Art can be a wonderful way of communicating (both listening and sharing) with God beyond words. It is not about creating masterpieces, but about allowing patterns to emerge that can offer you new insights and be turned into prayer.
Mary Daly (an American philosopher and theologian) understands that it is the creative potential itself in human beings that is the image of God. And our creativity springs not from the intellect but from the play instinct: 'Perhaps the time has come when we learn to play with God...as well as pray with God. And in our play...true prayer will emerge,' Matthew Fox - a priest & theologian.
Artwork has the capacity to:
Show us how we really feel
Reveal ourselves to ourselves
Tells us the truth
Meet the quiet depths of ourselves
Reveal the gaps in our story... those things we have been unable to express.
Our artwork can be a wise teacher, giving us direction or pointing to what may be blocking us. It often contains messages from the unconscious... that which is ready to be known.
Art can be a powerful tool to use in exploring our spirituality and in spiritual direction work. In my own life, I have known the extraordinary inner wisdom and revelation that can come to me through opening up my depths to expression through symbolic art.
However, most of us can have blocks about using art. We have imbibed messages in our childhood that we were not creative or artistic, that we can't draw and mostly make a mess of it. Our abilities generally stopped at age 7 or 8 and we feel we draw child-like pictures!
But the sort of art we are talking about here is not what we explored at school; it has nothing to do with being able to draw or paint beautiful images, but rather is simply about allowing the symbolic to arise and give voice to speak to us. In some ways, child-like images are beautifully playful and easy ways to express our inner world.
Ideas on how you might use art
Relax, take time to be still and come home to yourself. What's going on inside you? What do you want from this time? Ask for light, guidance, insight. After a prayer for God to guide you, just start... slowly. Let go of the end product and allow your inner self to guide you with choice of colours, movements, shapes, materials.
You may start to draw or paint your story... your life-line... your inner world... your inscape... your relationship to God... your dreams.
'Working with a blank canvas involves leaping into the unknown, it is not a sure thing but it is a mysterious and wonderful thing. Sometimes a struggle, sometimes a celebration, it can be a way of honestly responding to the pain and beauty of this life's journey.' Gillian Lever
As you work:
Be aware that God is waiting for you as you pray
Be open to meeting God as you draw/ crayon or paint
It is the process of painting which is important, not the finished painting
Try to keep away from images of real things. The only images which you seek are the ones in your mind which arise from the process of painting itself
Work very slowly so that God can work with you
Don't rush, keep stopping and looking at what is appearing
Listen to God and listen to your own heart
What is the painting asking of you? What does it ask you to do next?
Let the Holy Spirit inhabit your mind and your painting, and listen to what God is asking of you.
Accept your work without analysing or judging it. Look at it carefully and describe it to yourself. Pay attention to details - line, colour, shapes, spaces.
Ask, what are the feelings and thoughts these may reflect? What is your painting saying to you that you can take to prayer? Visual symbols can be messengers, guides and friends. Let the painting tell its own story; take your time to befriend it and learn its language.
Richard Kenton Web, a contemporary painter, had an art exhibition in 2000 entitled, 'The Colour of God.' His words may be helpful to guide you in creating your prayer picture:
'What does wisdom look like? What does it feel like? What does being in the presence of the living God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit look like? It is not necessarily seeing or perhaps hearing, but feeling. If we allow colour, shape, size and movement to proclaim our response, then our thought is made visible. making a painting and trusting on such lean ideas pushes you into the realms of faith.'
Art making can be an awakening agent, one that is available to anyone and especially helpful in times of stress. Visual images are an unending source of inner knowledge. The creative act reflects what is inside of us, parts of the self that are more authentically conveyed with images than with words - it is as close as we get to seeing our souls. It does not require you to produce a finished work of art for a gallery, but does ask you to be authentic, and is called forth by simply being yourself. Your creative source is an authentic reflection of your soul where you can tap into the wisdom of the soul's palette. Your imagination, dreams, visions, and creative urges are the soul's promptings to health and to a rediscovery of who you are and all that you can be.
For more contemplative ways of prayer please see my Prayer Life Series.
'Colourful Prayer: A new way to pray when words are inadequate,' by Sheila Julian Merryweather
'The Soul's Palette: drawing on art's transformative powers for health and well-being' by Cathy A. Malchiodi