Wednesday, December 4, 2013
Distraction is an enemy of piety. . .
That this is a problem in church or among the faithful goes without saying. Watch around the church when some sound goes off (a kneeler dropping or a baby crying) during times when people are supposed to be attentive (reading of Scripture, prayer, etc.). Almost on cue with the sound, heads are raised, eyes look around, and, only when satisfied that there is nothing left to see, do we return to the business at hand -- hearing the Word of God or praying to the Lord.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church notes that, “The habitual difficulty in prayer is distraction” (2729). Since we as Lutherans have a smaller catechism, you may not find the things which inhibit piety and prayer so carefully listed as they are in the Roman Catholic catechism. That said, however, this little tidbit from Rome is worthy of our attention. Distraction is one of the primary enemies of our piety and of our prayer lives. For this reason, the art of the church is not just for aesthetic purpose. Its beauty lies also in the way that sacred art calls us back to where we are and why we are there. Stained glass, statue, liturgical painting, altar and pulpit antependia, symbols, crucifixes, etc... these all have a holy purpose in addition to beauty. They call to our wandering hearts and minds when things would causes us to forget where we are and what is going on around us.
What happens in the sanctuary is also one of the reasons for liturgical art in the home. To have a place for devotion or prayer is to surround yourself with those things that quiet the heart and draw the wandering mind back to the purpose at hand. Art has useful purpose and is not an end in and of itself. It is handmaid to the piety of the heart expressed both in the attention given to worship and prayer and in recalling the one praying from the distractions that would steal him away from such a holy endeavor.
Holy distractions rein in the mind so quick to wander and give context so that we can recall where we are and what we are doing. Holy distractions restore us to the beauty not of the art itself but of the truth of the Gospel, the grace of the meal, the fellowship of the saints, the humility of prayer, and the confidence of the promise that came to us in flesh in Christ. Such art is a tool of the Spirit for eyes too quick to look away, for hearts too preoccupied with daily burdens and anxiety, and minds too easily distracted. The buildings of the Church are not canvases for the sake of the artist but beauty that works for the cause of Christ. Such is also the purpose of the sacred art we have in our homes. The aesthetic purpose and the financial cost are often too front and center in the decision of what should adorn the places of God's people gathered or the homes of His people scattered. There is a higher purpose and a more noble calling for art in service to the faith.