What art teaches me about God, part two

So here’s the thing, there are different types of artists, just like there are different types of people. There are many successful artists who sit down and plan things out before they ever put the brush to the canvas. There are authors who write outlines before they type a single word of their story. Epic masterpieces are crafted painstakingly, one precious detail at a time.

That’s amazing. I am not that kind of artist. Usually, when I sit down with a new project, I have no earthly idea where the process is going to take me. Typically (hopefully) I have some sort of color scheme, medium, or format in mind. But that is about it. 

My approach to art, just like my approach to life, usually involves launching myself off the cliff and hoping to swan dive instead of bellyflop. Which one is free to do when your goal is the process and not the end result. Often times, I’m satisfied if I just end up with a decent looking cannonball. 

It is always an option to paint over canvas. To crumple up a sketch and pitch it in the trashcan.  To highlight an entire blog post and simply hit delete. It seems like a waste of time and effort. 

But what if your goal is the act of doing and not the end result? 

Then was it wasted effort?

When I am making something, I often feel discouraged. In the times when I feel like I’m not getting anywhere, I force myself to ask some questions:  

In the process of doing this, did I learn anything? Did I try anything new? Was there something I hated? Something I want to try to do differently next time? Am I any closer to figuring out what I am hoping the end product will be?  

Sometimes I force myself to press through and finish the piece I want to abandon. Usually, at the end, I still hate it. But sometimes I don’t. 

I wish, I WISH, that this attitude came as naturally to me when it came to living my life. Why is it that we’re all programmed to believe that life is supposed to be about achieving goals, instead of working towards them? Why do we always believe that our problems will magically disappear once (fill in the blank) happens?

 I always find it disconcerting when I achieve something I’ve really been working towards and then I realize that the next day is Thursday. Just another day. The world keeps spinning, life doesn’t stop. I did something – I achieved something great. But time still marches on. 

I’ll never forget the day I left the hospital with my newborn daughter. I felt like there should be a parade in front of us as we took her home. Sitting at a stoplight, I looked at the cars next to me and expected to see them giving me goofy grins and thumbs up. But, I quickly realized that for those drivers, this was just a Friday morning. They were talking on their phones, putting on mascara, eating egg McMuffin’s. 

Didn’t they realize that this was a banner day? Didn’t they understand that things would never be the same?
Of course they didn’t. Because it was truly, just a Friday. And our life is a succession of Fridays. We live life focused so intensely looking forward to our goals that we forget that the majority of our time is spent in the in between. That waiting is how we spend most of our lives. And that that waiting, the process of getting there, has value. God did not create us to have a handful of magical moments surrounded by acres of empty time. 

In fact most of our growth, spiritual and otherwise, happens in the in between. It is then that we learn to work. That we are forced to try new things and to look at the world in different ways. It is in the waiting that we have no choice but to rely on God. To see that the trajectory of our lives isn’t as much in our control as we would like to believe. This is when we grow. This is when we are formed into Christ’s likeness. 

So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image. Therefore, since God in his mercy has given us this new way, we never give up.”

2 Corinthians 3:18-4:1

And if we swing and miss in life, if we fail, that can be just as valuable. What if I asked myself the same questions and times of discouragement as I do when I feel stuck and the artistic process?

In the process of doing this, did I learn anything? Did I try anything new? Was there something I hated? Something I want to try to do differently next time? Am I any closer to figuring out what I am hoping the end product will be?  

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What art teaches me about God, Part 1


This year has been a year of creating for me, and the majority of it has been visual, not written. 

Why?

I’m not sure. I just know that making something, creating beauty, even if it isn’t a masterpiece, feeds something deeply hungry in my soul. For some reason, combining form and color and meaning is a balm for me. It’s one of the few times in my day where I become fully present. Completely immersed in the thing in front of me. My thoughts stop spinning, my hand may ache and tingle from holding the brush, but my heart is in harmony. And for me, that is enough. 

