Reading C. S. Lewis’ Reflections on the Psalms this evening, I was reminded of one of the things I really love about the Church, especially more traditional churches, but which is too often neglected in modern society. That is of life as a kind of performance art, which is no less true for that – life as a dance, a poem, a drama; often a melodrama. I have often heard about the dangers of “masks” and “playacting.” Those are likely real dangers that are worth guarding ourselves against, but in divesting ourselves of all such “masks” I wonder if perhaps we go too far, and throw off the true acting as well.
There is something tremendously beautiful about the monastic adherence to tradition and ceremony in daily life. To get up in the darkness each morning to offer prayers and hymns to the Creator of all things; to have formal processions to and from church or meals; to eat in silence for a set amount of time while hearing words of wisdom; to have determined times for feasting and fasting – and to have every action pointing in some way to God, in obedience – is very lovely. That kind of beauty is very difficulty to attain, left up to my own devices. I can have the spunky kind of beauty of a contemporary artist – the kind that consists of collages and fuzzy, chunky textures, and rich, overlapping, saturated hues, and layers and layers of meaning; of interesting, opinionated essays; of finding meaning in whatever captures my notice; of choice, freedom, and spontaneity. But the manifestation of Beauty that arrays itself as a solemn, precise, well ordered dance – that seems to be beyond me. It is beyond most of us most of the time.
There’s a part of me that very much wishes to have some kind of Rule for living. There are two things that are not satisfying in art; one is simply following a pattern, and the other is complete freedom. I would in many ways very much like to get up at 5 every morning, say a set of prayers, drink a few cups of tea while reading the Bible, put the day in order, have the house in order by 7, go to work saying the Jesus Prayer continuously on the way there, come home and write for 45 minutes, make and then eat a simple dinner, clean up, say Vespers, work on art for two hours, say Compline, go to bed, and repeat this the next day – pretty much for the rest of my life. The rest of me also wants that, but is just too darn lazy to manage it, and hasn’t any authority to order anything, in either sense of the word.