I became interested in the Jesuits when I created a Jesuit character, Father Isaiah Colburn, in The Color of Light. As part of my research I began to follow Father James Martin, SJ, on Facebook, as well as the Jesuit magazine, America.
To prepare for his role Garfield took a year long spiritual tutorial in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius from Father Martin, and experienced some profound changes.
The following story from the article really grabbed me. Garfield, still new to acting, was about to appear in Hamlet, and he was overcome with his own inadequacies. We’ve all been there, right? Frightened and uncertain, he went for a walk.
To calm his nerves he walked up and down the South Bank of the Thames. It was an overcast day and his thoughts turned to escape: “I begin thinking of throwing myself into the river. I have nothing to give, I have nothing to offer, I’m a fraud.” He understands it now as a moment of prayer: “I’m asking for something. I’m asking for help.”
And then he heard a street performer singing, rather imperfectly, a familiar song, “Vincent,” by Don MacLean. It was the imperfection of the performance that he remembers most. “If that guy had stayed in bed saying ‘I have nothing to offer, my voice isn’t that good, I’m not ready to perform in public, I’m not enough.’ If he had listened to those voices, I wouldn’t have been given what I needed,” he said. “His willingness to be vulnerable really changed my life. I think I understood for the first time how art makes meaning, how art changes people’s lives. It changed my life.”
Of course Vincent Van Gogh’s, own willingness to be imperfect changed all our lives, too.
I firmly believe that none of us will ever know whose lives we change by our own willingness to be vulnerable. But the next time I’m frightened about what I have to offer, I hope I’ll remember this story. I hope it helps you, too.
Art makes meaning. Art changes lives. Your own art, imperfect and tentative as it might be, may change a life as well. Of course so might a warm hug on a cold day or home baked cookies when a neighbor is ill. It’s our willingness to be vulnerable, to accept that our offerings may not be perfect or even valued highly by everyone, that could make all the difference.
And we may never know. Or need to.