“In art we are once again able to do all the things we have forgotten; we are able to walk on water; we speak to the angels who call us; we move, unfettered, among the stars. We write, we make music, we draw pictures, because we are listening for meaning…” (Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water)
One of my greatest desires as a child? Flying. I wanted to fly. Not in an airplane, not with something attached to my body – just a pure, unadulterated, spread-your-arms-wide kind of flying. In my dreams I leaped from my bedroom window and soared above the trees. Those were disappointing mornings, waking up to my pillow and the book I fell asleep reading.
I also believed in gnomes, mostly because of the field trip we took in third grade to a place in the woods where someone had set up a very convincing gnome village. My parents probably worried that I was developing some sort of early-onset twitching disease – I kept jerking my head around, trying to catch a gnome while it spied on me unawares.
But as I grew older, I realized these dreams were not going to happen. They didn’t exist, couldn’t exist. I would not spread my arms and fly. So often this is the way it goes, isn’t it? The older we get, the more impossibilities we discover, the less likely we are to believe that the things we want most can ever come true.
We start to shelve things like “living a life of purpose” and “achieving my goals” alongside our childhood dreams of flying. Our adult dreams of peace and joy and experiencing love start to seem just as unattainable as finding a little person who lives in the air ducts of our house.
This is why art is so important: it reminds us how to imagine, how to believe, how to walk on water. Paintings remind us of the possibility of hope and beauty. Good writing reflects our innermost selves, connecting us with the world. Dance, theatre, sculpture…all are physical representations of unseen truth, reminders that the visible is not everything.
Suddenly child-like dreams of a world without extreme poverty seem possible again, or a world where Christians and Muslims can be friends. We can imagine countries torn by hundreds of years of war finding peace.
Maybe we even spot a gnome or two.
“At about four o’clock in the morning, Jesus came toward them walking on the water.” Matthew 14:25