Several months ago, I started experimenting with art, which has been both exciting and a little strange. It is a new venture for me into unknown territory. I thought it was just an idea for a gift I wanted to make for a friend, but the whole thing is becoming so much more. I discovered this thing called “faith journaling”, which is basically a way to express your faith visually through art. Faith art is both personal and relational. It is healing and exhilarating at the same time. I find that painting calms my soul and awakens it to live more passionately. This is a glorious mystery unfolding by God’s creative hand. I can only glimpse the fringes of what He is really doing in me through this artistic journey, but those moments fill me with delirious joy!
I find myself wrestling with this new artistic expression, trying to figure it out or stuff it into a box within my well-defined structure of “normal operation”. I have noticed that I tend to be very utilitarian – always concerned with the use of something. This faith art stuff does not fit into that category. It is a luxury; an extravagance way beyond necessity or usefulness. I struggle to just enjoy the process and be with God in it, without trying to turn it into something God did not intend. I feel like God is using art to teach me about His grace – His pure gift, totally lavish grace. He is teaching me about what it means to “abide in Him” (John 15). My experience over the weekend at an art retreat will help you to better understand what I mean. I have to share my experience in preparing for the retreat; how it went against my “grain” of normalcy, and what God is teaching me through it.
Prior to the retreat, we received a list of supplies to purchase in advance. At the top of the list was a requirement to get a book for us to “alter” in class. What does this mean? I started to panic. I had assumed I would just go buy a book at the craft store and start my creations from a blank page. Not so. The whole premise of this workshop was to buy a sturdy, hardbound, real book; a book already written, published, with a shelf life of its own. This threw me for a loop. I didn’t know where to begin, so I asked the instructor about it.
She was gracious, but nudged me to follow the instructions as written to find “the book”. She said, “Pray about it before you go to the bookstore. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you”. “Un-huh”, I murmured and nodded my head (I know the look on my face betrayed the uncertainty I felt). I decided right then to just go for it, even though I had no idea what I was looking for.
I found two different books; both nature-oriented. I did not read either before purchasing them. I just made sure they met the specifications for size, binding, weight of the paper, etc. I showed them to my instructor before time (still unsure I was on the right track) and she encouraged me to bring both to the retreat. With anticipation building, I waited for the retreat and went around to every craft store in town overbuying and stressing about my “supplies” (all nonsense I discovered later).
The morning of the retreat in my prayer time I felt drawn to read Song of Songs – the whole book. As I read, I entered the dialog with God – I was the woman, He the lover. I was speaking to Him, He was speaking to me. A verse stood out to me above the rest, “Like a lily among thorns is my love among the daughters”. I’ve had this ongoing theme of thorns going on in my life for about the past month (this is a whole different story – maybe another post another time).
Later that morning, I started packing my books for the retreat, and decided to open the larger one and try what the instructor had said about the “process”. She told me it was important not to read the book, but to pray and ask the Holy Spirit to direct you. She says pray, let your eyes fall onto the page, and this is where the “miracle happens”. Still feeling a little weird, but willing to give it a try, I did what she said to do. The first word I saw on the page was “thorny” (no, I am not kidding!). The second thing I noticed is the word “thorny” was contained in the phrase “thorny white flower” (Are you kidding me?!) I couldn’t believe it! Instantly, my mind went back to the prayer time and the “lily among thorns”. This was the visual for my first page; it represents the work God has done (and continues) in me. I had to laugh out loud at my over-planning and “control” in my approach to the retreat. As if I really ever had any control over what God is doing or planning for this time! I decided right there to let the Holy Spirit direct me however He wanted. My whole approach just melted away into a freedom that came from the glory of His presence and direction.
The retreat itself was like walking through a beautiful garden with the Lord. I let the words from Song of Songs inspire me. I took them to heart, spoken by the Lover of my soul to me. He said, “You have stolen my heart, my sister, my bride; How delightful is your love…You are a garden locked up, my sister, my bride; you are a spring enclosed, a sealed fountain” (Song of Songs 4: 9, 10, 12). He breathed on the locked up garden in me, “Bloom…flower… bear fruit”. I discovered this is the theme for the whole book. It is “A Love Story in the Vineyard”. He is leading me to visually express our story through art. Even as I write this to you, I weep with joy at how ridiculously, over-the-top it all seems. This is the way-beyond quality of His grace. Not because it is useful or that I am a good worker who prepares well or gets the job done, but just because He loves me. How crazy, beautiful is that?
These art retreats are offered on a semi-regular basis. I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in exploring your relationship with God through art. The retreat is called “Spiritual Awakening” and that is exactly what it is. It is basking in the glory of His love that is better than life. There is another one coming up in April. The artist’s website is www.trishmckinney.com or you can find it through a link at Ginghamsburg Church in Tipp City.
You are also a lily among thorns. I hope today you hear His voice as you walk with Him through the garden of your soul.