Enough to know that the process of making art is important. Refreshing and life-giving to me in a way that makes me pay attention. I think for me, art may be one of the thin places, a place where the veil between the sacred and the earthly becomes blurry, a place where I encounter God. Because I sense this, I follow that trail. I allow myself to use my brush, my glue gun, my paint and my palette as instruments of worship. Worship not for the thing I am creating, but for the Creator in whose image I am formed. 

I truly believe that we, as men and women formed in the image of the Almighty God, all have a spark of creation buried within us. And when we fan that spark into flame, we bring glory to God and fullness to our souls. 

Does that make us all artists? No. (although I think we all tend to be much too quick to disavow any artistic talent- don’t get me started on art injuries…) But does that make us all creators? I would argue yes. I think each one of us has some God given ability, interest, or activity that makes our soul sing. 

We all have a handful of things that fully immerse us, and, regardless of talent or outcome, bring joy. That thing may be making art, but it also may be making an omelette. Running a 5K. Telling a killer bedtime story. Knitting a truly great sock. Keeping the busy schedules of a family singing like a symphony. You may be enamored with creating spreadsheets or balancing budgets. Perhaps your have created your home to be an oasis of peace, a welcoming place for neighbors. Whatever your thing may be, when you bring it into the world, you bring glory to the One who made you that way. 

Can I just say out loud (well, in print… on screen?) to all of us results obsessed Americans that sometimes the process is of more value than the outcome? So what if you are not the best at something? There is only one best, and guess what- it’s not you. BUT. Does that thing bring joy to you? Does it make you feel? Does it renew you, center you? 

Then do it. 

Unashamedly. 

We all seem to feel a bit abashed when we let our light shine. Yet, shouldn’t we be unashamed to do things that bring us joy? If I create art as an act of worship, then who cares what it looks like? I mean, really? If you run because you love it and it gives you mental space to encounter God, then your split time doesn’t prove your worthiness, does it? 

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 5:14-16

Who looks at a picture a child draws and critiques it? Who turns their nose up at a home cooked meal made by a loved one because it isn’t haute cuisine? So it is with us. When I really stop and look around me, the main critic I encounter is… me. And why should I dim my own light? 

So what I am saying is… go do your thing. And be awesome. Yay God. 

life is made for living.

One of my friends and chief encouragestree shared this passage with me today, and every bit of it rang true.  In fact, I think the truth of this passage goes beyond being an artist, and touches upon our humanity.  There is something in you, your individuality, your uniqueness, that has never been seen on earth before, and never will be again.  The world is better, richer, for your being here.  Our lives are small, our days seem unremarkable, and yet the stories we tell wihtin these lives are endlessly rich and varied.  What are you making of your life, today?  What story are you telling?  Is is one of adventure and whimsy, or do you find yourself trudging through your days, not allowing yourself to be interrupted in the course of your life by the act of living?
Is joy part of your story?  Or is your inner critic muting your ability to laugh, to risk, to wonder?  The world suffers when we cease to be ourselves, and just become the sum of our activities.
I needed this reminder today.  Did you?

Murals

Just thought I would share 2 murals I’ve been working on lately…
This one is finished…

Matthew 5:16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

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This one is work in progress…

Matthew 13:31-32
“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”

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Create

So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
Genesis 1:27

IMG_6680 Our God is infinitely creative.  Every person, every fingerprint, every leaf and snowflake is unique.  A new creation.  Rocks, buried in the ground, formed in every color of the rainbow, so striking and beautiful that we dig them up and hang them around our necks.  The blood hidden in our veins, red.  The sky, a soaring canvas of blue.  The leaves, an engrossing progression of green, and then, all of a sudden, golden.  Why?  If efficiency were God’s key value, then we would probably live in a mosaic of beige.

Then there is food.  the brightness of a tomato, the richness of 2014-11-14 11.52.19chocolate, the liquid velvet of wine.  Things didn’t need to taste good, God created them to.  And sound.  The whisper of wind through the treetops, the chatter of the birds, the wrenching beauty of music.  Our God wasn’t interested in being functional when he created this place we inhabit.  His goal was beauty.

