I want to tell you about a Community of Faith that I’ve found. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that they found me. It’s interesting how Father God lovingly invites us down special paths of life designed specifically to meet our needs.
I think some really brief backstory is important or the significance of this Community will not be fully appreciated.
All my life I’ve gone to church, the institutional church. I’ve sat and listened to the sermons. I’ve stood and sung hymns. I’ve always believed that this was the Church, the Body of Christ, where I’d encounter Father God. But it wasn’t, and I didn’t. Something, … something that I couldn’t put my finger on, was somehow missing. Now, you need to know that in no way am I criticizing that centuries old institution of church. This is my story of my journey, and that is all it is; nothing more.
At some point, after marriage, and raising our children, I didn’t attend church much. I just slipped away and was open to whatever else Father might have for me and my life. To cut a long story short, it was through one friend after another that Father lead me to a vibrant Spirit-filled Community of the Body of Christ. This is Church without the building, without all of the trappings of mere religion, without the hierarchy, without the idolatry of mere theology. I found God outside of the covers of the Bible; intimately, personally, face to face. And I wasn’t alone … there was a Community.
This Community I’ve found has three powerful aspects to it that I wouldn’t trade for anything. They are a movement (not an institution); they are organic in nature, and they are entirely relational.
In it’s organic nature, this community is Community. The famous story of Stone Soup comes to mind. People round about had little or nothing to eat. Then a clever man brings a stone with which to make a soup. He begins to boils it in water. After a while he invites the people each to bring what they have to add to the soup; vegetables, salt, meat, broth, whatever they had. Each put into the soup what they had. After a while the soup was done and everyone had soup. Everyone ate their fill of what had begun so simply as a stone boiling in water. Now they were a Community, sharing what they had and who they were with one another. That’s the Community I’ve found.
This Community is part of God’s global movement, His Body. There are no preachers, although there are ordained clergy among us. There is no hierarchy, no pecking order, no formal documents to tell us who’s who and how we’re all supposed to behave. We’re a movement created, governed and, fully lead by Father God. It reminds me of Israel’s days of The Judges. God was their King … not a man. It was God who lead and “ruled” the people. So it is with our Community.
This Community is fully relational. Everything about it is relationship based, meaning we begin, each of us, with a deep, personal, intimate relationship with Father God. He is the unifying force and power of this Community. He is what makes us a Community. He is our spine and our glue.
Having begun in our relationship with Father, we extend that relationship to one another. As a movement, and not an institution, the organic nature of the Body of Christ is fully manifest. When someone needs healing, like white blood cells, a number of us gravitate toward that need and pray it away in healing. When someone celebrates, we all celebrate. We bear one another’s burdens and share one another’s joys. All of this, absolutely all of this is joy and not obligation. It’s fully Love and not duty.
In this Community I have never experienced so much joy and excitement with Father God and with one another in all my life. This is a priceless Community wherein I find the God of the heart, the God of relationship, the God of love. This is what / Who I’ve been looking for, and I’ve found Him.
For years, decades really I’ve struggled with rest, not mere inactivity, vacation, or sleep, but true, deep rest. I was once a firecracker burning at both ends, always working, and always busy. I suffered severe burnout three times. You’d think I would have learned my lesson the first time. In these vain pursuits of success, productivity, or achievement I found my identity and value, just as my culture instilled in me; work hard, live fast, and you’ll be a success.
Author, consultant, speaker Jeremy Mangerchine had a similar experience and writes about how Father God was finally able to get him to pay attention to his health, his identity, and his relationship with Him. The book is The Quitter’s Manual: Finding Rest in a World Gone Berserk, and Jeremy’s idea of quitting isn’t what most of us might think. It’s a nice brief 108-pages of essential life changing wisdom.
In a wonderful autobiographical series of anecdotes Mangerchine brings us along on his own journey into Father’s realm of true rest, of a powerful life in the Presence of God without strife, without struggle, or futile busyness.
