Dostoevsky And Art As The Pursuit Of Love

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There’s something that’s been on my mind–a lot: What is my inspiration for writing? I mean really, what is it that inspires? Where do the ideas come from? What am I trying to get at and why? Fundamental questions, no? Margaret Atwood once said that if you don’t have an idea about what you’re going to write, then you’re probably not a writer. So what is it? And where does it come from?

I wrote in my previous post that my inspiration comes from God through prayer, through worship, through struggling daily to give up my will to Him. Like the prayer of St. Francis, “Lord make me an instrument of your Peace…” This is writing: to be an instrument, a channel, for the Lord. I wrote in that post also that this is where I find my true self, my authentic self, my real self. And this is what art is: to live according to one’s true authentic self. For me, this real authentic self is that which I was created to become; created to become by the hands of God Himself. I am His child, and He lives inside me as He is everywhere filling all things.

But what does this mean? What is the meaning of this prayer that God is everywhere filling all things?

Ilya-Glazunov-Dostoevsky

Painting by Ilya Glazunov

 

Here I turn, as many do, to Dostoevsky–I cannot get enough of him. I’ve been reading his Brothers Karamazov for months now. And as I’ve been on this path of authenticity, of struggling to follow Christ, this book has opened itself to me even more. It is a very spiritual book. But listen, let me show you more.

One of the great characters in the book is the Spiritual Elder Father Zossima. And in that section in which Dostoevsky writes a hagiography of the great elder, Zossima himself tells his life story, the opening of which includes the story of the elder’s brother, Markel. Zossima describes him as one who during Lent “would not fast,” and “was rude and laughed at it.” ‘That’s all silly twaddle and there is no God,’ Markel would say.

One day, Markel became very sick. His mother begged him to go to liturgy, which he did “solely for your sake mother, to please and comfort you.” But his illness worsened, and he took to his bed choosing to take the sacrament at home. He became weaker, and as he did, his faith grew more into a fervent love for all things. Here, read this:

“Don’t cry mother . . . life is paradise, and we are all in paradise, but we won’t see it; if we would we should have heaven on earth the next day.”

And later on Markel would “get up every day, more and more sweet and joyous and full of love.” And the doctor told him he would live many more days and years, to which he replied,

“Why reckon the days? One day is enough for a man to know all happiness. My dear ones, why do we quarrel, try to outshine each other and bear grudges against each other? Let’s go straight into the garden, walk and play there, love, appreciate, and kiss each other, and bless our life.” 

Here Dostoevsky is not only painting the picture of the transformation of a man from atheist to Christian, but also painting a picture of the artistic life itself–that authentic way of being in the world. A way of being that doesn’t quarrel or try to outshine another person; a way of being that seeks out creation, and to walk and play and love in it, to appreciate it and love all beings that dwell in it.

But my favourite passage comes a few more lines down in this narrative of Markel. Here, the doctor claims that Markel is dying, but in this slipping into death, we see a kind of resurrection taking place in this young man that culminates in the life of the great elder Zossima. Listen, I shall write it for you.

The windows of his room looked out into the garden, and our garden was a shady one, with old trees in it which were coming into bud. The first birds of spring were flitting in the branches, chirruping and singing at his windows. And looking at them and admiring them, he began suddenly begging their forgiveness, too. “Birds of heaven, happy birds, forgive me, for I have sinned against you too.” That none of us could understand at the time, but he shed tears of joy. “Yes,” he said, “there was God’s glory all about me; birds, trees, meadows, sky, I alone lived in shame and dishonoured it all and did not notice the beauty and the glory”

See this? See this love for all of creation? That is art. That longing for beauty, that longing to be at one with all of creation, to love it, to beg for its forgiveness, to live in harmony with it–that is art.

What is this love? This love that seeks forgiveness from creation; a love that for one moment sees heaven in the eyes of all who walk past. That love that notices the beauty and glory of God in all things. What is this love?

It is a crazy love. It is a thirsty, hungry love. It is not a love of possession or ego. It is a love that springs from the heart when we are quiet, when we are open to God, when we let go of our own plans, our own agendas, our own desires. It is a love that springs from the dance between our gifts and the Giver of them, the Way, Christ Himself. It is a love that struggles to become more and more like God, and thus more and more human.

To live this love; to yearn for it, hunger for it, seek it as the most beautiful treasure, to enter into to, and then to write it–like Dostoevsky did–this, this is art.

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