In Praise Of Artists

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Painting by Leon Wykzolkowski

Moses heard a shepherd on the road, praying,
where are you? I want to help you, to fix your shoes
and comb your hair. I want to wash your clothes
and pick the lice off. I want to bring you milk
to kiss your little hands and feet when it’s time
for you to go to bed. I want to sweep your room
and keep it neat. God, my sheep and goats
are yours. All I can say, remembering you,
is ayyyy and ahhhhhhhhh.”
Moses could stand it no longer.
“Who are you talking to?”
“The one who made us,
and made the earth and made the sky.”
“Don’t talk about shoes
and socks with God! And what’s this with your little hands
and feet? Such blasphemous familiarity sounds like
you’re chatting with your uncles.


The shepherd repented and tore his clothes and sighed
and wandered out into the desert.
A sudden revelation
then came to Moses. God’s voice:
You have separated me
from one of my own. Did you come as a Prophet to unite,
or to sever?
I have given each being a separate and unique way
of seeing and knowing that knowledge.
What seems wrong to you is right for him.
What is poison to one is honey to someone else.
Purity and impurity, sloth and diligence in worship,
these mean nothing to me.

— Fragment of a poem by Coleman Barks and Rumi

Every artist has a unique voice, a voice that is not always easy to find, inundated as we are with instructions as to the “correct” way to speak and to create. There’s no dearth of folks anxious to tell us how to create or work or love or worship. There’s no lack of people who are sure they know the truth.

The waves of rage roiling the body politic at the moment springing from a destructive certainty that wants to force itself on us shows a surprising unquestioned certainty. Thinking for yourself and staying open to learning is rare, it seems. Readymade answers that justify outrageous acts keep hate alive.

Our way of living, working and educating ourselves seems to promote an inability to think clearly. There is no education of the heart. We all have to find our way to truth and love. Self appointed guides who teach by fear and absolutes don’t want your questions or uniqueness. They want uniformity.

Artists are by definition questioners. They are not people who are dead sure of a black and white world and are therefore easily manipulated. They have learned how assumptions can mislead. They have experienced deeper places in themselves, places where God seems to speak. They have married a beautiful and interconnected world. The last thing they want to do is destroy and punish, and in listening attentively to everything, including their own energies, their unique voice shows up more and more often.

Watching the raging mobs commit so easily to destructive acts, you can’t help but wonder at the mental hygiene or lack thereof that plagues our society. Subscribing to ideologies without a scrap of kindness in them is strangely common, but we are prepared for that by our schools and institutions. It’s so common we don’t even notice it. I guess it’s to be expected that we would react with blind rage, because it’s a trap. I can understand that getting out of that trap by loving your neighbor might not appeal.

Can America heal these wounds created by our norms? It looks daunting, to tell the truth, but that’s where we are. We are all searching for love, we just forget to look into our own hearts.

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