The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Solace after Sept. 11

Arts express wordless emotions

At times the arts may seem frivolous. We enjoy them, but do we really need them? Sept. 11 answered that question: Yes. Since then, there have been countless memorial services for the victims of terrorism. Arts of all kinds have played an enormous role in these ceremonies.

Among the most moving expressions have been the arts that go beyond the usual capacities of language. These include forms — dance, instruments or paintings — that use no words and also words in song, a particular use of language.

For example, a September service at New York City's nondenominational Riverside Church featured the solo dance "A Song for You" by Matthew Rushing (left), a member of the New York-based Alvin Ailey Dance Theater. His movements — both graceful and contorted — expressed more emotion than any words.

The same service offered all kinds of music, both instrumental and vocal. Instrumental music can affect us in ways vocal music doesn't. The phrase "touched our heartstrings" evokes the strings of musical instruments, which can vibrate in consonance with those of the heart.

Solace and inspiration also comes from vocal music, especially familiar songs to which we all know the words. There is something very soothing about the familiar words of a well-known hymn or folk tune, calling us back to experiences that represent the foundations of our faith and security.

There hasn't been much time for visual artists to produce drawings, paintings or sculpture expressing the anguish of the tragedy. But these will come. Already we've seen drawings by children whose first reactions to an event is to draw what they see or feel.

As Christian believers we are "people of the word." But we are sometimes "at a loss for words," or something is too "unspeakable" to describe or we "can't find the right words." At those times, the arts are an indispensable means of expressing our deepest thoughts and emotions.


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February issue


Embracing diversity