What I enjoy so very much is how Jeremy shares his own journey, and doesn’t wag a finger at any of his readers. For us it’s a take it or leave it proposition, but personally, I found this book liberating, and affirming. I’ve come a long way on my won rest-seeking life journey and for me, it was good to read how I can better that journey as well as find encouragement in what I’m already doing well.
Great book. Short and powerful read. Life changing, if we want it.
When I was a youngster, I was just like all kids seem to be. I was energetic and impatient. When I was supposed to do a “project” I’d rush through it as fast as possible. I’d then gather up my “creation” and toddle off in search of praise despite the dripping glue and paint.
Even in college I was still working fast because in this American culture of ours; fast is rewarded. In my work in film & theatre, there were time crunches and budgets to maintain. The mentality was for high quantity, and the quality just needed to be “good enough” for the job at hand. My creative work was always pressed by either a budget, a deadline or both. It’s no wonder students of the creative arts are always asking the “old pros”, “So, where do you get your ideas?” The pressure to produce continuously is enormous. But alas, I digress.
Years later when I was in theatre leadership, I was the Production Designer for the company and its primary builder as well. I took my time on the designs because I had to enhance the context of the story. A good set does that, but our low-skill novices needed to be able to assemble it quickly. So there’s the dichotomy; meaningful beauty in a matter of a few hours of intense construction.
In these current years of not working for others, not working in a production context, I’ve slowed down a great deal. I’ve gradually moved from impatiently wanting to see the thing done, to actually savoring each and every stroke of brush, pen, or pencil. It’s been a wonderfully long journey that takes further steps every day.
The majority of this shift has been a movement away from a paradigm of quantity over quality, to the reverse; quality over quantity. I savor quality (or qualities) over quantity any day. I’m no longer a tin can being kicked along the road by the driving forces of production. For me quantity is so meaningless that I simply won’t tolerate it in myself.
As recently as this year, I’ve even stopped making quantities of Coptic-bound journals; why? because in the end it’s nothing more than a pile of product about which I have little care. What enjoyment did I get from that experience? Well, I enjoyed the collection and processing of upcycled papers and paste-board. I enjoyed ironing the paper and cutting it into sheets, and then folding them into signatures. I enjoyed the design elements I’d use on the covers; covering the boards and folding each corner with a binder’s fold. In short, I loved the process. But in the end, I was left with a pile of journals that I liked, but very few people wanted (or would buy). It was pleasant, repetitious, and productive. And while I’ve ceased making them for sale I still make all of my own journals and sketchbooks for personal use mostly. I don’t buy journals or sketchbooks anymore.
Instead, I make art books – that is books as objects of art. These are one of a kind, filled with meaning, and certainly not repetitious. With these “books”, anything goes, and I’m no longer making them for others. There’s no pressure to “produce” quantities of “product”. Each is filled with meaning and story.
The beautiful collage quilt blocks I used to make were also product. I began making single blocks, having researched thousands of quilt block patterns, and while each was unique, it soon became a production line effort.
It wasn’t until I began reincorporating story into my work that a far deeper satisfaction emerged. It’s what I was creatively hungry for but had so quickly forgotten. As a faith-driven artist, I just couldn’t see much of my relationship with God in the quiltblocks. I’m not knocking quilts or quilters, I love both. I’m simply saying that quilts just aren’t my medium, whether made in paper on masonite or in fabric. What I am knocking is my own impatience, and lack of savoring each moment of making. I was rushing to get the thing done and missing the point along the way.
How is it that I allowed myself to be pushed and shoved into a production mindset? What is it that I temporarily let go of? What did I forget about myself, who I am, why I make art, and for Whom?
I’ve had to relearn why I got into this “art-thing” in the first place. I’ve had to return to the foundations of what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. That’s why I remembered that I’m into story – I’m a storyteller and that is the kind of art I need to be making. I needed to quit listening to the “good advice” of well meaning others, and remember who and what I am before my Lord God.
