catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 10, Num 10 :: 2011.05.20 — 2011.06.09


Watch and wait

One of my favorite films is a 2006 German film called The Lives of Others.  It’s a more profound statement about the ability of art to move people than anything I could write in the following paragraphs.  If you haven’t seen it, I’d recommend skipping out now, actually, so you can experience it for yourself. 

Just in case you’re still here, expecting an editorial of some sort, I’ll keep writing.  But let me attempt one more time to distract you: you might also try another 2006 film called The Singing Revolution, which documents Estonia’s non-violent revolution in the late 1980s — a revolution that centered around singing.  And not just singing in the shower: the spirit of the Estonian people was nourished in choirs thousands strong.

While we’re on the subject, add Amandla! (2002) to your queue.  My husband and I have shown this film in several classes because of its powerful depiction of the role music played in the struggle to end apartheid in South Africa.  A song is never just a song in the mouths of the oppressed.

Am I procrastinating?  Maybe I would rather be snuggled up on the couch with a bowl of popcorn in front of a moving picture than sitting in front of my computer.  Certainly talking and writing about art is a good thing, but, as Jacqueline Ristola points out elsewhere in this issue, it’s quite possible to have too much of a good thing.  And as Chris Schoon emphasizes, too many of us fail to let art work on us, thereby failing to learn certain ways of the mysterious Spirit.

I think it’s quite possible that our tendencies with art ­— to want to pin it down and master it and summarize its meaning in the space of a marketable paragraph — parallel our tendencies with the Bible.  I also suspect that our (in)abilities with both are intertwined.  The Holy Book is, after all, a story.  It takes many forms, to be sure, but we speak of the “overarching narrative” as if it has a beginning, a climax, a little toying with key themes, just like a novel might.  And yet, we wouldn’t pick up the latest Michael Chabon book, turn to a chapter that looks appealing and start reading a little ways until our assumptions are confirmed.

Could it be that learning to appreciate art might help untangle some of our bad habits when it comes to reading and interpreting scripture?   Yes, perhaps.  Probably.  But such an agenda could quickly become counterproductive, if the only reason we pursue art is to improve a limited set of pious skills.  Because a single song can be heard by one person as a threat and by another as liberation.  The very same song can sound like a lament in one set of ears and a call to hope in another.  Listening well tends to open up possibilities, rather than shut them down.  Reading with humility might lead to understanding, but maybe it’s even better if it leads to wonder.

You’re still here?  Well, I’d probably be a bad editor if I discouraged you from reading on.  Our contributors do have so much insight to offer in this issue.  But promise me this: that you’ll make some time soon, say in the next week or so, to experience a work of art that no one has assigned to you or dragged you along to see.  Listen to an album beginning to end with the lights off.  Watch a film commended to you as “moving” and suspend your judgment for a few hours while the story and the images sink in.  Say to the artist, “Here I am,” and then listen to what he or she has to say.  You might just learn something about being present or being human or loving unconditionally or accepting grace.  Or maybe not.  But my guess is that doing it over and over again will increase your chances of apocalyptic encounter as you watch and wait in faith.

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