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Monk in the World Guest Post: Elaine Breckenridge

I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Elaine Breckenridge’s reflection on artistic wounds.

I like the idea of the expressive arts, as long as it doesn’t mean using my hands to create in conventional ways. Give me a pencil to draw, or a brush to paint, even a magazine and a glue stick and I freeze. Over the years at conferences when I see the arts and crafts table set up for the “right brain activity,” something inside of me dies again. I have been known to rebel by sitting on the floor underneath the table writing a poem instead.

I credit my first-grade teacher for helping me to develop this resistance. One day she required me to stay after school with the assignment of cutting beautiful snowflakes like everyone else in the class. I failed. I am left handed. Using righthand scissors there was no way snowflakes were going to happen. Only hot tears of shame and humiliation fell that day. I’ve never tried to make a snowflake since that day.

Being a student of the Abbey of the Arts has had its challenges for me since there are many invitations to make art. While the atmosphere around the expressive arts projects on a pilgrimage to Ireland with Christine and John was inviting and non-judgmental; I still felt very self-conscious. My St. Bridget’s cross, my candle, my painted rock in my mind were inferior to everyone else’s. I thought it would be “good for me” to try to make a mandala every day, so I signed up for the Hildegard of Bingen on-line retreat. I quietly faded away, unable to complete the assignments because of my wounds. I wanted to take the “Artist’s Rule” on-line class, to explore writing and creativity in general, but I just could not muster the courage and confidence to do so.

That said, I believe in my very being that I am artistic. As an Episcopal priest, my creativity and artistry can be seen in the way I craft traditional services as well as innovative rituals. I have a knack for bringing together words, music, and liturgical art in ways that are meaningful for people. My preaching can be creative as well as my teaching.

But what I do does not last. Liturgy is like building a gorgeous sandcastle on a beach. We admire it. It gives us joy in a brief window of time. But all too soon, the tide rises and sweeps it away. The liturgy ends and we go our separate ways. The tangible experience slips into the ether. Is it ego that would like to make something with my hands that would be a more concrete expression of what I can do and offer God’s world? I don’t think so. I think I have a genuine desire to give birth to something that can be held and cherished.

And so, I tried again. I went to a bead making workshop. The teacher was very gentle as were the people at my table. And look what I made–a mini rosary. I cherish holding it and the process has been very healing.

What I know is that I still carry the wounded child who needs to be both encouraged and protected. But digging deeper, I have come to realize that my wounds are a source of perverse pride. Clinging to this false narrative that I can’t use my hands to make art has given me permission to take few risks. And it has cut me off from the wonder of exploration.

Because I want to continue practicing expansiveness in all aspects of my life and not contraction, I am going to give myself permission to keep experimenting with other mediums. And I will still claim my right to make art in the way I am called. Perhaps most importantly, I am going to try to be more conscious. Am I choosing my artistic medium out of love or rebelling out of fear?

Ironically, my first-grade teacher’s name was Miss Tombs. She has haunted me long enough. It’s time to let her go. Someday I will draw a picture of her, maybe even standing beside a tomb. But for today, look what I just made. Let it snow!

Elaine Breckenridge is a dancing monk and an Episcopal priest currently serving St. John the Baptist Church in Lodi, California. Her passions include incorporating Celtic and Creation Spirituality into traditional liturgical forms, the music of Kristopher E. Lindquist (, yoga and living the Abbey of the Arts Monk Manifesto.


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