Whose flame are we borrowing?
This blog takes it’s name from a quote taken from poem by George Herbert:
True beauty dwells on high: ours is a flame But borrow’d thence to light us thither.
Not all art is beautiful, but integral to artistic creativity are Aesthetics. Beauty, at least in my own field of classical music, is something most of us strive for. As an opera, or classical singer, beauty of tone, elegance of line and the emotions that they then conduit are the goals, and I’m sure most of my colleagues would agree that one of the most exciting and inspiring things about being a singer is to create a free, beautiful resonating sound. We train for years to allow our breath to vibrate two tiny folds of mucus membranes in the larynx, and then allow that buzzing air to resonate in all sorts of strange places in our body, all to create sounds of beauty that connect with others in many different ways. Herbert’s words about ‘beauty’, then, apply well enough to all forms of creative and artistic endeavour, not least, the vocal arts that I am most passionate about.
Herbert’s statement says a couple of things about beauty, which I’ve taken to apply to art, that really resonate with me. Herbert was not only a poet, but a theologian – an ordained Anglican priest (of the delightfully named parish of Fugglestone St Peter), and he sees beauty and artistic endeavour finding it’s source in the creativity of God. The Judeo-Christian worldview posits a first cause, namely, God (or Yahweh) who delighted in creating the universe. This worldview sees humanity as people made in God’s image. We are creative because we are made in the image of our Creator – that is, we reflect God’s creativity in our own creativity. Our artistic flame, is borrowed from the true, eternal flame.
Herbert also says that we’re lent this flame in order to light our way. I find it very interesting to observe certain harmonies within the universe: certain frequencies which resonate or colours which compliment in a way which we call ‘beautiful’. There are, of course, many things which are cultural, but at the same time, there do seem to be certain elements which are innately recognised by most people. This, to my mind, makes perfect sense within the worldview of a creative first cause. If you know Haydn’s wonderful oratorio Creation, you will likely recall the chorus ‘The heavens are telling the glory of God’ (or perhaps you simply know the bible verse it is taken from) – in much the same way as some mathematicians and cosmologists see the elegance of the things they study, so too, I think, tonal harmony, colour compatability, beauty and artistic creativity reflects and points us to a creative God. Our borrowed flame lights the way.
Perhaps another way we might think about art ‘lighting the way’ is the way in which the arts often serve as a means of exploration. Much of the best art asks questions rather than gives answers – but it asks in provocative ways that make us think about important issues. Even apparently light and comic works can hold a mirror up to society. It is little wonder that authoritarian regimes like to keep the arts on a tight reign.
So I’m using this quote as a kind of starting point for this new blog. I want to write about singing and music, about the arts (I’m also a keen amateur photographer) and I want to sometimes explore how issues of faith and theology might relate to these. But even if you don’t hold the same worldview as me, if you don’t necessarily agree with Herbert and I, I hope you’ll stick around and find something interesting here. I won’t always be writing about faith, and I won’t always be writing about singing (although I plan on writing things that other singers – or those aspiring to be singers – will find practical and useful), and I won’t necessarily be writing about the two together. One might say that this blog has a certain broad trajectory (with a borrowed flame to light the way!) rather than a focus. Let’s see where this goes.