I’m drawn to art that contains story. At minimum the work must contain some evidence of human beings. I don’t care if it’s a paring knife on a plate with a half-eaten apple, there’s a story in it. Someone’s been there. This development of story in my work has caused a dramatic slowing in my making. I “listen” more to the materials, to the piece being made, and to God’s insights in the making. I’ve come to the point of savoring every brush and pencil stroke; every knife cut and trim; every architectural element to be included in the work. I’m even savoring the mental planning process of thinking through how it’s going to be assembled; something of an old friend from my scenic design and stage directing days.
For me process, the acts of making, of thinking about making, of considering the meaning of what’s being made all merge into a kind of meditation or at least a contemplation. That’s the major reason I’ve slowed so much, and savor each moment of process so much more. I don’t want to miss anything, not a “flavor”, or a “smell”, or the whisper of insight God’s Spirit might share with me.
To my mind art, like faith in God, is not an intellectual/mental “thing”. Making, the process of making, is intimate, dynamic, deeply personal, uncertain, “messy”, but oh so precious. God and I commune in process. I worship Him in process. Sometimes I even feel a bit like John the Revelator who, being taken away in the Spirit, was shown things, deep things, and told to share what he’d experience with the world. It’s a privilege, a celebration, a joy.
It’s all in the process.
NOTE: I apologize for the lack of open space between the paragraphs. WordPress is having problems just now. Thank you for your patience.
The new goals I’ve set for myself this year is to [try and] read a new book every two-weeks; so far so good. The latest I’ve finished is by musician, worship leader, and author Manuel Luz called Imagine That: Discovering Your Unique Role as a Christian Artist (2009/Moody). This is not a book review but more of a sharing of a couple of his most nourishing points.
I love how Luz reminds us that the life of an artist, and the daily act of art-making has a transformative effect on those artists for whom Christ is Lord. “In my own life, I have found that my music – and art in general – is a means by which I am drawn more closely in communion with God. God has formed me through the discipline of music. The discipline of worshiping while rehearsing… the discipline of songwriting and song journaling.
“And this should make sense if one understands that to grow as artists is, in part, to increase in our Christlikeness.” Luz / 127
To my mind this is another example of the purest essence of the convergence of faith and art; it not only affects those who engage the work but the artist as well. I love the Presence of God wherever I am. I love knowing that He’s not far off, up on heaven listening at a distance, but through His Spirit is literally with me 24/7. I love our discoveries in the process of making art, at whatever stage of the work. I love those discoveries which enrich my relationship with my Lord God.
I don’t usually talk about art work that I’ve not finished, let alone haven’t even begun. A powerful thing happened to me a while back as I was reading Matthew 9:20 / Mark 5:25, the story of Mary Magdalene being healed by merely touching the edge of Christ’s shawl.
There I was in the middle of my daily Bible readings and up came this story, with it’s beginning, its middle, and end; complete in every way. Heck, it even fits the 5-sentence story structure of a good Western world tale.
So, there I was reading and as I savored each word, something built up in my heart. Here was a woman who’d made mistakes (don’t we all) and who was seeking full healing. Mark’s verse 27 tells us that she’d heard Jesus was near. She resolved to merely touch His shawl or tunic – that’s all, just touch his clothing. That’s all, the merest gesture, and she knew that she’d be healed. To my mind she got more than she hoped for. She got salvation, redemption, a whole new life in that single experience. What a powerful story. Then I heard it, I call it the silver bell. “Dinggggggg”; there it was, that resonance of recognition that this was an important story. My heart quickened, as itProcess as Transformation always does when that “bell” rings. I know I’m in the Presence of His Spirit and being offered a gift if I’ll just listen and receive it.
As I began journaling about the encounter, something I often do in preparation of making a work, God was right there, revealing one level of meaning after another; a simple story, a single, brief encounter but layer upon layer of relational / spiritual significance. The practice of even preparing to make art was transforming me. I was growing and being nourished in the experience. I was savoring the Divine Presence of the living God whom I follow and serve. I was enjoying a deeply personal, intimate, private relationship with Him.
