open.

original art by the lovely & talented jenny herrick

this post is part of february’s synchroblog – a bunch of bloggers writing on the same topic at the same time.  this month’s topic is creativity & christianity.  check out the links at the bottom of this post; they are a great mix of different voices. i’ll add more links as they come in today.

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“art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time” – thomas merton

when i was in high school i had an amazing english teacher.  i took her classes every single year, from creative writing to poetry to the standard english classes that every one had to take.  she inspired us.  my senior year i was the editor of our high school’s literary magazine and we created a volume filled with art, poetry, and short stories.  i still am blown away by the beauty that emerged from an average bunch of 16-18 year olds.   for me, it was a way to express my feelings in ways i couldn’t in my regular life.  things flowed out of me that i couldn’t actually say.  when i graduated from high school and went to college, some of this creativity lingered but as time went on it slowly was replaced by practicalities & that part of me began to feel frivolous & unnecessary.  by the time i got married after graduate school i had stopped writing all together & focused all of my energy on becoming a good christian wife & mother, taking care of my babies, going to bible studies, and trying to make it through the day.  i would say that during those years i closed myself off to creativity.

about 5 years ago i opened myself up to it again–to being more willing to express myself creativity and risk being that vulnerable.  it came in the form of not just writing but actually creating and nurturing our faith community, the refuge.  it’s been one of the deepest expressions of my heart, where i let out my dreams, my passion, my time, my energy and allowed what was inside to be shared with others.  it was a blank canvas. i didn’t create it alone but rather with a bunch of other artists, too, none of whom would probably identify themselves as one.

the sufi poet rumi says that “inside you is an artist you don’t know about.”

the creativity that is in each person is a reflection of God’s creative image inside of us. when it’s stifled, buried, stuck, ignored, not only do we miss out but the world misses out, too.  when we have a space for it to flourish, we become more and more complete.  through our creative expression, i think somehow we are participating in God’s work of redemption in this world.

this world needs more beauty.

and we are the vessels it flows through.

it’s why we must learn to be open to it.  for some of you, it’s easy.  you are in touch with your creativity and it comes pouring out easily.  for many others, if you’re like me, it takes more intention, a little push, the safe space to try.  it doesn’t come naturally like it did when i was younger.

subtly or directly many have been taught that “we’re not artists” and we’re not that good at creative things.  think of kids when they are little.  they don’t think twice about creating, making, trying, risking, participating.  as they get older, though, many begin to start editing themselves, holding back instead of participating, evaluating and critiquing themselves instead of freely sharing.  slowly, they become closed to what they were once open to.

unfortunately, i think many church systems have perpetuated much of this closed-ness because we have adopted a professional “only the good ones get to play” mentality in many of our practices.  many times, average musicians don’t get a chance.  pretty people are the ones who sing on stage.  art shows are reserved for the talented and screened for submissions.  we’ve forgotten that the beauty that’s in each other–whether it’s deemed good enough or not by some weird measuring stick–needs a place to be nurtured, a forum to be revealed.

a few months ago the refuge, the little faith community i am part of, hosted what we call “beauty night”, which is essentially a creative open share.  we do it every now and then to give everyone a chance to bring visual art, music, drama, spoken word, and any other kind of creative endeavor to share with our community.  there’s no editing, no pre-screening, no critiquing.  every time, amazing things happen.  every time, i am overwhelmed with emotion when i see the beauty and life that comes out of ordinary people in unexpected ways. every time, i am reminded how incredible God’s image is when it is reflected through people and experienced together.

we’re trying to do our little part in nurturing a space for creativity.  last weekend my friend jenny facilitated an experience as part of our current series on living dangerously that allowed everyone to get in touch with their creativity.  you can read more about it here but the big idea was that everyone chose a word & then created a visual art piece, written or spoken word, or a drama around it. pieces were developed around words like:  freedom, others, present, focus, joy, love, courage, open. it was wild, the incredible glorious things that emerged in such a brief period of time.

one of my favorite pieces was from a woman new to our community.  her third time at church and she’s drawing an art piece!  i think that’s pretty fun.  her word was open.  it was done with oil pastels & the paper was filled with beautiful flowers opening.  just thinking about it right now gives me chills.  it was so beautiful and captures why i am so passionate about creativity and spirituality.

i don’t think creative expression is an aside or a “nice to have” when it comes to living out our faith. i think it’s a necessity.  we have to find ways to help each other open to creativity and quit limiting it only to what we think “art” is–photography, painting, drama, music, etc.  our lives are art.  our passions are art.  our dreams are art.

it is the space where we can find ourselves & lose ourselves at the same time.

art opens us up. it brings out more of who we really are.  it makes us vulnerable.  it brings beauty and redemption to desolate places.  it renews souls.  it reflects God’s image.

God, open us.

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other participants so far (i’ll add more as they come in so check back):

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

20 Comments

  • maybe once a month we should have a creative time, similar to the other night, before dinner or something, just like we have advocates and the community meetings. jenny could become our creative minister and lead the way 🙂

    i was blown away by the beauty night experience. i was energized — mind body and spirit — by the creative night. i consider myself so blessed to have you, the refuge, this community and all the amazing resources and love you all provide.

    thank you!

    Reply
  • Pingback: Creativity Synchroblog | The Assembling of the Church
  • “Beauty Night” sounds like a wonderful idea. We’ve been planning something similar here down in Englewood. I’d love to come to your next one and see what you do.

    Reply
  • i never understood, nor enjoyed the concept of beauty in art, as a way of worship, but i’m glad it was gently thrust upon me, at the refuge. i have come to appreciate this new aspect of communing with God.

    Reply
  • Great stuff Kathy. Your heart and energy make me want to come visit Colorado. 🙂

    Lately I’ve been trying my hand at some poetry. No idea why I started, other than many of the things you stated above; it is inside and has to get out. I really only have a few poems on the blog so far, but there are more in draft. I’m hoping that I can keep up my will to write – so far it has only been a struggle to find time, but I do enjoy it. It’s like I’m only really at peace when I’m creating…

    Reply
  • Hmm…. when I was a junior in HS, we were required to take Creative Writing. The teacher was great. He was less concerned about content than he was about getting the words to flow. We began each class with 10 minutes of “free writing”. This was basically where we just wrote whatever came into our heads. For this part of class, he didn’t even read it, he just counted the words and graded on the number of words…. and this was a great exercise in getting over the “blank page” fear and the “did I say that right” thing and just let thoughts flow onto paper. If nothing else, it was a great way to help sort thoughts…. 🙂

    Hmm… might still be a great way to help sort thoughts…. the things written became more a reflection of what was really inside than what we wanted to project…

    Reply
  • tim – thanks for reading. would love to hear what you pull together. what community are you from? we don’t have a date yet but when we do i’ll email you.

    mike – i am glad it’s grown on you 🙂 you write some really beautiful pieces, too, btw.

    jacob – come visit us! i am so glad you are writing and letting some of what is in, out. it’s beautiful that you are finding peace in it, too, it’s wild, the freedom that can come. i need to get your blog in my reader.

    katherine
    – yeah, there’s something about that, just letting it rip instead of worrying about the package or end project. i notice the difference a lot when i just let something that is in, out vs. feeling like i have to muster up something good. 2 radically different things. one free-ing, one not-so-freeing. lots of metaphors in there.

    Reply

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