By Sharon Hersh
Beauty will save the world. What does this mean? For a long time I thought
it merely a phrase. Is such a thing possible? When in our bloodthirsty
history did beauty ever save anyone from anything?
Solzhenitsyn asked these questions in his lecture upon receiving the Nobel Prize for his courageous and eloquent writing against the cruel and barbarous treatment of men and women in Soviet prison camps. The Russian dissident wrote out of his observation and his experience. Solzhenitsyn himself was arrested by the Soviet Gestapo, disrobed, and marched before a firing squad before his release to months of incarceration. He questioned on behalf of his brother, parent, neighbor, and child: Can anything save us from the devastating confinement and crushing of the human spirit?
Solzhenitsyn's stories about the Soviet prison camps remind me of the brothers, parents, neighbors, and children I know in the "prison camps" in my town: a sixteen-year-old boy who shoots heroin between his toes twice a day; a thirty-two-year-old woman who ingests a handful of laxatives every day to maintain her weight; a good church woman who reads her Bible for thirty minutes every day because she is afraid of what God might do to her children if she doesn't; and a hard-working man who makes $500 a week and spends half of it on telephone calls to 900 numbers, talking to women he doesn't even know. Addiction confines and crushes the human spirit with cruel and inhuman punishment.
The similarities between imprisoned dissidents and enslaved addicts may seem dubious. Granted, the inmate in the camp is imprisoned against his will, while the addict chooses his confinement. The contours of addiction and incarceration, however, closely overlap in the loss of freedom, the shattering of spirit, and the waste of human potential.
Addicts, family members, friends, pastors, and even members of Congress ask questions much like Solzhenitsyn's: Can anything save anyone from the bloodthirsty ravages of addiction? Addicts seek treatment, families and friends try interventions, pastors preach accountability, and Congress commissions studies and enlists celebrities to persuade addicts to "Just say no." But when all is said and done, two-thirds of all addicts get in line and march back into the "camps" to continue using and abusing their drug of choice.
I lived in the "camps" for a while myself. A variety of resources helped me to open the prison gates and initially break my addictions-counseling, support groups, and spiritual direction. Re-entry to the addiction, however, inevitably occurred resulting in recapture, humiliation, and imprisonment. I found myself in-between the despairing lines of Dostoyevsky's Notes from the Underground:
I feel them positively swarming in me, these opposite elements. I know that they have been swarming in me all my life and craving some outlet from me, but I cannot let them, will not let them, purposely cannot let them come out. They torment me until I am ashamed; they drive me to convulsions and-sicken me, at last, how they sicken me.
His words gave me hope that someone understood the desperate cycle of addiction. I began to read Dostoyevsky as if he were my pastor, counselor, confessor, and friend. And then I stumbled onto the words Solzhenitsyn quoted from Dostoyevsky in his lecture: "Beauty will save the world." I wondered: Does beauty have anything to do with addiction? Can beauty break the bondage of addiction, and release me to live? Can beauty save me?
Solzhenitsyn understood beauty to be the creative acts of the poet, musician, sculptor, and writer as well as those who listen, feel, read, and experience their art. When Solzhenitsyn asked if beauty could save the world, his country struggled with allowing free creativity among its artists. The beauty Solzhenitsyn saw in the creative works of his fellow citizens arose out of courageous struggle during a time of inflamed tensions. Solzhenitsyn eloquently observed that beauty arises out of the struggle of human beings with and against the world around them and can be expressed in performing a creative act as well as in appreciating the works of others.
