art as therapy | art as worship

[previously written, 2014/03/26]

One difficulty I’ve had when grappling with “art” and “worship” alongside each other is the slipperiness of how I think, and folks that I talk to think, about these things when they’re juxtaposed.

Let’s start with the strand of absorbing art, music most frequently, as an aspect of the worship service — artwork carefully placed to deepen one’s communion with and celebration of God. But seldom are we able to leave that idea just like that. Because music in worship is as often sung as it is listened-to. And once we start singing, we bring in a different strand, that of creating art — acts of small making that echo God’s great making, part of the imago dei. When we start talking about art-making, art-makers energized by their own creation start celebrating basic making — making without judgement, making for liberating experience without being weighted down by any goal beyond the experience. It’s glorious. In some part, it’s why artists continue to make art — so they can touch that feeling, can be little lower than the angels for another moment. Doesn’t everyone want to do this? Wouldn’t everyone want to do this if they only knew? Let’s have an arts ministry! Then everyone can come, and touch that feeling for themselves. Plus we might be able to help others connect with their deepest awfulness, so they could pull those things out into the day and perhaps see them as God sees them… or maybe just drain some of the awfulness away, the way a teen writes lyrics in their room. As Christ’s people, we want to and are called to connect with each other in caring relationships — what a great vehicle this would be! So much caring and liberation in this space cleared for making art — a Good Thing, a blessing.

Sure. It’s true.

It’s also true that this art as therapy is the primary way I currently encounter art juxtaposed with a life of faith. No judgement, the field leveled for comfort and safety.

As one of the ones that can’t seem to keep from making art, however, this field of endless encouragement feels as stultifying as playing soccer with 5-year-olds. Where do the artists who clutch Madeline L’Engle’s Walking on Water go? Where is the challenge to make good art, and great art, art celebrating God as profoundly as any Michelangelo?

Here’s a parallel. In congregational life there are the worship experiences focused on brokenness and healing. Calming, soothing, supportive. There are the worship times where we learn, when Scripture and professors’ texts and thoughtful writers are brought together to deepen our knowledge. And there are the worship experiences that bring joyful challenge: you who say you follow The Way, how will you step out and show that today? In my Christian community, I see art experiences for healing. I see experiences of learning through experiencing others’ art, though only a few. Where is the place of joyful challenge? Who will love me enough to take my poem to pieces, lay it all bare, and say: these parts are pretty good; how will you make them better?

And if there is no such place now, as I suspect, how do we make it?

[ed note 2016/06/28: I’m only now starting to find out where some are. Even on the interwebs, word travels slowly-!]

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