“Art is like beginning a sentence before you know its ending. The risks are obvious: you may never get to the end … or having gotten there, you may not have said anything. This is probably not a good idea in public speaking, but it’s an excellent idea in making art.” – David Bayles and Ted Orland, Art and Fear
Bayles and Orland are writing about art, but I think they could just as easily be talking about life. Living truly is dangerous and revealing. Sometimes living is truly dangerous. That sentence that begins each novel could be as a day – and how much of our happenings are we likely to know at that point?
I was watching ‘Mr Roger’s Neighbourhood’ with my son the other day. This is a show from my youth that I hope he will find helpful and engaging as he grows up. It was presented by the gentle and caring Mr Rogers, who spoke to children at their level, never belittling their questions or concerns. He was known for his slow, methodical way of speaking, and was such a contrast from all the other programmes I remember from my childhood, which seemed to be filled with caffeinated characters. As an adult, I can appreciate or, better still, can express this distinction.
In the episode I showed Tom, Mr Rogers sung about making our dreams a reality – that we cannot just wish or ‘make believe’ some situation; to enact our dreams, we must act. There must be some driving force to bring our ideas and faith from the interior of our minds and hearts out to the wider world.
In a way, we find this in Unitarianism: we worship without a shared creed or dogma, but perhaps hold onto an idea personally. How often do we voice this? How often do we share it? How often is it part of the background of our thoughts, without coming front and centre and being truly challenged by our experiences?
Sometimes we disbelieve, sometimes the words fall flat, or short, or ring hollow, of what we need. The poet Stanley Kunitz remarked, “The poem in the head is always perfect. Resistance begins when you try to convert it into language.” So maybe this lacking is not due to ourselves, the world or Great Mystery, but from the words themselves. Maybe at times our creeds fail us?
We might find comfort in Tennyson’s words that ‘there lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds.’ Language changes, we change, but still there is that persistent need to acknowledge the unknown. Not just to hold its existence in our thoughts and soul – insofar as we are able – but also to express our understanding: in words, in art, in movement, in music.
The constant presence of goodness, truth, beauty or God may elude our lips because we can never fully comprehend or describe it. But each generation tries, and tries again. Each individual has that Divine dignity, and may choose to seek it out in others. And in so doing, we are bound together. We find joy and share fellowship. Reaching beyond our words, we come to experience but a moment of the eternal. Speaking and acting, singing and dancing bring to us a greater clarity of our understanding, and hopefully a comfort knowing our.