International Ministries

The Artistic Impulse

December 7, 2013 Journal
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The Artistic Impulse

Dorothy Sayers once wrote that human beings can be said to reflect the “image of God”, in that “…when we turn back to see what (Genesis) says about the original upon which the “image” of God was modeled, we find only the single assertion, ‘God created’.  The characteristic common to God and man is apparently that: the desire and ability to make things.” (The Mind of the Maker, [1941] p. 22).

 When we create, we pull together disparate things to make something that did not exist in that same way before.  The forces of darkness in the world are destructive and chaotic, but we read in scripture that God’s work was constructive: He made order out of chaos. In a similar way, when we create, we are doing something constructive - giving form, structure and meaning.  And in some small way, we are opposing the destructive forces in the world around us.  When we plant a garden, or write a poem, or make a meal for friends and family, or perform a dance, or paint a picture, or play the piano, we are making a statement that beauty and goodness are valuable. For me, the act of creating is a sacred experience.  I feel a density of the Holy Spirit when I paint because I believe that he is allowing me to join in with God’s ongoing act of creation in the world. So in some miraculous way, our creative impulse crosses paths with God’s creative action.

 Arts ministry has been a vital part of my work since I arrived in Chiang Mai.  I have been teaching therapeutic art classes for the residents of the New Life Center for over 10 years.  And 6 years ago, I opened the “Imago Art Studio” as the central home-base for this ministry. The studio is located a half block from the New Life Center residence in Chiang Mai, and the girls walk over to the studio for their art classes.  Through visual art, the girls are developing their cognitive and motor skills, building confidence, and finding hope and healing.  I also employ metaphors in art-making to spark conversations about key life and leadership issues.

 Additionally, last year, I spoke in an international high school about ways to use art for healing and ministry.  Last May I co-taught a 2-day workshop in Lao to help a project there develop a therapeutic art program for their beneficiaries.  And next January, I am scheduled to co-lead a 3-day therapeutic art workshop for an organization in Bangkok. 

 Over the last 2 years I have also been leading art and prayer retreats for English-speaking foreigners.   A total of 37 participants have attended at least one of eight full-length retreats, with many of them coming to multiple retreats.  Additionally, over 100 women dropped in to do projects in the art studio during our annual Chiang Mai Women’s Retreat, with many of them coming both years that the open studio was offered.  Most of the participants are missionaries serving in northern Thailand but some have come from as far as China and Cambodia.   Retreats are usually fully booked within 24 hours of releasing the announcement, and there is often a waiting list. It’s exciting to see how God is working through the retreats to do miraculous work in the lives of participants.

 Themes of retreats have included “Light”, “Kairos”, “Restoration”, “Estuary”, and “Warp and Weft of Prayer”. During the retreat, we have liturgical prayers and devotional teachings on the theme.  As we create our artwork, we meditate on scriptures and practice listening for God’s presence and leading.   I also provide personal attention to each participant throughout the retreat, offering encouragement, coming alongside them as they work through spiritual questions, and making suggestions for how to execute particular art techniques.  We primarily use collage, painting, stamping, drawing and art journaling as the media through which to explore our prayerful creativity.

 One participant stated, “It’s the first time when I’ve been somewhere where spirituality was brought together with art.  It’s not like memorizing verses and studying.  It’s amazing how, when I was making art, the words flowed out…words that I sensed God was giving to me.  Prayer suddenly became a two-way conversation, rather than me just talking incessantly and trying to imagine God’s answers.  I was amazed at what God said when I made art during this workshop!  It helped me get the head-truths into my heart.  And I discovered, to my surprise, that I really AM creative!”

 During another retreat, one of the participants who was pregnant made a "birthing book" with words, scriptures and images to affirm and encourage herself for the upcoming delivery.  She used the book to pray and meditate in preparation for labor.  Then during delivery she felt empowered by remembering the pictures and repeating the words and scripture verses from her book!

 Another retreat participant stated that she had done a painting and wanted to add the word, “Joy”.  But she was unsure of herself, used thin lines, and was dissatisfied with the result.  So she sat down and prayed for the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  The answer she received from the Lord surprised her.  He asked, “Why are you so hesitant to enter into my joy?”  She replied in prayer that she was afraid it would look messy.  The Lord’s answer was, “Yes, my joy can be messy sometimes, but don’t be afraid of it.  Use a big, fat brush!”  So she did, and experienced a release of God’s joy in her life as she made the brush strokes.

 Beauty, color and goodness resonate with echoes of the presence of God.  It is my prayer that through this arts ministry, the Holy Spirit will continue to whisper hope, grace and joy into the lives of each one who comes and gathers the courage to dip a big, fat brush into some juicy pigment and spread it across the page.  

 May you and your family encounter our beloved Lord, Jesus once again this Christmas season.   And thank you for your faithful thoughts, prayers and financial support that enable me to continue serving in Thailand. 

                  With love and blessings,