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Finding God in the Arts

Finding God in the Arts

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Week Thirty-Three Summary and Practice

Sunday, August 15—Friday, August 20, 2021

Sunday
Until we can experience each thing in its specific “thisness,” as artists so often do, we will not easily experience the joy and freedom of Divine Presence.

Monday
Beholding happens when we stop trying to “hold” and allow ourselves to “be held” by the other. We are completely enchanted by something outside and beyond ourselves.

Tuesday
For some the call to worship comes as joy spurts from jazz riffs, wonder thunders from tappers’ feet. Each artistic moment is just slightly beyond our horizon of understanding. What a gift it is, this lack of understanding. —Barbara Holmes

Wednesday
I experience God, my Maker, in the studio. I am immersed in the art of creating, and I have come to understand this dimension of life as the most profound way of grasping human experience and the nature of our existence in the world. —Makoto Fujimura

Thursday
When we are receptive we let go of our agendas and expectations. We allow ourselves to see beneath preconceived ideas. Rather than going after what we want in life, or “forcing,” we cultivate a contentment with what actually is. —Christine Valters Paintner

Friday
We are, each of us, more than we seem, more than the sum of our merely human components. There is a divine spark animating each of us, and that divine spark also animates our art. —Julia Cameron

 

God Loves Things by Becoming Them

The Christ Mystery refuses to be vague or abstract. It is always concrete and specific. When we choose to “behold” things instead of begrudging them, we begin to see that everything is a revelation of the Divine—from rocks to rocket ships, from a Rembrandt to a Rothko. Our incapacity to see stems from our own lack of fascination, humility, curiosity, awe. The only thing needed is a willingness to surrender to the naked now, which God always inhabits, where the Incarnation always takes place and is always mysterious, where God, in every moment, is perfectly hidden and, at the same time, perfectly revealed. Hold that paradox. Those who have eyes to see can allow both to be true. If Christ is that by which we see, Christ is also what we see in the material world.

In 2019, we deliberately started our Universal Christ conference by anointing a rock, as Jacob does in the Book of Genesis (28:11–19). He uses a rock for a pillow and dreams of a ladder between heaven and earth, with angels walking between the rock and the heavens. He wakes up and says, “Eureka! I found it. You were here all the time, and I never knew it,” and he anoints the rock and names the place “House of God,” “Gate of Heaven.” If we had no other story in the Old Testament after Genesis, we have been gifted a good theology.

I invite you to proclaim this call and response prayer with the larger CAC community today:

Vigil Proclamation

The speed of light is the one constant in the universe.
We are the light,
and this love that it symbolizes is the one thing that makes
the world go ’round.

Call and Response:

The quantum, the subatomic, the elemental, and the very minerals of the earth:

God loves things by becoming them!

The very waters that fall upon the earth, run through our rivers, our bodies,

and fill our oceans:

God loves things by becoming them!

The plants, the trees, all living and growing networks that root into this earth:

God loves things by becoming them!

The animals in our skies, in our oceans, on the land, all creatures great and small:

God loves things by becoming them!

Human beings: every race, nationality, status, sexuality, or gender—ALL human bodies:

God loves things by becoming them!

The angels and the spirits, those that move in the unseen realms and in other

dimensions:

God loves things by becoming them!

The great planetary bodies, the galaxies, and the whole cosmic mystery:

God loves things by becoming them!

Experience a version of this practice through video and sound.

References:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, A Spring Within Us: A Book of Daily Meditations (CAC Publishing: 2016), 313–314;

The Universal Christ Liturgies (CAC Publishing: 2019), 28–29; and

“Parenting,” Another Name for Every Thing, season 2, episode 11, October 12, 2019 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2019), audio podcast.

Image Credit: Arthur Greenberg, In a Field (detail), 1973, photograph, Illinois, National Archives.
Image Inspiration: The texture of this image inspires us to know this grass better by running our hands through and allowing it to tickle our fingertips. Likewise, when we create art, we experience an embodied knowing of God.
Read Full Entry

Finding God in the Arts

Art as Service
Friday, August 20, 2021

Few of us feel called to be formal or fine artists, but all of us are called to be creators. Each of us is called to bring creativity, purpose, and passion to our vocation, no matter what it is. Artist and author Julia Cameron reminds us that we will know what is ours to do when we are open to the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit in service to others. She writes:

In centuries past, art was made for the honor and glory of God. Viewed in this light, a career in the arts was a career of service, not egotism. There is a cue there for us.

