Thursday, January 14, 2016

Death Comes for the Artists... and Hope for Mercy

The author is also a musician
Recently, there have been several deaths of actors, composers, and musicians from various causes. Indeed, as I get older, many of the entertainers and celebrities that I remember from my youth reach the end of their lives.

When the news comes out, I am certainly moved to pray for these people's souls as I would be for anyone. Often I can't help thinking about the sometimes deeply disturbed and distressing lives many of them have lived, and their apparent lack of faith.

At the same time, I cannot help being touched by nostalgia as the reviews of their life work raise long forgotten personal memories and the striking recognition of their originality and creative achievements in their artistic fields.

Among those who have died recently there were some remarkable artists. I can appreciate a career and the work that came out of it without endorsing the crazy, dysfunctional lifestyle of the artist. No amount of special talent exempts anyone from responsibility for their actions. I must admit, however, that (being a poet and musician myself) I have a particular empathy for artists, musicians, writers, and performers.

Artists in general endure much suffering in the creative process. They often carry other forms of psychological baggage that come with their gifts. Moreover, in the strange and stressful and turbulent times we live in, with the need to negotiate the pressures (as well as the possibilities) of the explosion of technological media, the artistic vocation can be a very hard life. It has been destructive in many ways to talented young people who are thrust suddenly into wealth and celebrity status, without a human context that can guide them, and under intense pressure to manufacture products for sale that stultify their real artistic aspiration and perception. This does not simply excuse, but it may give some context to a lot of outrageous behavior of artists in our time.

So they live, take the stage, crave attention, fear failure, make their marks, and then if they survive exhaustion, physical neglect, and/or addictions they grow old and die. I can only pray for them and hope. I have reason for hope, because I know that there is Someone greater than all the chaos of our world.

Jesus's sacrifice is infinite. His mercy is infinite. He died for everyone, even the poor crazy artists (and they are poor, no matter how much wealth they may have hoarded or squandered in their brief lives). He knows the real depths of their sufferings, the desires of their hearts, their questions and their (often hidden) cries for help. He knows how much or how little culpability they bear for their sins, however huge and preposterous they may look to the world.

I myself am a sinner who has been foolish in my youth and stubborn in my old age, and it may be pride and timidity as much as anything else that keep me looking "respectable" on my own small stage in life. If all we had was our own fragile human freedom, what could we do? But the grace and mercy of the God who loves us finds ways to draw us, surprise us, provoke us, and even "outwit" us.

The Good Shepherd seeks out all His sheep, He knows our roads. He has traveled them all the way to the end.

The mystery of human freedom remains. We must walk with God and struggle and fight against the evils we face and our temptation to settle for less, to go our own way, to be self-satisfied and self-centered. I pray especially for artists to be faithful to their calling, and me to mine and all of us.

My hope is that the infinite mercy of God will win our hearts in the end.