I am delighted to share another beautiful submission for the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Ally Markotich's reflection on recovering a creative practice.
I’m not sure when it began. Possibly winning third place in a community-wide art contest for the local Fire Hall in fourth grade. Or, maybe when friends and family would “ooh” and “aah” over recently created artwork. However, early on, I believed myself an artist. This label both delighted and concerned me. On my best days, time suspended as I created in the moment and on my worst days, I compared my art to others, insecurities running rampant.
Many days of my childhood were spent in my bedroom, a safe haven from the broken world lurking beyond. Drawing, reading and journaling – these were my friends. They were my sideline companions who let me be myself. Early on, I became aware of how art turned the corners of mouths, smiles rising. My artwork became my gift to others. I waited expectantly for large appreciation. When I was fawned and praised over, I gleamed. When the smile was not all I dreamed it would be, my being was wounded, a part of myself given never to be gotten back.I never wavered in my love and focus of art, and upon high school graduation, I packed up my room and headed to art school. But, four years of art school and countless critiques only left me doubting my artistic abilities. The smiles I yearned for upon gifting my art as a child became the approval I sought from fellow peers and professors in college. My worth became wrapped up in a wily world of overachievement and artwork made to please others. My expression of self folded and the flame I carried for art dwindled. I left college working in several lackluster environments with little creative freedom. I distanced myself from the term “artist”, not believing myself much of anything. I disengaged from the longing to create. Graphic design became a paycheck and not much else. I had entered the desert.
Three years ago, I found myself on an adventure I hadn’t planned. I was aching to know God better, and found myself sitting in an ‘Introduction to Spiritual Formation’ class. These three days away changed my course. While there, a stirring deep within began. I took another class. And another. These classes have expanded my way of being in the world. These times of retreat and learning have nudged me to explore my God-connection creatively. My soul was being awoken after thirteen years of wandering.
Arising from a sound sleep, the recognition of my longing to create began to surface. I gingerly bought a new sketchbook and some inks, fully intending to draw until my heart was content. As I made space in my days for this creating time, I found myself unable to stop pouring words into the sketchbook. Poems, prayers and writings sprawled. This surprised me, but led me to recall the many moments of journaling throughout my life. Journaling has always been my safe haven to express my inner life for noone else’s eyes. This sacred space often begins with anger and usually turns into prayer. With art, I’ve longed for smiles. With writing, I’ve longed to be me.
Nowadays, I’m exploring both art and writing. I’m allowing myself a place to create from within – some days drawing, some days writing. My art is colors and lines; whimsy and expression. There are days when I pick up watercolors or colored pencils, but, honestly, I have a long way to go with healing my former artistic self. I am more apt to write.
When I write, I often look back surprised at what I wrote. I won’t remember writing words, yet it speaks of my truth. This is my space to connect with God. To heal. To grow. To explore new concepts. When I write, I empty all the thoughts in my head and heart and pour out. In ways, it was obvious writing would bring healing – I have long been a writer when I’m struggling with life. Yet, writing feels a luxury to me; I’ve often withheld giving myself the space to write and explore. Now, I’m tending to my life by exploring journaling as a daily spiritual practice. This is giving me time and space to listen where I am each day.
Where I currently sit is pondering how to weave faith and creativity in the tiny corner of the world where I live. I am taking small steps to share this new road I walk. I recently finished facilitating a small group weaving art, lectio divina and Scripture together. When we ended our group, we had bonded as friends, grown as creators and completed an individual 100-square mosaic based on our gleanings of light. In June, I began a website offering ideas for living faith creatively, a section of poetry, and a blog. Blogging has allowed me to expand my vulnerabilty and invite others to reflect on their lives. In addition, blogging about faith and creativity is freeing me from living divided. No longer can I claim to be pleasing anyone other than the one who created me. This is stretching me, releasing me from labels and the need to please.
As I travel the road, I am taking one step at a time. I am unsure where the road will lead, but I am committed to living as I am called. My simple hope as a monk in the world is to embrace my creativity so I can move forth encouraging others to creatively engage their life.
Ally Markotich is a creative contemplative on a search for the sacred in the ordinary. She is currently enrolled in the Spiritual Formation program at Columbia Theological Seminary in Georgia. You can find more of her ponderings at www.allymarkotich.com