It is understandable that most of us seek a sure and tried road, maybe even a risk free one, as we make our way through life. All of life is a journey toward God and back to God.
Our faith encourages us to believe that God is to be found as well in all the experiences of life. There is no “non-God” time, place, or moment. The poets among us offer us the words we need when we want to see where God hides in the darkness.
I enjoy reading about the life work of artists. Artists are people who struggle to create beauty out of matter, be that matter marble, musical scores, a camera, literature.
It seems to be a matter of an artist finding his or her voice which can then be best expressed through a chosen style.
The road to finding that style is not always easy. Aside from the struggles of learning the expressive instruments of one’s choice, there are other formidable obstacles that must be overcome. Sufficient income is one (to avoid the life of the “starving artist”).
Others include: dealing with criticism of one’s work; the pain of envy and jealousy, even as these come from friends; and rejection of a work that the artist has poured his life blood into. And there is the critique of the artist himself as he scrutinizes his own work. Is it enough? Could I do better?
I found an interesting slant concerning the above in the life and words of the Magnum photographer Josef Koudelka. He was born in Boskowice, Czechoslovakia, in 1938. He photographed his family and neighboring areas in his youth and by the time he was 30 he knew he wanted to devote his life to photography.
He had his camera in hand when the Soviets invaded Prague in 1968 and put an end to Czech reforms. His negatives were smuggled out of the country and ended up in the offices of the Magnum agency, from where they were published.
His photographs of the gypsies of Romania and Slovakia are beautiful. Koudelka was, at the time, something of a nomad himself, wandering around Europe with little else other than his clothes, film and camera. I wonder if he saw in the gypsies something of himself.
His images bring out the determination of the human spirit as it suffers from alienation, loneliness, abandonment. His photos bring human light out of some very bleak dark landscapes.
In commenting on his artistic endeavors, Koudelka said in an interview in (from “Horvatland — Entre Vues”) that, “I am not interested in repetition. I don’t want to reach the point from where I wouldn’t know how to go further. It’s good to set limits for oneself, but there comes a moment when we must destroy what we have constructed.”
In other words, try something new, move on. Change the lens, the paragraph, the scenario.
When I read the quote, I paused and thought as to how we want to reach perfection, in whatever we do, and then hope it lasts. But that is never the case. It is more to the point that many of us tend to find something good and then try to keep it — when it may well have been pointing the way to something else, something important.
Koudelka seems to have learned from many things but he travels light. He keeps very little. And when whatever he does use becomes somewhat lifeless, he moves on, with no regrets, and finds another way.
How we often wish good things will last, and that every road be straight and problem free. But that is not life and it is surely not the path that Jesus walked. He asks that we follow him — and learn from others who know something of the secrets of the road, and, perhaps, take a few pictures along the way.
Father James Stephen (Jeff) Behrens, O.C.S.O., serves at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, 2625 Ga. Highway 212 S.W., Conyers. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.