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Center for Action and Contemplation
Art and Contemplation
Art and Contemplation

The Spirit Inspires

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Brazilian liberation theologian Leonardo Boff witnesses the presence of the Holy Spirit in the creativity of the arts.  

[The Spirit] is present wherever people live by love, witness to the truth, act in solidarity, and practice compassion. Wherever such realities are manifest in human beings, anywhere in the world, it is a sign that the Spirit has come upon them and is active within them.   

It is by the inspiration of the Spirit that poets and writers redraw life with all its lights and shadows, its dramas and achievements. They are seized by an inner light, and by energies that prompt unexpected connections; they bring something new into the world. Many writers confess … that they feel possessed by an inner energy (a daimon, a good spirit) that seizes them and makes them think and write.   

By the inspiration of the Spirit, artists and artisans elicit from their material—wood, stone, marble, granite—an image that only they can see in it. The material is spiritualized, and the spirit is materialized.… 

The Spirit is especially intense in music. Sounds are invisible, unconstrained by space and time, just as no one can limit the action of the Spirit. And the melodies they project lift up and penetrate the soul; in them we find comfort, beauty to cry over, soaring joy. The great evangelical theologian Karl Barth used to say that Mozart took his wonderful melodies from heaven and the Breath (the Holy Spirit).  

Boff writes of the generous nature of the Spirit that is not constrained by human valuation: 

The arts are very much like the Spirit. They are intangible. They are ends in themselves. They have an intrinsic value…. Art, music, and poetry in themselves are priceless. They are unique creations, not serial productions. They are like a gift we give to a loved one, valuable for its own sake. Somehow they escape the limits of time and bring us a foretaste of eternity.   

Inspiration is in the air and settles on people without regard for their skin color, their social background, or their educational level. How many illiterate artists have emerged in [Brazil], in marginal communities, and were never noticed: poets, artisans, painters, singers, musicians, mystics? Boasting is not the Spirit’s way; it is like water that quietly runs along the ground, fills the vessels it is poured into, and always chooses to run downhill.  

That is why the Spirit does not have its own figure, as the Father and the Son do. It is portrayed as a dove, but what is important is the radiant light it gives off. It is the Breath (Spiritus in Latin) that reveals life, sustains life, and renews life in every way.   

The universe and all beings are saturated with Spirit. To recognize its presence in every corner of the cosmos is the work of spirituality, of life in the Spirit. 

Leonardo Boff, Come, Holy Spirit: Inner Fire, Giver of Life, and Comforter of the Poor, trans. Margaret Wilde (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2015), 179–180, 180–181.   

Image credit: Benjamin Yazza, Untitled (detail), New Mexico, 2023, photo, used with permission. Click here to enlarge image. What draws us when we gaze on an image? Here we see movement, flow, and artistry in natural wood.

Story from Our Community:  

Easter this year was very different. I was at home while it rained outside, reflecting on being held. I asked Spirit to be with me. Then a still small voice said, “It’s been a long time since we painted together.” I agreed and broke out a fresh canvas. For the next three hours, I was in another space talking with God about everything. I felt a deep peace.
—Glenn G.   

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