Years ago, when I had finished four straight years of graduate school, I was startled to discover that my soul was as dry as Death Valley. I knew a lot about history and theology and hermeneutics, but on the inside I was as empty as a paper sack. I started reading the poetry of Emily Dickinson. I could begin to feel something new happening inside my soul. Something started to flow again.
I was living in Indianapolis at the time, and so I flew to Boston, rented a car at the airport and drove to Amherst, Massachusetts. I visited the Dickinson home. I sat out in the garden and read her poems. I would stare at the house and imagine this amazing woman, diminutive but powerful, and I could see her writing away in her upstairs bedroom and hiding hundreds of poems in a wooden dresser, the way a prospector might hide nuggets of gold. Emily Dickinson saved my soul that summer.
But it doesn’t have to be poetry. It can be any art form. It can be film. Ask Martin Scorcese about how Italian cinema changed his life. It can be painting. Ask Picasso or Matisse or Jackson Pollock. It can be photography. Ask Edward Weston or Annie Leibovitz. It can be theater. Ask Sam Shepherd. It can be fiction. Ask Toni Morrison or Alice Walker. It can be jazz. Ask Coltrane or Dizzy or Mingus. The list goes on and on and on . . . the arts add depth to our human experience, and without them our humanity shrivels up and dies.
This coming Sunday we’ll open an art exhibition at First Congregational Church of Los Angeles titled “My Two Friends.” The work will feature Dan McCleary and David Mellon. They are extraordinary artists and it is an honor to have their work in our church. I will also feature them in our Sunday service at 11.00 AM. Come to church this Sunday. Please bring a friend. Stay for a great coffee fellowship and celebration of these two artists. I’ve been working a year on this exhibition, and not only do I think you’ll enjoy it, you might even have a peak experience!