Etty Hillesum, another prison camp survivor and author of An Interrupted Life, explains beauty further: "I do believe that it is possible to create [beauty], even without ever writing a word or painting a picture, by simply molding one's inner life." Some of the most profound beauty I have seen has been in watching another accept discomfort, anxiety, loneliness, fear, panic, trauma, betrayal, laughter, desire, hunger, or boredom and create individual meaning out of the emotional upheaval. Wendell Berry describes the process simply and eloquently: "Who makes a clearing makes a work of art." God's work of art is described in Genesis 1: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters" (Genesis 1:1,2). Beauty united light and darkness, form and formlessness, and emptiness and fullness. Beauty is the music of God arising from the cacophony of clashing sounds. Philosopher Heraclitus instructed, unwise people "do not understand how beauty is the harmony that consists of opposing tension, like that of the bow and lyre."
Addiction, like beauty, is a complex subject with many layers of understanding.
The flight from beauty is a course, however, navigated by every addict.
If beauty is created in the tension of existence, then addiction takes
hold in the flight from tension. The artist acquires an ability to stay
in the mixed-up middle through creativity, while the addict tries to escape
the tension through alcohol, drugs, religion, gambling or any number of
addictive elements. Instead of creating a work of art from a swirl of
many colors, the world of the addict is monochromatic. An understanding
of the creation of beauty in tension and the escape from tension in addiction
can result in hope for the addict's transformation to artist.
The Addict and the Flight from Beauty
Beauty is form.
When I was in the seventh grade I heard for the first time "Blowing in the Wind." The music and the lyrics put words to my passion and junior high angst. The song made sense out of my confusion and fear about President Nixon, Viet Nam, and not being asked to my first junior high dance. I rode my bike to Hested's Music Store and spent my allowance on the 45. I listened to it for hours. When my mother found the record and made me play it for her, she explained to me that the music was "worldly" and dishonored God, and that Bob Dylan was a communist. I threw the record away, but saved the sleeve it came in under my pillow. I went to church the following Sunday and remember joining in the congregational singing: "Lead on, O King Eternal, The day of march has come; Henceforth in fields of conquest Thy tents shall be our home. . . ." I wondered what in the world the words meant, and enjoyed my four-year-old brother's rendition of the song most: "Lead on, O Kinky Turtle."
The empty RCA record sleeve in my scrapbook is a tangible reminder of one of many lessons, in the name of God, to shut out beauty. I agree with the ancients that beauty gives a sense of meaning; it gives form to the kaleidoscopic activity around us and in us. My mother had no way of knowing that Bob Dylan's words and music did far more than protest a war or make a political statement. They opened my heart to beauty by confronting and transforming the looming shadows of war and peace with the light of poetry, by bringing harmony into the confusing questions of my junior-high heart. Dylan's music didn't answer all my questions or guarantee a date to the next dance, but they compelled me to plead with God for peace as only a seventh grader can, and to listen for his answer in every conceivable place.
Beauty, be it in the music of Dylan or the films of Tarkovsky, beckons man to explore beyond the narrow confines of self-inevitably leading to a confrontation with God. Beauty helps man make sense of his life, while addiction shuts a person off from his life. Beauty is created out of a plethora of tensions; addiction singularly absorbs the creative process. Dostoyevsky summarizes the impoverished and imprisoned life of the addict: "He is in the condition that overtakes some monomaniacs entirely concentrated on one thing."
The flight from beauty to addiction most often occurs in the tension of ecstasy and despair, grace and judgment, time and eternity.
The Tension of Ecstasy and Despair
My brain was illuminated by the clear, white light. . . I was lord of thought, the master of my vocabulary and the totality of my experience. . . . For so it [addiction] tricks and lures, setting the maggots of intelligence gnawing, whispering his fatal intuitions of truth, flinging purple passages into the monotony of one's days.
-Jack London, John Barleycorn
The Greeks believed that "the gods gave them wine so that they might forget the misery of existence." Every addiction initially seduces the addict into believing that prolonged ecstasy is possible. Ecstasy, from ex stasis, means to "stand out from," to be free from the tension that results in the division between subject and object that pervades human experience. A simple example of the tension between ecstasy and despair came when our family took a drive into the mountains to see the changing leaves. The shimmering golden Aspen leaves seemed to dance against the regal evergreens. My daughter exclaimed with adolescent drama: "I could just melt into the trees." She experienced a moment of ecstasy-and then the inevitable disappointment in heading down the mountain. Her disgruntled mood infected the whole family. I fought off the craven thought accompanying many moments of sheer pleasure: It would have been better not to have gone at all.
