Jimmy Mitchell March 30, 2014
Let Your Heart Soar
For the last several years, my heart has become aflame with the vision of transforming the culture at large through the marriage (or better yet, remarriage) of beauty and truth. It does not take more than few minutes of pondering the world around us to realize that something is not quite right. The world is not as it should be. And to steal the famous words of G.K. Chesterton, what’s wrong with the world is me.
The harmony that should exist within the created order is far from the current state of affairs. The affection and delight that should be shared between the Creator and creation is under constant attack, and there is very little peace even within the human heart. At this critical point in history, where have we arrived? More importantly, from where did we come and to where are we going?
I have recently taken as my patron Blessed John Paul the Great, especially in my work. His zealous support of the arts preserved Polish faith and culture in the midst of twentieth century Nazi and Communist regimes. The question for us today is who is going to save our American culture from itself? From the creeping secular humanism that pervades our politics, media, and education system? Not to mention the entertainment industry and other artistic and cultural enterprises?
As our Western society grows increasingly bored with itself, thereby falling into a deeper secular humanism every day, I can imagine few greater and more influential sources of renewal than that which can come through faithful creativity. A faithful creativity that honors Truth, Beauty, and Goodness – each of which are found quintessentially in the Person of Jesus Christ.
Work is a Beautiful Thing … Nearly two months before the passing of Steve Jobs, I found out about his retirement as CEO of Apple like most of the world… through Twitter. I know very little about his personal life or even his philosophy of work, but I must say that I have always been impressed with his incessant focus on product over profit that has led to one of the most successful companies in modern history.
While co-founding Apple in 1976 and returning in the late 1990’s to bring them out of near-bankruptcy (thank you, iPod), he also co-founded and was the CEO of Pixar Animation Studios, which brought forth some of the greatest and most beloved animation films of all time (Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles… the list goes on).
From what I have read in the past, Steve Jobs brings culture with him everywhere he goes. Not only is that fact obvious in his now famous and legendary product launches (sparking millions of sales of the iPhone, iPad, and other products the day of their release), it is also obvious in his clear and consistent dedication to cutting-edge technology and media innovation.
One thing that has caught my attention in recent years is Apple’s uncanny ability to secure free advertising from countless phone service companies, lifestyle magazines, and Hollywood films. Their products are so much a part of the culture at large that it would be unusual to not see them on prime-time television.
I ate lunch not too long ago with a good friend who is as dedicated and passionate about his work as a philosopher at Vanderbilt University as Steve Jobs was in his work as the CEO of Apple. We concluded quite simply that work is a beautiful thing. It sanctifies man and gives him dignity. If motivated by a desire for excellence and charity, it can transform culture, no matter its content or output.
Can work become an obsession … Of course. And while people have become increasingly obsessed with the idea of having balance in their lives, what we actually need is order. Should work ever disrupt our vocation or interfere with prayer and apostolate, it will not sanctify. Kept in its proper place through a life of order, work can become a fountain of life. It can be both reparation and remedy for our fallen state. It can increase our capacity for love by calling us out of ourselves and strengthening the unique and unrepeatable gifts that each of us bring to the world.
Passing Things … Not too long ago, I was listening to Switchfoot’s new album Vice Verses for the first time. As I listened to their single “Restless”, it occurred to me how beautiful this life can be when its passing nature is properly understood. Our hearts are made for much more than what we see around us every day. It is difficult to not be weighed down my the world’s wreckage and become depressed by our own weakness and evil inclination. Every day, we are wounded by the failings of others and wound others by our own failings. Our hearts seem to be constantly crying out, things are not as they should be.
And yet, what is this beauty amidst the brokenness? What is that divine reality that enlarges our heart at any given moment with a hope of things unseen? The mystery of our own humanity has been revealed, and everything in the created order has become a veil behind which we see the hope of glory. As pilgrims simply passing through on our way Home, we must ponder the beauty of the One who suffered with perfect love. Not one of us can escape the pain of life, and so the great challenge is to suffer well. Steve Jobs’ early death is a good reminder for us all. Life is filled with many passing things.
Beauty Traversed by Love … Early this fall, as I drove home from one of the oldest standing churches in downtown Nashville, my heart soared with the sweet echoes of beautiful liturgy and the sublime experience of having traversed the darkness of my own soul into the light of divine love. Like traveling by train through the night, where all that can be heard is the low rumble of metal wheels turning upon steel tracks, entering into the shadows of our own humanity is not easy. The coming of dawn may be around the next bend or may be a very far way off. The low rumble is like the deep inner longing that calls us forth, confident that we are created and sustained by Love. Even if we cannot see the path before us, we are called to make incarnate that very same Love in the world around us. We must not be afraid to traverse the darkness.
Articulating such experiences is no light task and can easily lead to flirtation with vulgarity or mere trivialization. Then comes the temptation to not speak at all, to close one’s heart to future promptings that call one to such greatness. Still capable of great goodness, we are not totally depraved. And so the heart burns…
“I say to myself, I will not mention him,
I will speak in his name no more.
But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart,
imprisoned in my bones;
I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.”
Some would call these powerful words from the prophet Jeremiah (20:9) mere sentiment. Others would believe them to be beautiful poetry but certainly not a human reality. I believe it takes courage to continue down dark, narrow tracks when all we can hear is the low rumble of metal on steel. Just when Beauty begins to burn like a fire in our chest – seemingly imprisoning Itself in our very depths – our hearts burst forth with light and grace. Just when we think we cannot possibly endure such a redemption, the darkness opens up into the dawn of a new day, filled with the hope of reaching the full potential of our humanity.
Beauty Will Save the World … I am convinced, more than ever, that Beauty will save the world. Not the love of beauty, but the beauty of love. The world needs art that can help rebuild authentic human culture. We need literary societies (like those started by the Chestertons and Tolkiens of days gone by), songwriters associations, and communities of artists who see themselves primarily as co-creators with God – seeking to transform the culture at large.
In his esteemed work Art and the Bible, Francis Schaeffer wrote, “He may have no gift of writing, no gift of composing or singing, but each man has the gift of creativity in terms of the way he lives his life. In this sense, the Christian’s life is to be an art work. The Christian’s life is to be a thing of truth and also a thing of beauty in the midst of a lost and despairing world.”
The way to Beauty is traversed by Love. May Love save us all, and may our hearts soar. Blessed John Paul the Great, pray for us!