through the eyes of children of the legacy of these schools. The apology for spiritual harm offered by Archbishop Fred Hiltz last summer is a first step to opening the door to let faith be expressed in the unique ways God has given each nation.

Worship and the expression of our faith are meant to engage the whole person—mind, body, emotions, and spirit. From the earliest days human beings used art, music, dance and designs to communicate what is known and experienced. The walls of caves share ancient stories or messages for those who come after. We use art to tell our story and to share God’s story. As a musician I know the power in music to engage us deeply in the meaning and soul of those stories. I know the times I have been moved or challenged by art that stirs me out of complacency or nurtures me in hope. We would truly be poorer in faith without the gifts of artists who envision our faith in new ways through their artistic expression. Thanks be to God!

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Anglican Church of Canada, February 11, 2020