Addiction results from the demand for immediate gratification of opposing desires. In the continuum of ecstasy and despair the addict demands simultaneously: I will experience ecstasy; I will not know despair. He refuses to stay in the tension of what Pascal described as the "misery and grandeur" of man. No one describes the addict's flight from this tension better than Jack London in his tale of the alcoholic, John Barleycorn. London personifies alcohol in the character of John Barleycorn. Here he describes the ecstasy alcohol can provide:
Oh it was brave. I was beginning to grasp the meaning of life. Here was no commonplace. I was not ordinary. I was incredibly wise, gloriously genial, and without limit to my power. Ah!-and I say it now, after the years-could John Barleycorn keep one at such a height, I should never draw a sober breath again.
The demand for ecstasy is part of all addictions. Ecstasy is experienced in the addiction as it seduces with the promise that whatever is wrong in me can be fixed by something outside of me. How many well-meaning church members chase this sense of well being by keeping the law? Dr. E.M. Jellinek, a pioneer in alcoholism theory and treatment, describes the ecstasy of addiction as bringing the addict "face to face and heart to heart with divinity." Legalism and other forms of religious self-righteousness attempt to do the same. The Pharisee in Luke 18 does not sound much different from London's grandiose alcoholic character: "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee. . . . The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men. . . . I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get'." The path into the heart of the labyrinth of addiction is well-travelled and sometimes looks respectable.
Addiction to control as well as addiction to controlled substances eventually plunges the addict into the opposing vicissitude of this continuum, and the addict discovers that devouring ecstasy results in gorging on despair. Instead of working to create a place in life, the addict becomes the passive victim, ultimately lost in a world of despair.
I worked with a man in my counseling practice who at one time expressed a fervor for God and work in the kingdom. He threw himself into "God's work," hoping to earn a sense of significance. When the pressure mounted and the ecstasy of self-righteousness dissipated, he smoked marijuana for euphoria. Guilt chased him relentlessly. Both addictions-to a religious high and to the marijuana high-perpetuated the cycle of chasing euphoria to overcome despair. Our first session ended with his account of the overwhelming despair that is eventually a part of every addiction, "I don't have a good enough reason to stop smoking pot, since once I stop God is going to punish me anyway." Once again, London summarizes the result of a life in flight from the tension of living with both ecstasy and despair:
And finally comes John Barleycorn with the curse he lays upon the imaginative man who is lusty for life and desire to live. John Barleycorn will not let the dreamer dream, the liver live. He destroys birth and death, and dissipates to mist the paradox of being. . . .
The Tension of Grace and Judgment
The idea that comes most naturally to man, as if from his very nature, is the idea of innocence. . . . We are all exceptional cases. We all want to appeal against something! Each of us insists on being innocent at all costs, even if he has to accuse the whole human race and heaven itself
-Albert Camus, The Fall
There is, perhaps, no greater distortion of tension for the addict than that of grace and judgment. Almost without exception, the men and women who come to my counseling office for help with their addictions come bathed in self-contempt, professing certainty of God's disapproval and alienation. I discovered early in my work with addicts that my passionate pleas about God's forgiveness and unconditional love only elicited further cries of contempt. I recall one woman confessing her gambling addiction that culminated in her spending $3,000 every other day at the slot machines. With shoulders slumped and eyes downcast, she moaned, "I just can't believe what a mess I've made of things. . . my family, our finances, my marriage. I am nothing but a failure." I began to understand the meaning of her words when I responded, "You are wrong. You are much more than a failure. But you are a failure." She sat up straight, looked me right in the eyes, and defiantly asked, "What do you mean, I'm a failure?"
