Arts as the Spiritual

When I was in my twenties, I worked for a theatre company. I was a founding member and it was a bit of a communal situation. A bunch of us lived at the theatre, so I considered it my home. Sometimes, when everyone else was off doing other things, I had the building to myself. I used to go and sit on the stage and feel the energy there, a kind of meditation. I thought of the stage as my church. It was very cathartic (and perhaps a bit dramatic).

I was raised Southern Baptist, which is quite possibly the worst thing to be raised. My grandmother was a devout Christian and went to church every Sunday. My mother, on the other hand, didn’t, but she tended to farm out my spiritual education to my grandparents, mostly in an attempt to placate my grandmother, I think. I don’t believe my mother is very religious or spiritual, but if she is anything, she is codependent and was always worried about her mother’s opinion of her. And my grandmother judged all of us by the highest order.

My grandparents paid for me to go to Christian school during my elementary years, and I spent most summers at her house, where we attended church on Wednesdays and Sundays without fail. I do have to give my grandparents credit however, because my grandfather taught me to read before I entered kindergarten and their church had a library which I frequented in my youth. I became a voracious reader because of their influence, and they also cultivated my love for music. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t singing in the church choir, and I also played in the handbell choir and the church orchestra. My grandmother also footed the bill for piano lessons and even drove me to them, although I only ended up learning how to read music (seven years of not practicing your scales will do that).

What I never could understand about church, however, was what the point was. It always felt like a judgemental place to me. Old women and men would dress up like they were going to a social event, sit and get lectured at, and then go have lunch and gossip about everyone they saw that day. They didn’t even clap when someone performed, only said “amen,” as though God would smite them for showing appreciation for a person’s talent. They also seemed convinced they were right. Once, when I was a kid, I asked my grandmother what the best religion was. She said “ours is, of course” as though Southern Baptists were centuries old and had it all figured out. I said, “but I thought Jesus was a Jew.” That didn’t go over well.

But when I stood on stage to sing, or play a beautiful piece of music, or create a character and embody them for a couple of hours (once I finally discovered theatre, which wasn’t until high school), I felt all the things that the pastor used to lecture us about. It felt like I was on a higher plane, as though I had touched something that was just out of reach of the mundane every day. So in my twenties, sitting on that empty stage and feeling the untapped energy that flowed through the space, that was my church. I felt safe, I felt powerful, I felt like I was home.

When I look around at the world today, it’s obvious to me that something is missing. So many people are caught up in the new religion of the day–worshipping the state, with all of its rules about who is good and who is bad, who is racist and who is virtuous, where wearing a mask makes you akin to a saint, while asking questions gets you banished from society. What I think is missing is the spiritual, and to me there is nothing more spiritual than the arts. Sitting in a dark room and watching a play can open your mind to new ideas. Hearing a beautiful piece of music can fill you with love. But sadly, most of the art I see today is just propaganda. It is story couched in persuasion, and it’s meaningless to the soul. Our souls are empty and screaming for nourishment.

Gustave Flaubert said, “You don’t make art out of good intentions.” And that’s all anyone seems to be doing today. Broadway has become the virtue police, musicians are more concerned with how you vote than making good music, and Hollywood has gone so woke, it’s unwatchable. I want to go back to church, sit alone on that stage and feel the energy there, and create from a place of meaning, not motive.

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