So much of the work I do is making a safe space for folks to remember the delights of creative expression and to explore and play with paint, markers, collage, poetry, movement, words, and sound. I always introduce the practice of art-making in the context of prayer, hoping to convince others that God can really be found in the playful and experimental places of our lives. I often need to remind people that in the Judeo-Christian tradition we actually believe we were created in the image of a Creator God. This molding of humans as creative beings imparts a profound dignity on our work in the world — God said it was good! — as well as deep responsibility.
We live in a time when our capacity for imagining is being thwarted by television programs and video games that encourage us to tune out of life and become passive consumers rather than active imaginers. Cultivating the arts as a spiritual practice is a way of freeing our imaginations and developing valuable skills for vital living in the world.
Art-making is incarnational, engaging us with the stuff of life. The heart of Christianity is the belief that God became flesh. Scripture celebrates acts of creation, Miriam and David dancing with joy, Bezalel commissioned to find artists to craft an ark of beauty, Jesus told stories in parable form. We craft matter or words to reveal spirit, and in the act of crafting something more is rendered from the materials with which we began. It is an act of revelation.
I am always amazed what happens when people are encouraged to let go of judgment about what makes for good or bad art and let their own creative process unfold, surrendering to how the Spirit is moving through and guiding it. A remarkable freedom often emerges. Suddenly, we discover that practicing creativity is good and helps make life more meaningful. Spiritual practices help us to embody particular ways of being in the world. We slowly live into how the practice is shaping our lives and attitudes.
The practice of art-making requires spaciousness and time, which in our busy lives can help us to slow down. Engaging in the arts helps us to be present to the moment and see deeply. By making the arts a spiritual practice we discipline ourselves to make time for our relationship with God through the conscious act of creating. Through the arts we discover a divine presence that is not static, but an active force in our lives. We slowly learn to surrender to a process greater than ourselves and loosen our tight grip of control.
Art-making encourages curiosity and wonder and respects the deeper mystery at work in the world and the multidimensionality of God. The arts do not provide linear explanations of how things function, but point to the complexities and ambiguities of living. They both reveal and conceal and invite us to rely more on intuition than on logic or reason.
The arts help to awaken us and enliven us. Engaging in creative acts is a vitalizing activity. The experience of being fully present has been described as being in a flow or altered state of awareness where our sense of time changes. We become lost and absorbed and yet fully present to what we are doing.
Art-making can be playful, encouraging a sense of wonder and joy again. Engaging in the arts can help us to discover new insights and ideas and reclaim the values of improvisation and play.
In art-making we can become a loving and witnessing presence to what is stirring in us, what is unfolding within. The arts become a vehicle of discovery.
The arts provide a safe container for us to explore difficult feelings and experiences and serve as a vehicle for confession and forgiveness as we make space to hold our woundedness. In art-making we have the freedom to reclaim our feelings, voice, and truth and give meaningful expression to our commitments, values, and ideas
Art-making is a relational and communal endeavor. Whatever we create is ultimately in service of the larger community. In this way, art-making has the potential to be prophetic when it calls us to new ways of seeing the world. Part of the power of the arts is that they disrupt our expectations and force us to look more deeply at the ordinary.
In a world where so much value is placed on productivity and doing, I encourage you to make time for that which is “useless” by cultural standards. Create art for the sheer pleasure of doing it. Make beauty present in the world. Free yourself from expectations and goals and encounter a God who is present in the dynamic act of creating.
What if our churches were places committed to nurturing creativity rather than holding so tightly to the ways we have “always” done things? What kind of revolution could spring forth if we allowed the God we encounter in the creative spaces of our lives to shape our commitments and actions? How do you make space in your life for the delights of creating?
-Christine Valters Paintner (sacredcenter(at)aol.com)