The addict lives outside the tension of grace and judgment by saying: "I am a failure," but believing, "I am really not that bad." Addicts usually come to counseling because they cannot deny "something is awry." Sadly, much of the work done in the field of addiction keeps the addict out of tension by misdiagnosing or diminishing that "something." The attempt to relieve judgment by redefining grace or by blaming choices on someone else keeps many addicts out of the sacred tension that eventually releases them from the bondage of their addiction. Leszek Koloakowski, a philosopher whose understanding of grace and judgment came from grappling with Marxism, wrote: "the Sacred is revealed to us in the experience of our failure. . . the awareness of human insufficiency. . . the lived admission of failure."
The overspent gambler is not altogether different from the unspent church woman, except the gambler is aware that "something is wrong." Often, the church woman, caught in the addiction of performance and perfectionism, completely denies the tension that seventeenth-century philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote to his sister, Madame Perrier: "Christianity [is] a confession of irreparable human infirmity. . . . Sickness is the natural state of a Christian." Such a confession frees the addict to admit-not as guilty sentiment or rigid dogma-but as a humble cry the words of one of the Desert Fathers, "Lord, save me, whether I like it or not. Dust and ashes that I am, I love sin."
For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the law, deceived me, and through the law put me to death.
-Epistle to the Romans
The addict not only escapes tension with a cheapened sense of grace, but also with a harsh sentence of judgment. A recent study conducted in a large psychiatric hospital on the west coast is a good picture of the addict's flight from tension into the confines of judgment. Researchers studied patients with brain injuries and found radical limitations to their capacities for creativity. The patients kept their closets in precise order-shoes carefully organized, clothes hung in place, shirts facing one direction. When the closet was upset, the patient panicked. He could not orient himself and did not have the capacity to reorder the chaos.
The addict also discovers one way to order a disheveled life, and will not risk looking at life any other way. Grace is the realization that the world is something different from what I had assumed. Grace is always a gift, and often a surprise. Grace reveals God's love, forgiveness, perspective, and commands. Addicts, however, are kidnapped by their addiction and cannot find a place for grace or its revelations. Gerald May, author of Addiction and Grace writes: "We may want to notice [grace], but we ignore it like we ignore our own breathing, in favor of things that have captured us." The addict judges the world to be alcohol, gambling, religion, or pornography and is blind to grace.
Albert Camus writes a novel depicting the addict's distortion of judgment and grace in The Fall. He tells the tale of lawyer, Jean-Baptiste Clamence. Once a successful barrister, Clamence now spends his time in a tavern, telling strangers of his passing from "grace to law." First, his flight to "grace":
I went from festivity to festivity. . . I ran on like that, always heaped with favors, never satiated, without knowing where to stop, until the day-until the evening rather when the music stopped and the lights went out.
He ran from the sense that "something was wrong," using the intoxication of various forms of "debauchery" until the day he realized the chase was hopeless. He writes, "That ended the glorious life, and ended the frenzy and the convulsions. I had to submit to my guilt. I had to live in little-ease." Clamence, like most addicts, quickly traversed from a life filled with cheap grace to one controlled by consuming judgment: "Ah, mon cher, we are odd, wretched creatures, and if we merely look back over our lives, there's no lack of occasions to horrify ourselves." Clamence used his flight to judgment to escape from the terrifying path of change. He loses his fight with addiction by surrendering to alcohol, women, and gambling and admits it is easier "to cease being free, and to obey, in repentance, a greater rogue than oneself."
The story of Clamence reveals that the addict fears the truth of grace: "I am a sinner" and he flees to a deceptive judgment: "I can never be free." Addiction refuses to condemn or forgive, so there can be no freedom. Camus describes this trap of addiction brilliantly:
Alone in a forbidding room, alone in the prisoner's box before the judgment. . . . At the end of all freedom is a court sentence; that's why freedom is too heavy to bear, especially when you're down with a fever, or are distressed, or love nobody. Ah, mon cher, for anyone who is alone, without God, and without a master, the weight of days is dreadful. Hence one must choose a master, God being out of style.
