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The Arts are Essential
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The Arts are Essential to our Welfare

by The Most Revd Kay Goldsworthy AO | Archbishop

The heavens declare the glory of God: and the firmament proclaims his handiwork;

One day tells it to another: and night to night communicates knowledge.

These opening verses of Psalm 19 invite the reader to reflect on the immeasurable creative glory of God. They remind me every time I read and pray them of the painting of Yankunytjatjara woman Vicki Cullinan, an artist from the central desert region close to Alice Springs.

Most of her paintings are about the night sky. Looking at them is reminiscent of being in the middle of what my father would have called ‘nowhere’, looking up at the great Milky Way, the Southern Cross, Orion’s Belt, Pelaides. Most of us have looked up on one of those nights when the stars seem close enough to reach out and touch, and you can feel them wrapping around the earth as they reach across the darkness. ‘The heavens declare the glory of God ...’

In Vicki Cullinan’s words, ‘At night in the desert, when I look to the sky – heavy with stars, I feel at my most calm. The sky is the largest presence watching these lands. It holds all our ancestral stories from a long time ago. It watches every day what happens in our community; the chaos, the beauty, the hard times, the laughter. The sky see’s and knows everything. It holds all this energy and reflects back on us at night, it is forever, and it is still’.

In the last 16 or so months we have begun to understand in new ways the human need for creativity in times of hardship and threat to life, family and community. It is as though there is a low hum of anxiety reaching across the heavens, encompassing people in every corner of the globe, highlighting our common humanity.

Many will remember the images from the depths of the 2020 lockdowns showing musicians in Europe playing instruments from their balconies, lightening heavy hearts, or that Zoom choir forming from around the country, bringing together people who are able singers and those uncertain of their voices, all together working out how to bring their gifts into a harmony for the well-being and delight of others.

COVID is teaching us many lessons, but the need for humans to express ourselves through art, attempting to make sense of the world in music, painting, drama, film and other forms of expression is essential. Our creative response to disruption, confusion, and pain allows faith, hope and wonder to emerge and weave their magic. We need the prophetic eye of the artist who shows us the world against the full light of God’s desire for everything and everyone. We need the sound of music opening God’s heart of love singing to each of us, now and to eternity. We need to see the world as the background as well as the foreground of God’s creative purpose even in the smallest glimpse of the majesty and immensity, the sun just above the dawn horizon and the night sky which is so much bigger than can be known or imagined.

In January this year, the President and CEO of the American Association of Medical Colleges wrote: ‘As long as the pandemic cuts a deadly path across our world, science will of course be paramount. But none of our institutions, and that includes governments, should see the arts and humanities as frills. They are essential to our welfare, even our survival. The arts can not only help heal our bodies during these difficult times, they can help heal our souls’. This isn’t something at which we should wonder, but rather a matter for which we should give thanks, celebrating our deepest needs, seeking wisdom and healing.

Look out the window, walk through the park, enjoy the crisp wind over the ocean rain falling on growing crops, paint on canvas, the sound of singing, even a dust cloud of red dirt, the hum of a city street - and give thanks to God, whose fingerprints are everywhere, whose art is love, and love and love.

Praise the Lord. O Praise God in his sanctuary: praise him in the firmament of his power.

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord: O praise the Lord! (Psalm 150:1,6).

+ Kay

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