The dedication of our work to a higher cause than our own self-promotion frees the work from preciousness. It becomes not about how good we are but about how good we can be in selfless service to something larger than ourselves. Sometimes we can dedicate a book to a person whom we wish to reach. Rilke’s classic letters to a young poet tapped his own inner reservoirs of wisdom and generosity.

Contemplating a piece of work, we do better to think Whom is this work for? Whom will it serve? rather than How will it serve me? Once we find a path for our work to be of service . . . then our work goes smoothly forward. It is not about “us” anymore. . . . [Richard here: I believe all work can be a work of art if done with both devotion and genuine creativity!]

We used to routinely call God “the creator.” We had a consciousness that our own creativity was a divine gift, an opening for God to work through us. When we enshrined ourselves and our individuality rather than our shared humanity at the center of our consciousness . . . we lost our proper understanding of art as service. We disenfranchised ourselves from our birthright as creators and we lost the understanding that art was an act of the soul and not of the ego. Whenever we take art back to the realm of the sacred, whenever we make it an act of service in any form . . . we again experience the ease of creative flow and the lessening of our creative doubts. When we ask to “listen,” we create works worthy of being heard and we ourselves hear the heartbeat of our common humanity, which is grounded in divinity. . . .

When we make our art in a spirit of service, it lightens the burden of our ego. It makes for clarity of focus, purity of intent, and follows a spiritual law that might be simply stated as “Form follows function.” When the “form” of our work is open to higher consciousness, its function is raised as well.

Art moves through us. . . . A piece of art may originate with us, but we originate somewhere larger ourselves. We are, each of us, more than we seem, more than the sum of our merely human components. There is a divine spark animating each of us, and that divine spark also animates our art.

Reference:
Julia Cameron, Walking in This World: The Practical Art of Creativity (Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam: 2002), 264–265, 268–269.

Story from Our Community:
In the ’50s my sister attended Mt. St. Joseph College in Cincinnati. She was a music major and I remember being so astonished at the performances—120 women singing four-part harmony—as one voice. The joy or the sorrow in the songs absolutely electrified the audience. There wasn’t a dry eye in the place. When I entered the Mount as a freshman a few years later, I knew that I had to be a part of the joy of music, moving people, and spreading the message in one voice. —Gabrielle S.

Image Credit: Arthur Greenberg, In a Field (detail), 1973, photograph, Illinois, National Archives.
Image Inspiration: The texture of this image inspires us to know this grass better by running our hands through and allowing it to tickle our fingertips. Likewise, when we create art, we experience an embodied knowing of God.
Read Full Entry

Finding God in the Arts

Receiving Images
Thursday, August 19, 2021

Artist and author Christine Valters Paintner explores how we might reconsider traditional approaches to photography. Instead of “taking” pictures, she asks us to “receive” images similar to how we might welcome the presence of God in contemplation.

Contemplative practice is a receptive practice. We make ourselves available for grace to break in; we open ourselves to listen and ponder. . . .

We often use the word “take” to describe our relationship with photography. Our culture emphasizes taking time, taking what’s mine, and taking a break. What we are endeavoring to do in this process, however, is to receive (rather than take) the gifts around us, to be present enough so that, when the photographic moment arrives, we are able to receive it fully, with our whole hearts.

“Taking photos” is a common phrase, and changing that perception and process (especially if you use a smartphone, Lomo, or other disposable camera) may be hard to break, but I gently invite you to consider what reframing this process might be like for you and what it evokes in you. I invite you to bring a new awareness to how words and phrases can shape our experience and practices.

Rather than “taking” photos or “shooting” them or even “making” photos, we will practice “receiving” images as gift. The traditional words for photography are possessive and aggressive. Yet the actual mechanism of photography is that light is reflected off of a subject and received by the camera through the lens opening. We can create conditions for a “good” photo, but ultimately we must stand in a posture of receiving and see what actually shows up in the image.

The poet Rainer Maria Rilke [1875–1926] writes in one of his poems of “no forcing [and no] holding back.” [1] When we are receptive we let go of our agendas and expectations. We allow ourselves to see beneath preconceived ideas. Rather than going after what we want in life, or “forcing,” we cultivate a contentment with what actually is. Similarly, instead of “holding back” and merely observing life or falling asleep to it, we stay awake and alert, participating fully in its messiness and we keep our eyes open for the holy presence in its midst. Photographing in this way can become an act of revelation. One of the gifts of art in general, and photography in particular, is that the artist can offer others this vision of the graced ordinary moment.