Time and Eternity
Free Beer Tomorrow
-Sign in local liquor store
The addict escapes the paradox of time by believing he can live only in the present-for this drink, this relationship, this achievement. And yet in demanding to "have it all" now, the addict has no "now." Kierkegaard describes this state of escaping the continuum of time: "[Life] becomes a series of now moments which must be filled with pleasurable distractions. He races through life thinking that-as each minute ticks away-he is missing out on gratification. He is constantly fleeing from the disclosure of his own mortality. . . . "
Our culture of the "quick fix" supports the addict's belief that not only is a magic potion for mortality feasible, but it must be out there somewhere in the aisles of consumer goods available to satisfy every desire. In his wonderful collection of essays entitled Lying, Despair, Jealousy, Envy, Sex, Suicide, Drugs, and the Good Life, Dr. Leslie Farber describes the addict's flight from the constraints of mortality as one of "locating divinity in drugs." The addict learns that addiction is a god that is immediate and reliable, so why wait for anything that is slow and mysterious? This magic talisman of time seduces the addict into "having it all now," and when his "now" becomes filled with the agonies of addiction, this god whispers: "You can change tomorrow." Addiction makes everything better until it makes everything worse, but then you are stuck. The God with whom a day may be a thousand years seems like a lunatic to the addict who knows a god that delivers on demand.
Addiction not only swindles time, but it seduces with promises of eternity. The addict finds himself caught in the torment of being human and yet craving something that is beyond himself; and so he soothes the torment with his chosen intoxicant. The relationship between addiction and a desire for heaven is the basis of the Jungian understanding of addiction as spiritus contra spiritum. Jellinek again describes the addict's schizophrenic flight to the extremes of time and eternity in one moment: "[Addiction] can be a kind of shortcut to the higher life, the [desire] to achieve a higher state without an emotional and intellectual effort."
Addiction tangles time in its web until the addict is unable to learn from the past, plan for the future, or live fully in the present. Although for a time the addict may believe he is really living, what he is actually experiencing is life at the extremes-having it all now-contained in one moment. He believes that all of heaven can be experienced in the present moment. The determination to stay out of the tension Kierkegaard describes as "the infinite possibility of spirit with the finitude of the body and of everyday life" is best illumined by the story of one woman's addiction to shopping. I use this entry from her journal with permission:
I can't remember when I didn't feel guilty. The guilt feeds the scurrying into the mall for relief from the agony of the guilt. Once I walk into the mall-I know this sounds stupid-but I smell the air of heaven. The possibilities are infinite. Everywhere I look is balm for my sick soul, and I can have it now. The thoughts of mounting credit card debts, bill collectors, and a misspent house payment nag me. But not enough to stop the spending. The sheer thrill of immediate gratification erases all thoughts of past or future problems. I feel exhilarated and guilty, as I walk out of the mall to my car. On the drive home, I feel the guilty after-effects of spending. I feel guilty about the lies I will tell to my family when I get home. I feel trapped in the spending, and the only way out seems to be to spend more. I will not shop-tomorrow.
The addict determines to escape the tension between ecstasy and despair, grace and judgment, time and eternity and becomes possessed by the one thing to which she is addicted. The addict's flight from beauty takes her inevitably into a place of despair and judgment, where the very air she breathes is fragrant with the stale smell of death. Philosophers, theologians, and writers have referred to this place as The Abyss. The abyss needs not be the picture of personal ruin that often stereotypes the down-and-out addict. In fact, only three to five percent of all addicts ever reside at the address of the skid row bum. Most addicts arrive at the abyss with the outside still somewhat intact, but the inside is slowly rotting away. The abyss-be it internal, external, or complete ruin-becomes the unlikely beginning to the path of beauty.
