In Grade 5 “Mrs. Smith,” an art teacher by training, asked us to draw a picture about our vacation plans. I did the very best I could, but “Mrs.Smith” stood beside my desk laughing as she proclaimed: “Rub-a-dub-dub, three men in a tub!”
She couldn’t see that it was actually my Dad, my Mom and me in a rowboat at Pecks Pond. And she didn’t ask.
Later at home, I told my Mom about this incident with tears. She revealed that years before, one of my brother Jim’s teachers had actually crumbled up one of his pictures and “thrown it in the wastepaper basket.”
So I concluded that “Clemmers can’t draw” and left it at that.
Thirty-six years later, while training to be a spiritual director, I was introduced to art as prayer, or put another way, art as a right brain expression of spiritual experience. “It doesn’t matter whether you’re good at art or not,” our instructor claimed. “Let the colors and the design choose you.”
It was springtime and a small pot of purple bulbs sat on the coffee table as she spoke. Something cheered me about those crocuses; they spoke promise to my spirit. I also liked that there were three of them, reminding me of the Trinity. I picked up the crayons and placed those bulbs in the centre of the paper in front of me.
I found myself drawing a rainbow of colour as a backdrop to the bulbs, incorporating shades both bright and dark. I sat there gazing at what I had created, filled with awe. I loved it! It made me happy! It reassured me.
I had come to that training retreat with heavy agenda on my mind. I had left my first pastoral role after nine years, was taking a self-financed sabbatical, and had not yet received a call to another church. The whole rainbow conveyed promise, yet that pot of bulbs in the foreground popped out at me as a particular bright hope. Might it signal my next call?
I framed that prayer art and hung it in my study at home. Months later I wrote: “It’s rooted; it’s flowering; it’s even Trinitarian. In retrospect it’s reassuring that out of a field of possibilities there was ‘one good thing’ for me – my second congregation, Waterloo North Mennonite Church.”
I also noted: “The colors are strong and bright. They are not tight quadrants but rather free swatches of strong color. I ‘make some of them up’ by blending. I don’t avoid the deep purples, or even a small streak of black. Penitence colours, growth colours and resting colours all blend together.”
I concluded with these words: “I love this drawing, the woman who made it, and the One who guided her mind and spirit.”
I now refer to this as my first defining piece of prayer art – drawing or colouring that expresses a spiritual struggle, hope or resolution. There have been many more in the twenty years since I got unstuck….
Questions for Reflection:
Have you ever understood your creative expression in art, music, dance, storytelling, writing,woodworking, quilting or other media as a form of prayer? As a right brain expression of spiritual experience? How do you respond to the possibility of seeing it that way?
Next week: Cousins