It’s this self same experience Manuel Luz was on about in his book. Art making, for the artist who is a follower of Christ, can (if we’re willing, open, and receptive) have a transformative effect on us – it ought to. Then the work itself goes on to affect the lives of those who engage it elsewhere, as long as they too are willing, open, and receptive. And I know I’m repeating myself, but I assure you that it’s deliberate repetition – process is an art-maker’s transformative journey. There is no destination, only journey, ever changing, ever growing.
I’m experiencing something of a grand transformation in these last weeks. Ever since my friend Sue Beckman introduced me to a book by Pastor Bill Johnson, When Heaven Invades Earth I’ve had a completely different outlook on my relationship with God.
Then, in one of his blog posts (Feb-12), Dick Staub shares some thoughts on the Christian life of meditation and contemplation via AW Tozer. The book he mentions is Of God and Men (I’m going to have to get a copy). I ran out and bought Tozer’s The Pursuit of God. I don’t know if that was an “accident” or a God-thing (I’ll take the latter), but Tozer, like Johnson, just blew me away.
This year God has been leading me away from the shore out into deeper spiritual waters. I’ve come to understand that my theologically heavy Christianity has taught me many really good and important things, but it’s a Christianity in which we talk about God. It’s a head-filled Christianity, and I’ve been looking for more… much more. I’ve been looking for an experiential relationship with God. Tozer and Johnson have helped me to begin that transformation.
I no longer talk about God, I talk to/with God. I’m experiencing Him deeply, intimately, and personally. What I’ve come to conclude is that this deep, personal, intimate, experiential relationship has been His plan all along. I’ve concluded that while theology is vital, it’s not the main thing. Theology is only about 20 to 30 percent of my relationship with my God. Deep, intimate, experiential relationship is the other 70 to 80 percent. To quote Tozer; “Sound Bible exposition is an imperative must in the Church of the Living God. Without it no church can be a New Testament church in any strict meaning of the term. But exposition may be carried on in such a way as to leave the hearers devoid of any true spiritual nourishment whatever. For it is not mere words that nourish the soul, but God Himself, and unless and until the hearers find God in personal experience they are not the better for having heard the truth.(The Pursuit of God / pg 9 – my underline)
So in this and other ways I’ve let go of the dock post, and swam away from the shallows, out into deeper waters with my Lord God. It’s changing everything in one way or another. The most awesome change has to do with my hearing Him, often suddenly and out of the blue. I no longer stop and go find Him, because His Presence is 24/7.
I feel like a little kid again who’s walking along with his Grandpa. I’ve got His finger as we walk. He points out something to me and together we giggle and ooo and aahh together in utter delight. He loves to show me things, insights of His Word both written and living, His universe, His love and guidance of me. I love my Lord God more deeply, more intensely, and more intimately than I ever have in all of my 60-years of life here on Earth.
In as much as God has invaded my life as personal, intimate, and experiential this new “walk” can’t help but permeate my art practice. He gives me new work at the mere mention of a relational thought, usually from someone I’m chatting with. Or I’ll be reading The Word and suddenly, as the words pass my eyes, precious bells of pure gold will “ting” and my heart quickens… there’s a new insight, a new work He’s giving me to make for Him.
My faith is literally driving my life and my art. It’s as L’Engle says in Walking On Water; “I learn that my feelings about art and my feelings about the Creator of the Universe are inseparable. To try to talk about art and about Christianity is for me one and the same thing.” (pg 16). With each passing day, a new deeper layer of meaning of those words comes to light. I don’t shut off my Christianity at night. I don’t shut off my being an artist. They’re “on” all the time and they’re inextricably interwoven; part of the self-same fabric of His Great Cosmos.
I’ve read a lot of blog posts, essays, and a few books which talk about art as worship and art as prayer. Personally I find the subject fascinating, and it brings with it as many variations (which I love) as it does commentators.
Last Thursday evening I’d been invited to a gathering of faith-driven creatives and after a good meal together, catching up with one another, and some Show ‘n’ Tell, we got down to the discussion; (and I paraphrase here), Does prayer and worship show up in your work (if it does at all), and how does prayer and worship affect your art practice? Juicy question, huhhh?
I want to share a few notes I took, which are reactions to comments made by others, and then I’ll talk about my own reaction to the question(s).
