This morning I was in line at the store and looked down to see a stack of coloring books for adults. “Find peace and calm with coloring!” one cover exclaimed.
I had to smile. They’ve discovered my secret.
Of course, I don’t call what I do for a living ‘coloring.’ I prefer ‘painting folk art.’ But let’s be honest, it’s more or less the same thing. I stumbled upon this phenomenon as a child and have clung to it in adulthood— the peace and tranquility of creating art, a busy mind stilled by meditation on color, shape, and composition. It can be, dare I say it, quite prayerful. A pathway, through creation, to God.
Strangely, I’d never really considered this connection between faith and art until I was welcomed into the Episcopal Church as an adult.
My romance with the faith had been quite whirl-wind. I was lured in by the beautiful architecture, the history, the flickering of candle light against the serene gaze of icons. I stayed for the wonderful church family and traditions I found. My family went to visit in Advent, and we were baptized by Easter Vigil. We were, quite simply, swept off our feet.
We all have a lens through which we see the world, and for me it has always been art. In this day and age, however, art can be considered frivolous and unimportant. When we began attending an Episcopal church, I was pleasantly surprised to see how important art was as an expression of faith.
Through conversations with my priest, I was able to learn more about icons, portraits of Holy people that had always fascinated me, although I wasn’t sure what their role in faith was. I learned about the painstaking, prayerful way that icons are constructed, and how respected that form of art is as a way to communicate the love of God and the story of that love across centuries.
I also learned how icons can help the viewer engage more deeply in prayer, how they foster contemplation on holy events and holy lives, and how their very presence can give a sense of peace and calm.
Now I can’t help but weave these holy bits of Christian elements in my own art— icons on walls, candles, little crosses. They are gentle reminders of hope, love and connection.
The process of creating art has also taken on new meaning for me, especially when creating religious pieces. When I paint a scene from the life of Christ, or a saint, or of a particular feast day, I find myself wondering things like “What sort of landscape would Jesus have seen as he went down the banks of the Jordan River to be baptized?” or “What sort of expression would St. Brigid of Kildare have had, to show that she was strong and spunky yet full of devotion to God?”
Questions like these as I work help my spiritual life blossom. I feel so blessed and honored that my church is so receptive to my work and so very supportive. The more I learn about faith and the more I paint, the more the two seem to become entangled. It’s been a wonderful process, and one that is ever evolving.
A few years ago my parish organized meetings for ECVA—Episcopal Church Visual Artists— where artists within the church can come together and connect through art and faith. It is amazing to me, although I suppose not surprising, that the Episcopal Church is home to so many artists of various media.
Our church is so rich in tradition in a quiet, self-reflecting way. It can’t help but inspire people to paint or to write or create beautiful music. I now have the pleasure of watching my oldest navigate her own faith through her own artistic strength, which in her case is music. Much as I found my own particular place within the Episcopal Church through my talents, she is carving out her own in the chorister program where she is learning to read music and sing some of church’s loveliest and oldest songs.
I suppose that is what is so special about our church: our ability to walk in its doors as we truly are and not just be accepted, but celebrated. It has given me food for thought and inspiration for my brushes. It has given me the ability to pray in color, and for that I am so grateful.
Do you create art or music as prayer? How does it work for you?
If your work is online, please add a link to it in the comments!