Reference:
[1] Rainer Maria Rilke, “I believe in all that has never yet been spoken,” in Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God, trans. Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy, rev. ed. (Riverhead Books: 2005), 65.

Christine Valters Paintner, Eyes of the Heart: Photography as a Christian Contemplative Practice (Sorin Books: 2013), 29–31.

Story from Our Community:
In the ’50s my sister attended Mt. St. Joseph College in Cincinnati. She was a music major and I remember being so astonished at the performances—120 women singing four-part harmony—as one voice. The joy or the sorrow in the songs absolutely electrified the audience. There wasn’t a dry eye in the place. When I entered the Mount as a freshman a few years later, I knew that I had to be a part of the joy of music, moving people, and spreading the message in one voice. —Gabrielle S.

Image Credit: Arthur Greenberg, In a Field (detail), 1973, photograph, Illinois, National Archives.
Image Inspiration: The texture of this image inspires us to know this grass better by running our hands through and allowing it to tickle our fingertips. Likewise, when we create art, we experience an embodied knowing of God.
Read Full Entry

Finding God in the Arts

A Theology of Making
Wednesday, August 18, 2021

“Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing for me. . . . She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial.” (Mark 14:6, 8)

I am struck by the deep awe, reverence, and devotion that modern artist and Christian Makoto Fujimura brings to his creative process. In these touching passages, he describes how he takes inspiration from the Gospel story of the “woman with the alabaster jar,” who anoints Jesus’ head with oil (see Mark 14:3).

I experience God, my Maker, in the studio. I am immersed in the art of creating, and I have come to understand this dimension of life as the most profound way of grasping human experience and the nature of our existence in the world. I call it the “Theology of Making.”. . .  It has become my point of reference for a lifetime of star-gazing into the infinite realities of beauty and the sacred—and then creating. . . .

In the slow process of preparing the pigments and glue, which one must learn to do with the handmade paint that I use, I realized that I was practicing a devotional liturgy of sorts, . . . Through this act, I begin to feel deeply the compassion of God for my own existence, and by extension for the existence of others. My works, therefore, have a life of their own, and I am listening to the voice of the Creator through my creation. I am drawn into prayer as I work.

The impulse toward Making seems embedded in us from “the beginning.” Such an impulse imbeds our vision in actual earthly materials. So our journey to “know” God requires not just ideas and information, but actual making, to translate our ideas into real objects and physical movements.

It is hard work to live into this generative love, and it is what we are made for: to paint light into darkness, to sing in co-creation, to take flight in abundance.

I consider my art to be a devotional act, a memorial in response to this woman’s act [in Mark 14]. I use precious materials such as azurite, malachite, and gold. I have done many paintings and installations based on this passage. . . . “Truly I tell you,” he said to the disciples, “wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her” [Mark 14:9].

In Mary’s devotion, she expressed the beautiful to Jesus. What makes us truly beautiful? What makes us not just good, not just right, but beautiful? Can our churches be beautiful again, and not just promote goodness and truth? . . . Remember, what the disciples deemed a waste, Jesus called the most necessary. We have much to learn from Mary. What is our frivolous act of devotion today? What is our “art”? Mary’s act of extravagance is what it means to create in, and through, love.

Reference:
Makoto Fujimura, Art and Faith: A Theology of Making (Yale University Press: 2021), 3, 4, 6, 14, 115, 118.

Story from Our Community:
One morning I prayed to live more aware of God’s presence. So many suggestions have come to me, but I didn’t recognize them as prayerful contemplation until I read Fr. Richard’s words. I danced as a girl and had begun ecstatic dance at home, without knowing what I was doing. I used singing as a way to heal and bless my being in union with God. I guess God has been speaking to me, and how happy does that make me? I am in awe and joyous. —Jessica K.

Image Credit: Arthur Greenberg, In a Field (detail), 1973, photograph, Illinois, National Archives.
Image Inspiration: The texture of this image inspires us to know this grass better by running our hands through and allowing it to tickle our fingertips. Likewise, when we create art, we experience an embodied knowing of God.
Read Full Entry

Finding God in the Arts

The Artistry of the Blues
Tuesday, August 17, 2021

My friend Barbara Holmes describes the creation of blues music as an act of radical critique that can bring its listeners into a contemplative and holy space, far closer to God than we might be otherwise:

Some sacred spaces bear none of the expected characteristics. The fact that we prefer stained glass windows, pomp and circumstance, and pastors’ appreciation celebrations has nothing to do with the sacred. . . .