I’m tired of living a utilitarian life.  I want to be surrounded by beauty.  I want to make a discipline of finding it wherever I am, and then choosing to marvel.  At home, I want to create a space inhabited by beauty.  Not necessarily by buying expensive things, but instead, arranging the things I have purposefully, so that there are glimpses of beauty all around.

Another thing to note.  God made me as a person intensely creative.  I am just now beginning to recognize that not 2014-11-03 16.31.14everyone is built this way.  I have a burning need to create.  To think new thoughts.  To do new things.  To create art, to write out words, to sing songs and to… make stuff.  I am not trying to brag at all, by the way.  There is just a lot of stuff inside me that needs out.  And when I go to long without indulging my need to create, I get antsy.  Itchy.  Another word that rhymes with itchy.

The easiest way to ease the pressure?  Make stuff.  Crochet a hat.  Plan a youth event.  Write a poem.  Paint a picture. This year, I want to make a weekly (daily?) discipline of exercising my creativity.

Here is another truth.2014-12-31 21.12.55  When I make stuff, I can give stuff to people.  Why not use my need to create as a way to bless others?  For me, it is not so much about the end result as it is about the process.  Case in point: this blog isn’t so much about you reading it as it is about me writing it.  If I create a painting- give it to someone who needs to know they are loved.  If I make a scarf, let it be a hug for someone who needs it.  Why not?  God creates, and we are the beneficiaries of it.  When you think about it that way, it seems like giving is inextricably linked to making…

Hide it under a bushel? No!

Hello.  My name is Marissa, and I have God-given talents.  That’s easy enough to say.  After all, I am throwing God in there, so it seems spiritual, right?  But owning my talents, being confident enough in them to be willing to use them and share them with the world?  That is a much harder prospect for me.

Hi.  I’m Marissa and I am an artist.  Harder to say.
Hi.  I’m Marissa and I am a good singer.  Still Harder.
Hi.  I’m Marissa and I love to write.  Terrifying.

Why? Why am I so scared to share the things I love to do with the world?  Well, it makes me feel vulnerable.  Although I love art, I am certainly not the best artist in the world.  Not even the best artist I know.  Same with singing.  And writing- I feel silly even attempting a blog when there are brilliant women out there like Jen Hatmaker and Shauna Niequist who are saying the things I want to say more eloquently and to more people than I could ever dream.  My fears of not being the best- let’s be honest- of not being deemed passable or even adequate, have kept me hiding my light under a bushel.  My writing was confined to my journals, which even I was afraid to go back and read.  My art was kept as doodles, scrapped and thrown away before it was shared.  Or labeled as ‘crafts’ which seemed more acceptable.  My singing was limited to my car- even my shower seemed to public a venue.

But still, these were things I loved to do.  And as I did them, I realized that I felt more connected to God.  Even though I had never heard these disciplines spoken about from the pulpit, or written about in books on spiritual discipline, my soul sensed that these for me were avenues to my father.  And slowly (probably too slowly) God started calling me to take risks with them- to let others see.  It started with my art, a few years ago.  Then, over this summer, I led worship for the first time.  Then, a few months ago, I *gulp* started this blog.  And guess what?

The world did not end.

No one threw a rotten tomato at me, or even giggled at my untrained technique.

I had fun.

I got a bit more confident.  And a LOT more brave.

God has given us each gifts.  Ones that we use as a calling and vocation, and others that we use for joy, and to glorify God.  We live in a culture of perfection, we are surrounded constantly by images and videos of people at the top of their field.  I I think that seeing these virtuoso’s can make us afraid to develop our talent, to feel that it is paltry or insufficient in contrast.  But the thing is, only one person can be the best at something.   There is only one doctor in the world who is the best at removing a gallbladder.  But thinking that this means that he (or she) is the only person who should perform the procedure is preposterous.  Just as we need many doctors, the world also needs many artists.  Many writers.  Many runners and dreamers, and cooks, and inventors.

What do you love?  Are you cultivating a discipline of doing that thing on a regular basis?  Both for God’s glory and for your sheer joy of it?  If not, what is holding you back? I challenge you today, clear some time and go for it.  See what blessing you may gain from taking the risk….