The Artist and the Path of Beauty
Sometimes the invitation to beauty may come to us masked as humiliating sickness or weakness.
The abyss swirls with a sense of dissatisfaction, confusion, longing, sadness, loneliness, boredom, failure-a chaos that the addict defends against through addiction. The addict in flight from beauty plunged into the abyss through alcoholism, drug addiction, or bankruptcy has more hope of dropping his defenses than the addict whose self-righteous, orderly, and controlled life plummets him into the depths as well. Addiction becomes a gift when it eventually forces the addict to take note of his surroundings. The alcoholic who drowns the tension of existence in vodka is no different from the Pharisee who immerses himself in the law. Both must choose to either cling to their addiction-substance or control-or tremble before the chaos in their soul.
Rilke describes the abyss as an essential dwelling place for all who wish to transform tension into an encounter with God, resulting in a life refulgent with beauty:
. . . this very abyss is full of the darkness of God, and where one experiences it, let him climb down and howl in it. . . . Only to him for whom the abyss too has been a dwelling place do the heavens before him turn about and everything deeply and profoundly of this world that the Church embezzled for the Beyond, comes back; all the angels decide, singing praises, in favor of earth.
The addict is forced to face the abyss and is brought to the edge of the path of beauty. If the addict does not defend against the abyss by returning to his addiction, the potential for encountering God and beauty is awakened. The philosopher, Heidegger, offers grace and hope to the addict trapped in the shame of the abyss in his essay "What are Poets For?": "It may be that any other salvation than that which comes from where the danger is, is still within the unholy." The terror of facing the abyss in order to traverse the path of beauty keeps many-unruly and self-righteous-locked in the safety of their addiction. Jack London succumbed to his own alcoholism. Camus's character, Clamence, at the ending of the novel hints that there is a path out of the abyss, but concludes it is too risky. The Pharisee of Luke 18 went home lost in the state of intoxicated self-exaltation.
The experience of beauty without a "howling in the abyss" becomes the shallow, pretentious experience of high culture, seldom resulting in an encounter with God and a life filled with beauty. The observation of beauty is academic and obligatory. However, experiencing the abyss without continuing on the path of beauty results in a moralistic encounter with God that will inevitably lead back into addiction. The poet Roethke, who struggled with addiction all his life, asks the question: "Do we move toward God, or merely another condition?"
* * *
Once the energy formerly diverted into fleeing tension is freed up to initially stay in the tension and ultimately create out of the tension, the addict can be transformed into an artist. She experiences moments of ecstasy and days of despair. She is surprised by grace and not surprised by failure. She agonizes over the daily meaning of her own mortality and the promise of immortality. I conclude this essay with a story that illumines one path of beauty out of the abyss of addiction. The story is not definitive or all-encompassing, but it is a picture of one woman's path out of the morass of addiction. I am not suggesting a rigid picture of beauty that must be lived out for every addict or a faith "tossed to and fro" by experience. I know, however, that for people who are in need of a miracle (addicts), elliptical philosophy or rigid dogma is not enough.
There is a crack in everything God has made.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
A woman came to see me for help with an eating addiction. She described her days as busy, controlled, and productive. However, underneath her perfect world swirled a chaos of binging and purging that she kept secret from everyone. She did not enjoy anything, but performed exceptionally well at everything. She used large amounts of food to fill her void of discontent and loneliness, and then purged to maintain her weight at an acceptable level. Her addiction was not only to disordered eating, but to unrealistic living-perfectionism.
She saw herself as devout and believed God judged her according to her pious activities, but felt intense guilt for the eating problems. She knew "something was wrong," even though she had no idea what it could be. I suggested, much to her surprise, that she was living an "extreme" life. Her gods of food and perfection required her to live in the polarities of ecstasy and despair, grace and judgment with no sense of the past or future. We spent several sessions defining the contours of her monomaniacal focus. Although her gods looked more respectable than those of the gambler or drinker, they still exacted a price.
