You must change your life
It has been said that poems or paintings or any worthwhile work of art should not be seen simply as objects of pleasure – things to be admired, acquired. They should not be seen as something passive. Rather, such things should be seen as active, as if they impose on us a moral obligation to change our lives; they reach into our passivity and call us forth to become as beautiful as they are. Take for example Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem “The Candle Indoors”, which opens with: Some candle clear burns somewhere I come by. / I muse at how its being puts blissful back / With yellowy moisture mild night's blear-all black.
Hopkins is charmed by the glow coming out of an evening dwelling – that makes the night somehow hopeful. But in his second stanza he shifts from admiring that candle indoors to sensing it is imposing upon him a moral obligation to become a luminous person; to trim his own lamp, so that others might draw hope from his own candle indoors even as those evening suburban homes aglow which I passed on my solitary walks when I was 10 years old were saying to me, “You have a moral obligation not to despair over the dysfunction of your own home; you have an obligation to save your soul by becoming yourself a candle indoors whence others may derive a moral obligation to have faith, to make of this otherwise dark world a home alight with warmth.”
Of course, I didn’t think of moral obligations when I was 10 years old. It takes time to catch the voice, the face, the moral imperative that’s confronting us in every “candle indoors”, in every poem, painting, sonata, or biblical episode we encounter. A good example of the gradual nature of spiritual awakening is the case of Mary Magdalene as she sadly faces life on Easter morning as nothing but an empty tomb. But then she sees two angels in white sitting there, asking, “Why are you weeping?” Then next, she sees a gardener asking her, “Why are you weeping?” And only then does the apparent gardener get personal, no longer asking questions but simply and intimately saying, “Mary!”
That’s the way it is with life. At 10 years of age I pass by those warmly lit dwellings and they awaken in me only a desire for a home that’s more than a stop on a suburban trolley line. Then, thanks to Hopkins, I later realize those warm domiciles were signaling to me what I myself must become – a beacon in a world gone dark. Those angels, that gardener, those suburban dwellings, Hopkins’ poem, every sonata, or vase of flowers, or the evening star, or church interior, or Eucharist lays a moral obligation on you and me to trust that each of us is the most important person in the world. And over time we should come to realize that the voice addressing us personally (like Mary) out every sonata or Iris or novel or sanctuary or out of every chalice or face we meet is none other than that of the divine Poet out of whose very being came the whole world as “home”, like a rose arbor cascading with galaxies – intent on making you and me his latest poem.