The Bottom Of The Iceberg

Walking On Water

Reflections on Faith & Art

Chapter 8

I’m grateful that Bach’s Christianity was realized in both his conscious and subconscious mind. But being a practicing Christian is not part of the job description, and sometimes God chooses most peculiar people to be vessels of genius. My mother used to sigh because her beloved Wagner was such a nasty man. And I was horrified to have some students tell me that a lot of people actively disliked Robert Frost. How does one separate the art from the artist? I don’t think one does, and this poses a problem. How do we reconcile atheism, drunkenness, sexual immorality, with strong, beautiful poetry, angelic music, transfigured painting?

~Madeline L’Engle


Jung tells us we are more than the part of ourselves we can know about, and personal growth is always a journey of interiors.  Have you ever been awakened from a dream so bizarre you couldn’t understand it?  It is Everyman’s glimpse into the eye of the artist; those who walk in the transitional state of hypnagogia and have the audacity to express it.  It frequently drives the artist to a refuge of anonymity because it is socially uncomfortable to express the inexplicable.

In Walking on Water, Madeline L’Engle writes:

The what if always springs from what is known. The writer understands that it may take the mavericks rather than the beautiful people to overcome great odds because every work of art is the discovery of a new planet, and it may well be a hostile one. How dare the writer say, “What if?” and “Yes, but?” and see visions which threaten the status quo and do heretical things like Bach’s putting the thumb under rather than over the other fingers on the keyboard and explore the vast underwater bulk of man’s mind in the great unwieldy volumes of Ulysses and Finnegans Wake and plumb the depths of human agony in Crime and Punishment or the wild paintings of Hieronymous Bosch?

In chapter 8, L’Engle says “sometimes God chooses the most peculiar people to be vessels of genius.” Can you think of some examples? Consider the great artists in history—Da Vinci, Van Gogh, Jane Austen, and many others. Would you consider these vessels of genius to be peculiar? Do you see God in their work? How does one separate the art from the artist? Is it possible?

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