Artists have a mission to the world to say that there is eternal life… Art is at the service of the Eternal. Sarah Finch reflects on her work in the theatre and her discovery of God as Beauty.
I remember hearing Chiara Lubich say that ‘since the beginning of the movement we felt a passion to cry out with our lives, with our words and with our art that God is Beauty, not only Truth and Goodness.’ This resonated with me, as one of the first things that attracted me to the Focolare was the beauty of their houses, the beauty in the way they presented themselves.
In feeling the call to follow God, my instinct was that I should give up my passion – which was theatre and the arts. I didn’t want anything to take his place in my heart. One day, as a teenager, I was walking in the hills in Devon. It was very beautiful. There was a stream and I wanted to feel it, be part of it, to be one with creation, one with life – the life source. Nature was singing the beauty of God. As I put my hands in the stream I had a sudden thought: ‘This is what theatre is, touching life, and then sharing this experience, helping others touch life, sharing this experience of God – beauty.’ Years later I found a quote from C S Lewis: ‘We do not want to merely see beauty. We want something else which can hardly be put into words, we want to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.’ For me this expresses our deep longing for God – God expressed as beauty, and beauty is love, unity. Chiara Lubich once wrote: ‘The artist manages to put into their work that which is immortal in them – that is their soul, and therefore they have a mission to the world to say that there is eternal life.’ Art at the service of the Eternal. Clearly this has to be the work of the Holy Spirit, the work of divine inspiration. The mystic, poet and painter Blake wrote ‘Imagination is the proof of the divine.’
Suffering and artistic inspiration
This has to have at its root the nothingness of self; and we know that it is suffering that leads us to emptiness of self.
Peter Brook said ‘We must enter the “No” to find the “Yes”. How?’
One of my early jobs was to play a character who suffered a lot, and understood suffering. One evening, after the show, someone I hardly knew wanted to talk, and shared her struggles really deeply. I wondered why she felt I could understand, and then I realised it was because of what she had touched in my performance. She felt that I would understand her pain. In that experience, I understood both the responsibility and the privilege of working in the theatre.
Another time, I was performing a piece that also dealt deeply with suffering; I performed it in Italy, but entirely in English. Afterwards, a musician told me: ‘I understood nothing, but I understood everything! I was in you – and it was a piece of music!’ We know that these experiences can only be a fruit of the Holy Spirit, not of any human endeavour.
Stravinsky wrote ‘In order to create there must be a dynamic force and what force is more potent than love?’ We are also aware that the highest love is a love refined through suffering.
A great French actor, Jean-Louis Barrault said ‘When a thousand people, a thousand human hearts that are attentive, open, sharing the present moment with me. When a thousand hearts are beating to the same rhythm, and mine is beating to the rhythm of theirs; we have all become simply one’. When this happens between actor and audience, you become one and can experience a small foretaste of heaven.
The ex-director of the National Theatre in London, Richard Eyre, famously said ‘You enter the theatre an individual: you become an audience’ (i.e. One)
We are if we are not
When I was a drama student I was introduced to a writing of Chiara Lubich, from her writings in 1949. It seemed to me to sum up artistic inspiration: but first and foremost it is a way of living that can unleash the Holy Spirit into our lives and work. I know that my approach to my work is always to try and be empty, so that I can be in touch with the promptings of the Holy Spirit, who is the real artist.
We are, if we are not. If we are, we are not.
We must be ‘without a thought’ because we are children of God. The children of God do not have thoughts. Only when we do not have thoughts will our mind be totally open and constantly receive God’s light and be a channel.
Likewise, we must be without will to have the capacity for God’s will.
And without memory so as to remember only the present moment and live ‘ecstatically’ (outside ourselves).
Without flights of imagination so as to see Paradise also with the imagination, because Paradise is the dream of Dreams.
In 1991, after reading this meditation, I wrote in my diary: ‘This meditation is the Magna Carta for artists, and we must, in living his paradise, communicate it to the world. We need imagination, but the imagination ‘par excellence’ which you touch in him, then it is art ‘par excellence’ which expresses a soul who lives with God, touching paradise and communicating it to others.’