This past Sunday I was invited to speak in front of a group at church on the topic of 'art and faith.' Through Lent, several different speakers were invited to come talk with this group on subjects ranging from choral music, contemplative prayer, and using art to explore faith. That last part would be me :)
I've had some friends and followers here interested in hearing about what it was I had to say, and so I thought while it was still relatively fresh, I'd get down here on the blog what it was we chatted about, and maybe you'll find some food for thought or inspiration in the little bits and pieces I've been able to discover....
This shouldn't come as a surprise, but I am one of those people who experience the world through my senses. Especially visual. But also the soft candle light, the bright beauty of stained glass, the heavenly sound of the choir and the familiar and comforting words of the Nicean Creed, the Lord's Prayer and the rest of the liturgy.
In lighter moments, I will confess that am all about 'ambiance.' What that really means is, essentially, my environment has a big influence on how I'm feeling. Just ask me at the end of July when its 110 degrees here in Oklahoma and I've had all the hot-and-dry-glaring-heat I can take. and I'm about to lose my mind. I'm just funny that way. Perhaps you are too?
With that in mind, I had never been to a church that made me feel comfortable. At best, I was searching for a little something to catch my interest in the artificial glow of a message on PowerPoint, or I was feeling *this close* to a panic attack because everyone was swaying and 'getting into' something that I wasn't feeling and wasn't even sure was real. Not to say that these methods of worship are wrong, but just that they didn't work for me.
My off and on experience with church was just vacant feeling, and I thought that I could probably just nurture this longing I had for deeper meaning and beauty through reading or just doing my own thing. And then I walked into a liturgical church and fell in love.
Since that first 'love affair' --- not just the beautiful building, the gorgeous and simple alter, the stained glass and candles--- but also the feeling of tapping into something very old and sacred-- I've had a lot of great changes. Not just in life, but also art.
Having become more familiar with the worship and meaning behind the use of beauty in Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican churches, I've started using these same elements in my own art. You have probably noticed that I like to tuck icons into my work--- and I like to do this for many reasons. I love the concept of a picture-within-a-picture. A story within a story. I also love the idea of adding a little bit of "Holy" into the ordinary, because that's so like life, I think. I want to show my regular people doing regular things--- reading a book, packing a holiday basket--- all under the watchful eye of these Holy figures.
For me personally, creating art is extremely meditative. It's been like this since childhood. My parents would buy me large college ringed notebooks and I would sit at our dining room table (glass topped with brass legs, sooooo 80s!) and "write stories" and draw pictures. With pen. I was evidently very confident, haha.
Then, and now, this sitting down to create stilled my mind and gave me a focus that nothing else can match. It is restful. And when the subject matter I'm creating touches on the religious, it is in a way, prayerful. Prayer through line, color, contemplating who and what I am painting.
Because this is something that means so much to me, I of course suggest you try it! You don't have to be an 'artist.' There is a book called "Praying in Color" which gives some really interesting ideas into using drawing and color and pretty much just sketching/doodling to explore this idea. Everyone can doodle. Just think back to your school trapper-keeper ;) no matter if you're a very linear minded person, or a swirly hearts and clouds person, there is method for you.
Being able to marry faith and art has been wonderful for me, because art is what I am passionate about. Art is my way of being in and translating the world. I am beyond thankful that creating is now part of my every day life, because for a long time it wasnt. It was shoved to the very corners of my life because it just didnt seem important. And by important, I mean 'a way to find a good job and make money.' Because that's how we're told to measure things in life--- how much money/status/success will this bring me.
I was in college and pretty much felt like art was a nice way to slowly starve to death. I tried to go the graphic design route, but the program didn't shift to my university campus like I'd been told it would during the beginning of my college studies. I tried to go into the journalism program, but failed to get in because I missed one too many questions on the program entry test. (It was a memorization of the AP handbook. Which.....when I later worked as a newspaper without the journalism degree, was always at our desks, ready to thumb through, no memorization necessary!)
So, long story short, I had given up on art as something I did as a kid, and it was time to grow up and do 'grown up things.'
Luckily, art still crept in to my life. I got a job as a jewelry designer for an accessory manufacturer which required drawing and assembly skills. Later, I worked at a newspaper (take that, AP test!) doing all sorts of work--- from writing stories, attending community meetings, photography, and covering everything from business to education to the arts and religion.
It was while interviewing artists and writers and musicians-- essentially, people following their dreams--- that I began to think of my dreams. I'd ask them, pencil in hand, "how did you accomplish this? How did you break out of everyday life to accomplish your dreams?"
And their answer was startlingly simple--- they just began. And they kept at it.
During this time Audrey was born. My job at the paper sure didn't pay much (it actually paid about the same as the cashier job I held as a college student, if that gives you an idea!) but it had health insurance. I was starting to grow weary of the grind of the newsroom and my sensitive nature made it hard to deal with the crackpots who love to call a newspaper and chew out whoever happens to answer the phone or cover a story. I'd go home on my lunch break and be with my baby and cry and just dread going back to what just felt like busy work, a means to an end and a puny paycheck. There are people who live and breath journalism, the thrill of the chase of a story, of delving into the here-and-now of a story, of investigating and sharing what's going on in their community; I was finding out I was not one of them.
And so with the support of my husband, we began slowly piecing things together so that I could exit this line of work. We paid off some debt, we tracked down some independent insurance and finally I was able to hand in my notice when Audrey was about 8 months old. Halloween would be my last day at the paper!
About a week before I was to leave, there was a big uproar at the paper, and these strangers came sauntering in. "We're your new owners!" They told us. And soon we found out these new owners...they didn't offer their employees insurance. You can imagine the immediate fallout from that--- we were, essentially, no longer part of the company who'd been offering us our insurance and we were uncovered immediately. Ironically, I was leaving the company so therefore the only one walking out the door that day with insurance; the one thing that had been keeping me tied to that job.
I'm sharing this last part to sort of illustrate that we all have things we love but that we talk ourselves out of pursuing. It's the hardest thing, to be brave and follow your heart. Especially if it feels self indulgent. And of course, sometimes there's just no way to immediately get yourself out of one job into a new situation, or a new location, etc. But that's not a reason to never start.
Even if its just working on that novel you've always wanted to write for 10 minutes during the day. Or painting a picture while the baby naps. Or taking one college course a semester. The first step on a journey is.....the first step.
Now I'm one of those people, like those I interviewed, telling others to "just begin." You can't even imagine what will happen if you follow your heart.
And these things that are your passions....I believe they're in us for a reason. They are our gift from God. We are meant to use these gifts. Sure, these gifts might not be things to make us rich or famous or successful in the eyes of the world. But they will make our lives fuller, and happier, which is worth so much more.