“… build your life as if it were a work of art”
Heschel is saying that every decision, every action, we take or don’t take is an integral part of the work of art called ‘me’. Of course, there are major decisions such as what career will I choose, where will I live, and whom will I marry? But those are just the beginnings of a life well lived. Following Heschel’s metaphor, the major life decisions are like an artist choosing a medium — a painter picking a canvas, a sculptor choosing a block of stone, a writer opening a blank journal. These are important decisions in our work of art but they do not make the art. Everyone chooses a medium but not everyone turns it into a work of art.
Many of us choose, or perhaps have chosen for us, a wonderful life canvas with potential to become a true masterpiece. But then rather than thoughtfully making each brushstroke we rush through life slopping on whatever color we have on hand. We take the quick, easy answers rather than investing the time to live deeply into the questions of life. Heschel reminds us, “… that every deed accounts, that every word is power”.
Another famous rabbi teaches us, “A thief comes to steal and to kill and to destroy. I have come that they may have life and have it in abundance”. This abundant, full life is available to each of us but we must daily choose to live it rather than let the winds of chance and the whims of culture paint our lives.
Great artists are countercultural, out of sync with the masses swirling around them and most are not recognized as great while they are living. A half-finished masterpiece may appear to be just random blobs of paint to onlookers but through the eyes of faith the artists sees the yet unseen, he paints the future of his vision. So it is with our lives. Our family and friends may think our decisions foolish, our life wasted but they haven’t seen the vision we see, they haven’t heard the voice we hear. Another rabbi long ago wrote, “The life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me”.