LOPEZ: What do you mean when you say “art is the language of the heart”?
WEST: There are longings of the heart, sufferings of the heart, cries of the heart that need expression. That’s what art is — whether it be music or dance or poetry or sculpture or painting or storytelling or moviemaking or architecture. The more we are in touch with what goes on in our hearts, the more we become the true artists we are meant to be as human beings.
LOPEZ: What is the best of our art today?
WEST: I’m not an art critic. I can only speak to what moves me personally. And I’d have to say that today, in the specific sense of right now, I am stunned by the artistry expressed in the movie adaptation of the musical Les Misérables. I saw it three times in its first week of release. Treat yourself and go see this movie.
LOPEZ: Why is it that we are tempted either “to squelch desire in the name of ‘virtue’ or to indulge desire in the name of ‘happiness’”?
WEST: Because we are rarely presented with an authentically fulfilling trajectory for our desires. I elaborate at great length in my book on the idea that, if we are created for infinite satisfaction, we really only have three choices about what to do with our desire in this life: We will become either a stoic, an addict, or a mystic. The stoic squelches desire out of fear, while the addict attempts to satisfy his desire for infinity with finite things, which, of course, can’t satisfy. That’s why the addict wants more and more and more. The mystic, on the other hand — in the Christian sense of the term — is the one who is learning how to direct his desire for infinity toward infinity.
LOPEZ: How is prayer desire and desire prayer?
WEST: Pope Benedict says that “prayer, properly understood, is nothing but becoming a longing for God.” In other words, authentic prayer is happening in us in as much as we are learning to direct our desire for infinity toward infinity. When we get to the deepest yearnings of our heart, then we have arrived at the wellspring of prayer. As St. Augustine put it, “Desire is your prayer; and if your desire is without ceasing, your prayer will also be without ceasing. The continuance of your longing is the continuance of your prayer.” In short, it is impossible to grow in prayer, in the Christian sense of the word, without becoming inflamed with desire for the Infinite.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online.