Like the familiar laments in the Psalms, blues artists forthrightly engaged the issues in life that the church would not discuss. . . The lyrics were straightforward and sometimes raunchy, but they captured the life experiences of the listeners. While gospel music promised peace in the hereafter and the promise of God’s presence, the blues became public theology, communal inquiry, and a critique of the church. . . .

Encounters with a skewed justice system inspired Blind Lemon Jefferson to sing “Hangman’s Blues.” Ma Rainey sings “Blues and Booze.” They sang about alcoholism, family support, and incarceration, issues that never came up in the weekly sermon, unless it was to rail against sin. The blues gave musicians an opportunity to sing their lived theology.

Finally, the critique of the church becomes evident as blues singers scat and hurl minor-key challenges toward the pious. Questions abound in the lyrics. Why is the preacher sleeping with the women in the congregation while the husbands are at work? What is happening to the money from the special collections? Why is God not alleviating the sorrows of an urban workforce . . . ?

The contemplative moment comes as the cause of the blues is considered within the broader context of God’s inexplicable absence or startling intervention. Under every stanza is the silent and unspoken question, “How long, oh Lord, how long will your people continue to suffer?” Suffering is no longer emerging from the crisis of the institution of slavery; it is coming from the angst of living with meager means and few skills to negotiate relationships. Although the words of blues songs became the focus of church opposition to “the Devil’s music,” the words did not become the portal to contemplation. Instead, instruments—not unlike the talking drum—called people to consider their condition. . . .

Art also carves pathways toward our inner isles of spirituality. When we decide to live in our heads only, we become isolated from the God who is closer than our next breath. To subject everything to rational analysis reduces the awe to ashes. The restoration of wonder is the beginning of the inward journey toward a God who people of faith aver is always waiting in the seeker’s heart. For some the call to worship comes as joy spurts from jazz riffs, wonder thunders from tappers’ feet. . . . Each artistic moment is just slightly beyond our horizon of understanding. What a gift it is, this lack of understanding. Perhaps we are confounded so that we might always have much to contemplate.

Reference:
Barbara A. Holmes, Joy Unspeakable: Contemplative Practices of the Black Church,
2nd ed. (Fortress Press: 2017), 184, 186, 187, 198.

Story from Our Community:
One morning I prayed to live more aware of God’s presence. So many suggestions have come to me, but I didn’t recognize them as prayerful contemplation until I read Fr. Richard’s words. I danced as a girl and had begun ecstatic dance at home, without knowing what I was doing. I used singing as a way to heal and bless my being in union with God. I guess God has been speaking to me, and how happy does that make me? I am in awe and joyous. —Jessica K.

Image Credit: Arthur Greenberg, In a Field (detail), 1973, photograph, Illinois, National Archives.
Image Inspiration: The texture of this image inspires us to know this grass better by running our hands through and allowing it to tickle our fingertips. Likewise, when we create art, we experience an embodied knowing of God.
Read Full Entry

Finding God in the Arts

We Are Called to “Behold”
Monday, August 16, 2021

When we look at art, we are usually quick to judge its value according to our own preferences based on style, color, size, location, and even country of origin! However, there is another invitation—one that goes beyond our likes and dislikes—and that is to simply “behold” it. Many of the apparitions in the Bible begin with “behold”—usually uttered as a command, an invitation, or perhaps a call to a different style of attention. In a sense, it is a giveaway that, in fact, we can and need to “switch gears” once in a while to be ready to perceive what is about to come at us.

When I have sent people into the woods on a retreat, I learned from wilderness guide Bill Plotkin to ask them to draw a symbolic line in the sand and to truly expect things on the other side to show themselves as special, invitational, or even a kind of manifestation. We could do the same with time spent gazing at a painting, a sculpture, or immersed in poetry or music. Believe it or not, it always works somehow. On the other side of that log, or “line in the sand,” or piece of art, we start beholding. Someone who is truly beholding is silenced with the utter gratuity of a thing. We let it give us a leap of joy in the heart and in the eye.

Once we decide to behold, we are available for awe and wonder, to be present to what is, without the filter of our preferences or the false ledger of judging things as important or not important. A much broader, much deeper, and much wider field of perception opens up, becoming an alternative way of knowing and enjoying. The soul sees soul everywhere else too: “deep calls unto deep,” as the psalmist says (42:8). Center knows center, and this is called “love.”

