My Experiment with Art and Spirituality
I remember signing up for a drawing class when I was in second grade. I didn’t realize at the time that the class was for “intermediate, level 2,” not “grade 2.” The room was filled with students much older than me (I’m pretty sure they were in fifth grade, but to my seven-year-old eyes they were 35), and other than a few glances my way, no one said anything. The teacher put out pastels and papers and told us to draw whatever we wanted for our first day. I was terrified. After attempting to draw a dog with the pastels, I learned quickly that they were not like crayons.
Creation is always an act of faith, and faith is a spiritual issue, so is creativity. As we strive for our highest selves, our spiritual selves, we cannot help but be more aware, more proactive, and more creative.
– JULIA CAMERON, THE ARTIST’S WAY
Defeated, I looked around at what other people were drawing. There was an older Asian girl whose hair was straight and black like mine drawing a beautiful sunset. I loved the hazy pinks and purples, and as I watched her blend different colors together, I thought it looked easy enough, so I scrapped the dog and started my own sunset. After some time, the teacher called everyone to gather and put their pieces on the center table. We laid out our drawings, and I nearly died of embarrassment as I saw how everyone had created beautiful scenes, while mine was a poor attempt at copying another student’s idea. I watched the instructor take time to comment on each piece, but when she came to mine, she paused, mentioned that it was like the other sunset but wasn’t blended well and that the color choices were odd. I tried to remain emotionless, hoping no one would know it was mine (even though it was painfully obvious), and while I thought no one was looking, I slid my sunset off the table, crumbled up the drawing, and threw it away. I ended up dropping the class.
That’s my first memory of feeling creatively blocked. I think it was also the first time I believed the lie that I am not creative, which pained my seven-year-old heart. I’m grateful that my story doesn’t end there. Instead, God has shown up in unique and subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) ways reminding me that I was created in the image of the Creator, and therefore I was designed to create.
I am currently pursuing my certificate in spiritual direction at the C. John Weborg Center at North Park Theological Seminary. For a class project, we had the opportunity to explore a personal topic that was tied to spirituality, and I chose art and spirituality. In my reading, I came across Frederick Franck’s Zen Seeing, Zen Drawing. He describes drawing as meditation in action, as an invitation to see. To draw what you see requires you to become fully absorbed into the details. As you carve out the shapes and shades of what you’re focusing on, you begin to notice how pieces connect or transition and new details arise as you continue to sketch. This is what Lydia Phillips, Covenant spiritual director, describes as “touching that bit of eternity.” When we become so absorbed that we lose sense of time and are simply being, that is when the Holy Spirit ministers to our souls and where we experience her transforming work—the kind of transformation that results in the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2).
Throughout my journal, I have filled pages with little repetitive lines. Filling each page was for me akin to practicing centering prayer. Each page, a prayer, and with each mark, I practiced releasing any feelings or thoughts, imagining each one as a stone being dropped into a gentle river. The pages do not clearly convey a story or even a specific feeling. What stands out is the time it took to create. There’s something precious about time, our time, and how we choose to spend it. Most days I will hold a person or situation in prayer as I fill up a page, but some days become busier than others, so I build on a page over time.
Drawing has taught me that awareness is cultivated through a process, not something that is obtained instantly, all at once. I’ve found that the act of creating expands our imagination and births new inspiration, just like how prayer does. The more I create the more ideas emerge. The more I pray, the more coincidences seem to pop up. The more I surrender to God, the more I notice their movements both in my life and in the lives of those around me.
I believe that our spirit is the most important part of who we are, and spiritual practices like this help us journey with the Holy Spirit, drawing us deeper into the heart and likeness of Christ. While there are so many parts of our lives that require us to speak, form perspectives, and wrestle with opinions, this is where we listen and give our full attention to God. Sometimes it’s through centering prayer. Other times we feel them as the wind blows through trees. For me, it’s drawing little tick marks while sitting with the God of Genesis.
While surrendering to the Holy Spirit’s work in me, I’ve found myself more comfortable with drawing and have explored into other mediums and have become more expressive in my pieces. To be clear, I’m not saying that I’ve magically become the visual artist I’ve always dreamed of being, but instead have learned to move through self-doubt. Instead of drawing being a talent to perform, it’s where I practice stepping out in faith with each page, where there are no guarantees of what the final outcome will look like. I wish I could tell my seven-year-old self that she didn’t need to feel discouraged, because we would find God in between the lines we drew.
INVITATION TO PRAYER
Regardless of your artistic skill level, this practice is for you. This is not a space for answers, nor is it about displaying quality craftmanship. This is a space to let go of our inner chatter, moving beyond conversation with Christ to communion with him.
- Grab a blank page and a pen, marker, paint, etc. of your choice.
- Find a quiet place to be in silence before God.
- Choose an intention for this time. It could be sitting with a word, a Scripture, a prayer request, or a friend that you are wanting to hold in prayer. SUGGESTION: “Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth” (Psalm 46:10).
- Define the space on your page that you want to fill and decide on a pattern to fill it with.
- Fill your page.