During one session I told her a story about my son praying for God to help him win a karate tournament. When my son did not even place in the competition, he said to me, "I guess God is too busy for boys and stuff like karate." I asked my client, "What do you think?"
She seemed to almost lose her breath. "Think about what?" she asked.
"About God and answering prayers and what he really thinks of us?"
She didn't answer for a long time. Then she said, "I know what I've always thought. But right now, I'm not sure. I'm trying to believe in God as I've known him, but I'm having a hard time believing in a God who really hears me, and loves me, and will heal me." She was at the edge of the abyss.
I explained to her that entering the abyss introduces the need for two separate categories. The first is understanding. We spent many hours trying to understand why and how she learned to escape from tension through eating and perfectionism.
During one session she described an unusual morning at church. The pastor read from Psalm 38:
O Lord, all my desire is before you;
My client found herself in the Psalmist's words and began to feel the agonizing emptiness and ache she defended against with her addictions. She told me she felt like she was in the middle of a hurricane and was afraid she might drown. I quoted a few fragments from a favorite poem of mine by Wendell Berry:
I let go of all holds then, and sank
She asked if she could borrow the book by Berry. I could not find the book of poetry and suggested she try the library or local book store. The next week she came in, not only with the book of poetry, but a book of photography by Diane Arbus. I recognized the book as one of my favorites-a collection of photographs of "freaks and misfits" of society. My client showed me one picture of a misshapen woman dressed in finery. She explained, "That is me. I have worked so hard to cover me up. My perfectionism was not a relationship with God, but a costume to cover the ugliness."
The second category the abyss compels the addict to address is forgiveness. My client understood her chosen path of addiction and her need to be forgiven. Something in the strange beauty of the photographs of Arbus captured this woman and forced her to face her sinful choices-allowing her to experience a multitude of tensions. She is still struggling with wanting to escape, but she is no longer imprisoned.
She is giving up the goal of perfection. She has begun taking her own pictures. She is on the path of beauty, and is surrendered to the truth that it is a difficult path to walk. I remind her of Jesus' words: "For wide is the gate and broad is the path that leads to destruction, and many travel it. But small is the gate and narrow the path that leads to life, and only a few find it."
My favorite picture of hers is the one she showed me of a six-year-old girl in her neighborhood. The picture is in black and white. The girl stands in the middle of the street, shoes untied-with the rain pouring down on her. The caption under the poem reads: "Drowning."
Some of the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus with a question.
-The Gospel according to Matthew
"Will beauty save the world?" Solzhenitsyn asked. And so did I when I faced my own abyss of addiction. I actually have been asking that question much longer. When we were first married we lived in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Winston-Salem is home to a Moravian village that provides a glimpse into a time and tradition long past. Our first year in Winston-Salem we heard about the Easter service the Moravians host and decided to attend, with some hesitation. We were not attending church at the time, and the thought of dragging ourselves out of bed before sunrise seemed dreadful. I also harbored thoughts that the Moravians might be a cult.
We arrived, however, just before the sun came up with what seemed like most of the population of the town. I was stunned by the complete silence with which everyone stood in the dark. When the first rays of the sun met the unlit morning, a trumpet fanfare filled the air. And then an echo of voices floated back and forth in the crowd repeating: He is risen. He is risen. Unbidden tears filled my eyes and I thought: "What if it is true? What if He really has risen?"
I have asked that question in various forms over a hundred times-when facing my own addiction, when facing others in the agony of their own struggles. It is another way of asking: "When in our bloodthirsty history did beauty save anyone from anything?" The answer is, of course, at that most bloodthirsty moment in history Beauty saved us all by transforming an unspeakably horrible abyss into an empty tomb. And beauty arises anew every day from individual acts of redemption. The addict transformed into artist gives resurrection a face.