We talked about whether or not our artwork is prayer and if the act of making is an act of worship. Some folks saw quite specific distinctions between prayer and worship, saying that for them prayer is a deliberate, intentional conversation with God. Others felt absolutely no distinction between prayer and worship, feeling that they were so closely related as to be almost one experience.
What about following a formal structure or formula in prayer and can we offer prayer in any context? To the latter half, we shared a resounding “Yes, we can pray any time, any where.” But for some there is a need for some kind of structure to prayer, while others saw prayer differently, informally; perhaps more immediate and responsive.
One person said that for her prayer was intentional, serving a deliberate purpose, while worship is more responsive (perhaps more emotional). And, yes, she felt worshipful in the act of creativity.
For me, at this time, most of my prayer life, in any context, is done through my journal writing. Sure, I do pray elsewhere at other times. But my processing of the life-stuff that’s the “bread and butter” of my arts practice is done in my journal. I learned this from author Julia Cameron from her book The Artist’s Way. I unload my spirit and listen to God in my journal writing. It’s a luscious outpouring of often random bits and pieces which He and I look at and make sense of. A whole lot of self-discovery has happened in our “sessions” together.
Often, in my writing time, I will break into worship, usually because He’s given me a discovery or revelation. I may stop right then and there, raise my hands and pray the doxology, or simply proclaim His awesomeness in the form of a Psalm, just how great and wondrous He really, truly is.
For me, worship is part and parcel of my art-making process and experience. Sometimes I’ll be so overwhelmed at what we’re making together I’ll start crying with release and joy – our time together is that intimate. All-ways though, the making is an alchemy of an intimate faith relationship and is my worship of Him. I mean, the very idea that I get to share in one of His most awesome attributes, creativity; I’m often overwhelmed by the privilege.
Let me close with this thought; To my mind we Faith-Driven artists are (or should be) powered by the ever-deepening intimacy and the ever-growing maturity of our relation with God through Christ. That’s what Faith-Driven means – literally driven to action by our faith (relationship) in God.
If you’ve been reading any of my blogs, you’ll soon come to know what a fan of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way I am. Several of her books are permanent additions to my Artist’s Bookshelf.
I mention her because of journals, and the process of journaling. One of the three basics (you’re going to have to read the book) of the practice she advocates is journaling, specifically what she calls Morning Pages. This is the first-thing, daily-habit, of handwriting 3-full pages in a journal of your choice to clear the creative baffles, prime the creative pump, and get the creative blood flowing. Words help us to externalize and objectify personal issues and to move on.
As I previously posted (My Artist’s Journal), words are often a priceless means for me to do all of the above, but I am developing a visual vocabulary in my collage / mixed-media art-making and I need to be using a visual journal, an Artist’s Journal. This journaling experience has been teaching me a few things I wanted to share with you.
First, I’ve come to understand just how much of a mechanical designer I currently am. That translates into a left-brain, function-oriented creative (and we need them too) I really am at present. What I’m striving to break out into is much more of a right-brain, heartfelt, emotional creative.
Why? Simply because faith in God and life on earth is all about relationships. It’s all about risking one’s heart in the investment of human relationships. Besides, it is the landscape of the human condition which most interests me in my art-making. I may be influenced and inspired by stained-glass, quilts, and mosaics, but those are physical, material, and stylistic influences. They’re simply a means to an end, and not the end itself.
It’s vital that I breakout into the emotional, relational, and human side of storytelling if I am going to succeed, and the journaling is showing the way.
The second lesson I’m grasping is that I’m far too timid in my creative choices. An Artist’s Journal is a safe, creative laboratory. Messes are de rigueur. I didn’t realize just how deeply in-grained this “fear of failure” really runs in me but apparently it’s going to take a lot of mess making to erode it away. I want the creative liberation afforded by the constant – don’t think about it – non-planned creativity of the Artist’s Journal.
So, it’s working. I’m being released, empowered, liberated, enlarged, and enabled to freely and fully express what’s on my heart and discarding much of what’s merely in my head. The tool; my ArtJournals.