Beholding happens when we stop trying to “hold” and allow ourselves to “be held” by the other. We are completely enchanted by something outside and beyond ourselves. Maybe we should speak of “behelding” because, in that moment, we are being held more than really holding, explaining, or understanding anything by ourselves. We feel ourselves being addressed more than addressing something else. This radically changes our situation and perspective.

I invite you to “behold” something today. In my experience, you will seldom be disappointed. Find a bit of ordinary beauty—a print, a sculpture, a photograph—in your home, online, or at a museum—and gaze at it until you see it as one instance of a manifestation of the eternal creativity of God. Allow your “beholding” to move the work of art beyond its mere “relative truth” and to reveal its inherent dignity, as it is, without your interference or your labels. It becomes an epiphany and the walls of your world begin to expand.

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Just This (CAC Publishing: 2017), 99–101.

Story from Our Community:
There is an old oak tree near my home. I was so taken with it that I commissioned an artist from our parish to paint it. I have since moved, but the painting still hangs in my house. I tell anyone I show it to that when looking at it, I see God’s strength. I gaze at it often. —Carmela A.

Image Credit: Arthur Greenberg, In a Field (detail), 1973, photograph, Illinois, National Archives.
Image Inspiration: The texture of this image inspires us to know this grass better by running our hands through and allowing it to tickle our fingertips. Likewise, when we create art, we experience an embodied knowing of God.
Read Full Entry

Finding God in the Arts

An Appreciation for Art
Sunday, August 15, 2021

I’ve always loved beauty and art. When I was on the road and I would have an afternoon off after a conference, I would almost always go to the local art museum. It was a contemplative practice and something I could do by myself. I think artists are often the first to rely on intuition. Artists do not insist on full understanding before they write a piece of music or start painting. They trust the unconscious, and that’s what engineers and scientists aren’t primarily trained to do. They only proceed by evidence. I’m grateful that my doctors proceed with logic, evidence, and reason; yet in my experience, it is the artist, like the mystic, who intuits Reality first.

Jesus’ primary metaphor for Reality or the Eternal Now is “the reign of God.” He is trying to tell us that there is a place where we can live connected to the Real and to the Eternal. That place is simply the here-and-now, which always feels like nothing, like “nowhere” (now-here), and is where everything always happens!

The reason we can trust the Now so much is because of the Incarnation and the Divine Indwelling. The sixteenth question in the old Baltimore Catechism was “Where is God?” and it was answered straightforwardly: “God is everywhere.” We cannot not be in the presence of God! Where would we go? As the psalmist says, if we go up to the heavens or underneath the earth, we still can’t get away from God (see Psalm 139:7–10).

The early Church theologians saw incarnation and divine indwelling as occurring as a metaphysical union with nature as a whole, not just in one human being (Jesus). John Duns Scotus (1266–1308), one of the great Franciscan teachers, said that God did not create genus and species; God only created what Duns Scotus called “thisness” (in Latin haecceity). Each creature is a unique aspect of the infinite Mystery of God. He said that until we can experience each thing in its specific “thisness,” as artists so often do, we will not easily experience the joy and freedom of Divine Presence.

The doctrine of “thisness” is saying that we come to universal meaning deeply and rightly through the concrete, the specific, and the ordinary. We cannot know something spiritually by saying it is a not-that; we can only know it by meeting it in its precise and irreplaceable thisness and honoring it there. This week’s meditations on “Finding God in the Arts” seek to do just that. The principle here is “go deep in any one place and you will meet all places.” God is here, and everywhere!

References:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, A Spring Within Us: A Book of Daily Meditations (CAC Publishing: 2016), 314–315;

Just This (CAC Publishing: 2017), 30–31; and

“The Practice of Awe and Wonder,” Another Name for Every Thing, season 3,
episode 10, April 25, 2020 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2020), audio podcast.

Story from Our Community:
There is an old oak tree near my home. I was so taken with it that I commissioned an artist from our parish to paint it. I have since moved, but the painting still hangs in my house. I tell anyone I show it to that when looking at it, I see God’s strength. I gaze at it often. —Carmela A.

Image Credit: Arthur Greenberg, In a Field (detail), 1973, photograph, Illinois, National Archives.
Image Inspiration: The texture of this image inspires us to know this grass better by running our hands through and allowing it to tickle our fingertips. Likewise, when we create art, we experience an embodied knowing of God.
Read Full Entry
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