The Arts

Do you ever have one of those days where you feel guilty for pausing in the day from work? We know there is the Sabbath, but do we actually partake? I’m not talking about the Sunday-strict-by-the-law sort, but an actual rest from work. I just know that I tend to go from project to project and get frustrated when I’m behind or when life interrupts me. But life is living and breathing around me and it will interrupt in the form of phone calls and kids falling and a books wanting to be read and music needing to be listened to. Ever wonder why the pull is so strong to stop and give in to the interruptions? Now I’m not saying we do it responsibly…I’ve had my fair share of anger at not accomplishing what I’d intended to, unintended towards little ones.

Today I had a mission to finish our bunk bed-rearrange-the-whole-house-in-the-process project. If I could just get to the hardware store, pick up a few items I would be back on track and ready to work. But my umpah left me. I did get to the store. I kinda started to put up some shelves. A gate got put up. And the regular maintenance of cooking, laundry, dishes stayed afloat. But I couldn’t find my rhythm. I just kept feeling pulled to listen to music, to sit with the littles and read stories, to just sit in a chair and stair at the one shelf of reorganized books and say, “It is good!” I started to feel guilty about the day slipping by and my work being pushed aside. That is, until I read this:

Olivier Messiaen was 31 years old and a French composer when he was captured by the Germans in June of 1940, sent across Germany in a cattle car and imprisoned in a concentration camp.

Olivier was fortunate to find a sympathetic prison guard who gave him paper and a place to compose his music. There were three other musicians in the camp, a cellist, a violinist, and a clarinetist, and Messiaen wrote a quartet with these specific players in mind. His composition was performed in January 1941 for four thousand prisoners and guards in the prison camp.

Today it is one of the most famous masterworks in the repertoire and his Quartet for the End of Time is considered one of the most profound musical compositions of all time.

Why would anyone in his right mind waste time and energy writing or playing music in a concentration camp? There was barely enough energy on a good day to find food and water, to avoid a beating, to stay warm, to escape torture—why would anyone bother with music?

And yet—from the camps, we have poetry, we have music, we have visual art; it wasn’t just this one fanatic Messiaen; many, many people created art.


Well, in a place where people are only focused on survival, on the bare necessities, the obvious conclusion is that art must be, somehow, essential for life.

The camps were without money, without hope, without commerce, without recreation, without basic respect, but they were not without art.

Art is part of survival; art is part of the human spirit, an unquenchable expression of who we are.

Art is one of the ways in which we say, “I am alive…”

~An address given by Karl Paulnack

Thank you, Ann, for yet again inspiring me just when I needed it. And I emphatically add that you MUST go read the whole article (just click Karl’s link above)!!! And then I would add this quote from him:

From these two experiences, I have come to understand that music is not part of “arts and entertainment” as the newspaper section would have us believe. It’s not a luxury, a lavish thing that we fund from leftovers of our budgets, not a plaything or an amusement or a pass time. Music is a basic need of human survival. Music is one of the ways we make sense of our lives, one of the ways in which we express feelings when we have no words, a way for us to understand things with our hearts when we cannot with our minds.

Oh how much better I felt. And tonight I will let the lost alphabet puzzle pieces lie where they might, which is NOT in the puzzle board! And I will leave the miscellaneous shelf pieces on the kitchen table and I will drink a cup of tea with my husband and then listen to really good music from here: Enjoying the Small Things.

And to end the night on, another poem rising from the ashes of a concentration camp by our beloved Bonhoeffer in preparation for Lent, when we might be tempted more then other times to give up the Arts!

I Cannot Do This Alone

O God, early in the morning I cry to you.
Help me to pray
And to concentrate my thoughts on you:
I cannot do this alone.

In me there is darkness,
But with you there is light;
I am lonely, but you do not leave me;
I am feeble in heart, but with you there is help;
I am restless, but with you there is peace.
In me there is bitterness, but with you there is patience;
I do not understand your ways,
But you know the way for me…

Restore me to liberty,
And enable me to live now
That I may answer before you and before me.
Lord, whatever this day may bring,
Your name be praised

– a poem included in Devotions for Lent, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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