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Diary of a Ghetto Priest: “Queen Esther” – The Sacredness of the Artist

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You better come! If you miss Queen Esther you will cry! It is full of beauty, sadness, joy, and, I believe, will root you once again in your faith, and, in your understanding that Jamaica is an island of artists, and a people of God.

“Queen Esther”, I believe will be beautifully presented. How can it not be when we have this beautiful life to portrait – the life of Esther. When we have brilliant artists like Wynton Williams, Paula and Cris Shaw, Gregory Thames, Nadia Roxburgh, Clayton Gidden, and our extraordinary Jamaican singers and dancers, young and full of life!

So here am I with two Baptist artists: Jon and Wynton Williams, writing, composing, recording music. I never dreamt that would happen! I didn’t plan on it, but here it is, and I love it. Serving the poor, living with young people full of life and committed to God; preaching, teaching, and in addition, writing all sorts of things: songs, church hymns, plays, dramas, oratories, operas – allowing my imagination and feelings and intellect to express my love of God, my love of my country, the poor, the world, even the sadness and tragedy of life.

A scene from upcoming musical drama “Queen Esther” . From the song “Okay Okay!” as they twist around the words of King Xerxes

It all began when I met and lived with a real artist for the first time. At that time Paul Quinlan was a Jesuit, since then he left. Paul is the father of all new liturgical music the Catholic Western world since the 1950’s. Paul was as I knew him full of creativity: he was bright, intelligent and daring. He loved to sing, dance, act, and, is a most delightful character. I was a lot more sedate and a little more sane but we went along together in a time of great flux and creativity.

I loved Paul Quinlan’s explosive energy, his readiness to try anything, his extraordinary intuition, his sense of humor, and never ending courage. Sometimes he was rebellious and impetuous, but he never stopped loving God, loving life – especially the poor, and the word of God.

Paul is a genius – the first to sign a contract for liturgical music in the United States. He made hymns that danced, and singing for him was a matter of the soul. He loved to be himself and wanted people to be free to be themselves. He taught me a lot.

Made to the image and likeness of God, the artist is so much like His Maker. The Lord made everything out of nothing, but the artist creates out of something made by God – wood, stone; the rhythm of his heart, the sounds of the wind and rain; insects and birds. As Nicholas of Cusa says “creative art, which is the soul’s good fortune to entertain, is not to be identified with that essential art which is God Himself, but is only a communication of it and a share in it.”

He calls artists “ingenious creator of beauty” who are like their own creator; God Himself, who brought forth the world. Artists are astonished by “The hidden power of sounds and words, colours and shapes;” they are moved by the mystery of creation, and the infinite beauty there is in our world which remind us of the Creator of all things.

There is an impulse to create in every artist. A bird must fly, a fish must swim, a river must flow, and trees must bear fruit. Like the artists, these creatures can’t be still, they must live out their lives with energy. There is that creative energy in so many Jamaicans.

Artists must paint, they must sing, they must dance, they must act. As St. John Paul II says “To all who are passionately dedicated to the search for new epiphanies of beauty so that through their creative work as artists they may offer these as gifts to the world.” He says “Go on with your artistic creativity.”

“God saw all that He had made, and it was very good.” Genesis 1:31