Hello There, Sarah the Frase here, asking you to consider creating art, not for communication or self-expression or to have an end product. Instead, here’s my invitation to create art as an act of communion with the Almighty: Art as Spiritual Formation.
Spiritual Formation is the reorienting of yourself towards God. It is inviting the Holy Spirit through this communion and His work to form the person of Christ in you.
There’s a Japanese screen that I draw every time when I go to visit the Dallas Museum of Art. Each time I draw a different part of the screen. I’m not drawing to have a product or possession a complete drawing at the end. I’m not drawing to reproduce it accurately or even improve my drawing skills. I am not drawing it to analyze it or deconstruct it. I am drawing it to see it. Right now in the moment-I draw to see what is there.
That re-orientation of myself towards beauty is stepping into the presence of God.
It’s practicing noticing–seeing what is there–stepping into Wonder.
I don’t just do this in museums either. Whenever I can, I stop underneath trees. I stand there and look up at the light coming through the leaves and the shape of the branches. I once outlined all the shadows of light that were on my notebook page. Or I will reflect on the reflections of light and sky on a glass skyscraper. I deliberately take time to stop and answer God’s invitation to notice beauty and in doing so to notice Him.
Theologically this is a powerful moment, because when I’m practicing this noticing this space is too open for me to compartmentalize God.
I can’t manage Him or banish Him to one area of my life. I become acutely aware in my physical body and my intangible soul that He is present in the material world with me.
As a result of this habit of noticing, one my parents cultivated in me from childhood, a lot of my writing is sacramental. I describe what I see, what I touch, taste, smell, and hear and do so in a way that I am inviting the reader to partake in the sacrament I’m experiencing in the material world. I wrote a poem at the Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing called Michigan Eucharist (say when) which came from me just standing on some dirt, drinking a warm cup of coffee as the Sun rose. I felt God’s presence filling the world and filling me. When I was writing the poem I felt it again. I was formed not only in the daylight on the dirt, but later writing in my notebook, and finally typing it into my computer.
I do a lot of “trunk writing.” Trunk writing being an actual writers’ term for writing that will never be published. You just write it and then toss it in a trunk in your attic somewhere. I’ve never kept a diary of life experiences, but I have filled journals ad nauseam of this kind of writing where I am just communing with God.
Sometimes its stories, sometimes its poems, but even when I’m not writing dialogue I experience an ongoing dialogue between my spirit and the Holy Spirit. He’s engaging my heart and my mind, and I can feel Him with me in the words, in the images.
Sometimes this will be after praying or reading scripture or copying down one verse and meditating on it and then I just have to write. Like a kid who’s an athlete just has to run. Eric Liddell, the Olympic runner, told his sister that when he ran he felt God’s pleasure. That’s how I feel when I write.
To be honest, I don’t really know what’s going on, and if you asked me even to explain what God was forming in me through writing that week, well the majority of the time I would have a hard time articulating it. Because God is Mystery. And when I write, I enter into that Mystery.
I think this model of stepping into Arts creation–into the creative process as stepping into Mystery where God invites us and we invite Him– isn’t just deeply formative for artists and Christians, it’s essential.
I didn’t always write this way. I did as a kid, but when I got older so much emphasis was put on producing, and skill building, and evangelizing or at least glorifying God and conveying truth that I lost that sense of Mystery and even that communion with the Spirit that made me love writing in the first place. I had to re-learn it. I had to give myself permission to write without a purpose other than being with Him. And it’s made me more honest, with Him, with myself, and with others. When I write this way I can be confessional with God, I can admit the ugliness of my own sin, bear my shit before Him, and let Him make me new. If everything I ever wrote was for publication, I know this honesty would never happen. Growing honest in the private arena with God is a part of how you learn to grow honest in the public arena as an artist and a Christian.
When you write this way, paint this way, sing this way, monologue this way, or dance this way, it is an act of faith. You are trusting that He is Spiritually forming you into His likeness even if you don’t understand how. You choose to believe that by turning towards Him that the Spirit is going to be faithful to use your re-orientation to set your heart and mind on Him in the eternal places of being.
Draw Near to God and He will draw near to you. Writing, drawing, singing, acting, dancing, painting- each of these can be a way to draw near to God and be formed by Him.