Patron of the Arts

Last week, I was blessed with free tickets to a fundraiser concert sponsored by the Archdiocese of Manila (thanks, Mom!). “Patron of the Arts–An Evening with the Cardinal” gathered together award-winning, internationally acclaimed Filipino Acts for the benefit of the restoration of the historic Manila Cathedral. There was something for everybody–pop chorale renditions, hip hop dance routines, acoustic soul-singing (Noel Cabangon, you made me cry), jazz, Broadway (Mr. Robert Sena, I have one word for you: Respect.), opera, and a male choir with the best collective comedic timing I’ve ever seen. I was thoroughly entertained.

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In his message to close the show, His Eminence Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle (although in my head and heart he will always be the charming, down-to-earth Fr. Chito) spoke of how the Church, throughout history, has always been a true Patron of the Arts. Granted this statement is most obviously true of the Renaissance and other such periods when the Church had the money and influence to launch the careers of some of the most famous artists of all time, the Cardinal explained how this sentiment is still true today. He said that when our hearts and souls are touched, we reach a point when words are not enough to express the depth of our experience. Art then becomes the medium for us to share our truth, our inner workings.

And when the artist acknowledges the Giver of the gift, that the artist himself is a medium used by the greatest Artist of all, then Art becomes a tool for evangelization, for witnessing to the masterful strokes of the Creator.

And if your soul has ever been touched by a work of art, been moved by an otherworldly performance, you know how powerful a tool Art can be.

Take, for example, my friend Mela. I think it was a little over 10 years ago when I first saw her dance. We were preparing for our regular Road To Damascus retreats (a weekend patterned after the Life in the Spirit Seminars), and she volunteered to dance. Yup, you read that right: dancing. At a retreat. We didn’t really know her that well yet, but from the little we had seen, she didn’t seem like the delusional type. Not knowing how to turn her down, we found a song she could dance to, Phillips, Craig and Dean’s “When God Ran,” and braced ourselves. Putting in a dance at the most emotional part of the retreat, after the talk on Sin and Reconciliation (the Journey Home to God), if done wrong, could end up being an epic failure.

Well, it was EPIC, definitely. Failure? Not a chance.

Whenever she moves, I am moved to tears.

Whenever she moves, I am moved to tears.

And this is where I know words will fail me. Every movement she made could very well have been a master’s stroke on the canvass. It was as if she was floating on air–the grace with which she moved could only have come from Heaven. I know nothing of dance technique or theory, but the Beauty of Art was evident in every single inch of her body–the height of her leaps, the arch of her arms, but most especially the emotion on her face. The song told the story, but her dance expressed the emotions behind the words. And I do not exaggerate when I say there was not a single dry eye in the room that afternoon.

And every time I’ve seen her dance since, I cannot hold back the tears. There is just something about the way she does it–like she loses herself for a moment, but comes out finding herself more. Watching her, there is no doubt in your mind that God created her to dance this way.

Years ago, I came across this speech given by Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert. She shares some interesting insights on how artists should regard creative genius, but what she says near the end, starting at around 15:40, perfectly sums up why I am moved to tears by passionate performances.

Seeing Beauty in Art, watching someone do what they obviously were created for, allows us a glimpse of the generous God who touches them with that Beauty.

Even as a little girl, I’ve always thought of myself as an artist. From that first poem I wrote at age 9, to the first compliment I’d ever received from a teacher about my writing in 5th grade, to the very first song I wrote at 13. And of course, my love affair with performing: from children’s choir, to musical theatre, to passionate singing. No, I do not do any of these things professionally, if that means carving a career out of them, but that has never stopped me from expressing what I have inside me, pouring my heart out into a song, putting to music my deepest emotions, and writing emphatically about things I believe in and hold dear.

And because Christ has been, and forever will be, my greatest experience, then I suppose you could say He is the Patron of my Art. And I hope and pray that whenever, wherever I am seen, read, and heard, others may be moved by the touch of the Master’s hand in my art, in my life, in my heart.

Let your light shine before men, that others, seeing the good works that you do, may give glory to your Father in Heaven. -Matthew 5:16

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