It can happen even at a swim meet. A dear friend of mine and I sat talking in between watching our kids swim their events. She, a musician and music educator. I, a visual artist and art educator. Our middle children swim on the same team. Our oldest children are in college learning to be music educators and singing with an incredible choir at their school, Wingate University. We spoke of the breathtaking music we had each heard recently at different events the University Singers were participating in. Each of us recounted how thrilling and enriching these musical events were to us. Sheri said:
“I sat there hearing the Messiah for the umpteenth time…and I had never heard it so beautifully played or sung. It was as if we were hearing what heaven must be like. As if heaven had come down to us sitting there in the auditorium. That was, for me, my Christmas. But I wish it was performed all through the year.”
We continued to discuss the wonders of how art and music, the lines and layers, the chords, the phrasing, the brushstrokes, all combine to give us this taste of the world beyond. Today, in light of our conversation, I’m thinking that we, the artists, are pulling down bits of deep heaven. Sometimes, it falls in big huge plops, other times it’s as light as mist.
However it comes to us, through music, through a painting, a drama or play, a book or an essay… deep heaven it is. C.S. Lewis used this phrase, Pulling Down Deep Heaven, to title one of his final chapters in That Hideous Strength, the third in his science fiction trilogy. It is a phrase pregnant with a meaning that comes out in many of his writings, both fictional and otherwise. This weightiness of glory (Lewis wrote a book titled The Weight of Glory) descends on us and both terrifies (as in the shepherds being sore afraid) and satisfies with wonder (as in those who worshiped Him at the manger).
It reminds me of another favorite author, Annie Dillard, who wrote:
It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. -Teaching A Stone to Talk
Dillard goes on to speak of a god who terrifies. Those who find Him in the manger know that though He is not tame, He IS good. Deep heaven brings with it a wildness that borders on dangerous, a beauty that aches, and an exquisiteness that fills and suffuses with joy!
When we are involved with any form of art making and sharing it with the world either in shows, or choral concerts, symphonies, theatrical productions, gallery openings, poetry readings and the like, ANY measure of this activity is a definitively spiritual endeavor. We are involved, no matter how small our part may seem, in ushering deep heaven down to us. Bless those who give their lives to this endeavor. Bless those who sing in the Messiah’s this holiday season. Bless our children who are studying to be musicians and teachers, artists, and actors, writers and playwrights.
Even in our swim meet conversation, with splashing and diving, screaming and hollering all around us, our glistening eyes told that a drop or two of heaven had come down in our words to each other. It can happen that way. In the most unassuming places as well as in the concert halls and galleries of our world, the tunes of heaven can be heard. In small sketches dashed off in a sketchbook, in the music played at coffee houses and malls, it’s there, raining down on us.
As this season unfolds before us, may we have eyes and ears to take it all in, to anticipate, and even participate, in bringing down deep heaven to our world.
*This is the first in a series. Others will be sprinkled throughout my postings from now ’til Christmas.