I have thought for a long time that if I were ever to become an artist than I would not become a saint, but if I were not to become an artist, than I might not go to Heaven. This is an important distinction. I have seen for a long time the way that artists, and genuine people even, tend to be treated by religion, and it is not pretty.
Artists, especially those who are willing to face the dark and terrifying parts of life, are not what religion is looking for in saints. Did you know that there was even a period when publishers would edit saints published lives to take out anything that didn’t make them seem holy? There seems to be this requirement that a saint be someone who was completely perfect, that is unless they were really, really evil, in which case their conversion story is so powerful because they became perfect after not being perfect. I don’t know if it is possible for a true artist to look THAT perfect on the outside.
What makes an artist what they are is something in their heart that is boundless and passionate and fearless but also terrified. They have a profound sensitivity to emotion, to life, to the good and bad that not everyone sees, and even arguably into the spiritual world. It is an artists job to explore reality, to pull out what others don’t see, and that is not something that looks perfect on the outside.
Maybe part of it is just that I have never looked perfect on the outside, or maybe it is that I did look perfect on the outside and it was when I was least myself, and least who God wanted me to be. The further I got from Him the more people thought I was so great.
It’s not just about me though. James Joyce wrote a book all about falling away from the Church with clear thru lines of the depth of his affection for God and for Mary, but a terror of and hatred for the Church, and so Christians tend to believe that he is this horrible monster fighting against Catholicism, but if you read his book without a bias, he is just a wounded person who suffered a great deal as a kid. He would be a hard candidate for canonization, but he shouldn’t be villified to the degree that he tends to be. (Graham Greene is another that I would place in this category of generally considered anti-Catholic but no where near as terrible as people say.)
Dostoevsky, Dante, Flannery O’Connor, J.R.R. Tolkien, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Evelyn Waugh, GK Chesterton, and I’m sure far more that I am forgetting get nowhere near the amount of praise they should, but they have reached people that no priest ever could. When I couldn’t stand even thinking about the Church, Dostoevsky brought me there in spirit, same with each of them, and yet there are very few, if any, saints that number among these. It’s not that there are no saints that were also artists, St. Therese wrote some poetry, Edith Stein is a blessed and she was a writer, but it seems that unless an artists work was clearly about only good and holy things the author is not recognized for the tremendous work they have done for the Church.
I’ll admit that this could all be accidental, but honestly, I don’t think so, and I don’t think so because I have lived it and the prophets from the Bible(who wrote poetry) lived it, and who knows how many artists who really loved God with everything in them lived it. I believe that there are artists who were holier men and women than we will ever know, and I believe that it would take revolutionary courage for the Church to acknowledge them for what they are because they are not the typical story of holiness, their story is challenging.
Tonight, I was driving home after a night of praying and shopping two things I do together often, and I had asked God to shower grace down on the earth. Lately, He has been literally sending rain when I pray for this, God likes to make jokes and send me fun symbolism. Anyway, the thought occurred to me, “How many artists have not been acknowledged as saints because of how weird they were? What if I prayed to all the artists who are in Heaven but have not been canonized? Almost instantly it began to rain, a sudden avalanche of these enormous raindrops shaped like circles. “What?!?” I said. And the rain calmed. So I am going to start to pray to the forgotten holy artists.
To the artists who have been forgotten,
I am afraid sometimes that the condemnation I have received from members of the Church is actually from God. I come to you, who have been spurned and scorned by a community that should have accepted you, and I offer you my true self, my whole true self. God created me with desires, talents, and an abundance of emotions and sensitivities that has made me the target of frustration and cruel talk time and again. I bring you the pain I have felt, and the pain I will feel as a result of being an artist. I believe that God loves me as I am, and does not demand that I sacrifice my identity in order to follow Him. I believe that He created me with desires and talents that He wanted to be used, and not wasted and ignored. I believe that He loves me and sees me striving for Him, even though others may condemn me and call me evil. I believe that if I keep seeking Him, He will be with me, and He will not abandon me. I believe, but help my fear and unbelief. Judgement from the Church and its people makes me feel far from you, so draw me closer when they condemn me. Hold onto me when they don’t understand my work, reassure me when they challenge my love of You. God let me work bring your love and understanding to every single person who ever reads or encounters it. May it shower them with the conviction that they are loved, and to love others. Amen.