Weep, pray, think, and work.
As we came to the conclusion of our two days of conversation within the company of hobbits that we are as the Wedgwood Circle—hearing from very gifted and thoughtful people from the worlds of music, film, television, graphic novels, academia, philanthropy and business –I offered these last words, from Hans Rookmaaker.
I first met him in my dropped-out years, listening to him lecture on “Nature and Grace in Late Medieval Art,” for two hours. It did seem a long time for the twenty-year old that I was, wanting to understand but sure I didn’t completely. A passionate man, a brilliant man, he suffered through the concentration camps of WW II for his anti-Nazi labors in his native Holland.
Understanding the hopes of his own heart, and looking out at the world, he determined that there was good work to be done in the world of art history. And he gave the rest of life to thinking through the deepest questions that human beings ask and answer in our art. Long a professor of art history at the Free University of Amsterdam, with his wife they together founded the Dutch L’Abri. Years later I met him, and began to learn from him. I still remember a lecture that reframed the world for me, viz. he argued that revolution was never a final answer to the longing of the heart, as it always leads to violence and more violence. The wounded wound. Instead he argued for reformation, a re-forming of the visions and virtues that make for human flourishing. I was persuaded, in my young revolutionary heart—and still am.
Some years later I invited my father to come with me for a walk through the Scaife Gallery in Pittsburgh with Rookmaaker, an almost-personal tour with a world-class art historian. It seemed a dream come true for me, and my father—the university research scientist that he was –listened carefully, taking it all in. A decade later I was surprised, and yet not, to hear him reflect on what he had learned from Rookmaaker himself.
In a little monograph, “Art Needs No Justification,” Rookmaaker set before us a way to live in the world, taking it seriously, working in it seriously, arguing that we should “Weep, pray, think and work.” The words have shaped me, forming the way I see my life. At the end of our conversation yesterday, I offered them to our little community. They ripple across centuries and cultures, true as they are to the way we are, and the way the world is—if reformation is our vocation.