I first wrote this before I had given any thought to cancer, which is therefore not mentioned in this piece. But I think the arts renew us during treatment just as they do when we are tired and overloaded from life.
When Jesus was transfigured on the mountain, Peter James, and John were with him. They saw him talking with Moses and Elijah, the text says, and then—they saw no one but Jesus alone. “But we see Jesus,” the writer of Hebrews says, “the author and finisher of our faith.”
I thought of those passages one night, sitting at the Schuster Performing Arts Center for a Dayton Philharmonic concert. The guest artist was Itzhak Perlman, the violinist whom I’d first seen when I was in junior high, the man who helped shape my interest in classical music. That had been more than forty years ago, when he was a young phenomenon. I thought about his playing seated, because of his polio and leg braces, and how that must have encouraged me, wearing a full-body brace of my own because of my scoliosis.
I often have a hard time settling into a concert, and that night was no exception. I had cut my corners a bit tight, so was breathless from racing, and in an uncomfortable seat, distracted by people around me. The orchestra played the opening number, and then Perlman came out, lurching with his steel crutches, followed by conductor Neal Gittleman carrying the violin. I think we applauded, just for Perlman’s courage and persistence in the face of disability.
And then the Mozart violin concerto began. And I closed my eyes and I forgot the men and women on the stage, and Neal directing them, and the grizzled-headed man seated with a violin. For a few moments, there was only Mozart. I saw him, playing a violin, notes that made him happy to play, in the same way that the three favored disciples had seen Jesus only.
That kind of clarity eludes me most of the time. Life comes too much and too fast, and I experience sensory overload. Too many conversations can quickly weary me. The singleminded focus we pray for at the close of the Eucharist is difficult to maintain. One way to remind myself is through art, when I can lose myself and my surroundings in a piece of music or visual art, to be grateful for sound or color or form. In all of the arts, we see Jesus, the giver of all good gifts, the source. The psalmist writes of Jerusalem, “The singers and dancers will say, all my fresh springs are in [God].” When I ponder how Mozart or any other composer can continue to create new melodies—or even rework old themes—I think of the fresh springs available to all of us, in whatever work we are given to do.