I love Bezalel. He’s one of my favorite biblical heroes, although he only pops up in a few Old Testament verses. Consider this statement about him, plunked in the middle of rules about incense, what you can and can’t do on the Sabbath, and how exactly to wash your hands before burning a ram on the altar: “The Lord said to Moses, ‘See, I have chosen Bezalel…and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill and ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts—to make artistic designs….for the Holy Place’” (Ex. 32:1-3, 11). There is a natural connection between the Spirit of God, art, and the people of God.
Last year North Valley Friends Church sponsored a Wednesday night series that we called “Spirituality and the Arts: At Play in the Fields of the Lord.” For each of the 10 presentations, we invited a local artist to display his or her gifts and talk about the relation of art to his or her own spiritual journey. The following group discussions were rich.
The variety of art forms presented gave evidence to more creative possibilities than most of us had previously considered. Bryan Boyd began the series by walking us through his creative process as a theatrical set designer at George Fox University. He mentioned the tensions in this process: the tensions between personal creativity and the necessary collaboration of the community that will produce the play, tensions between intuition and reason, tensions between the need for time to let the process work and the pressure of deadlines. Being an artist is not comfortable. Bryan used the phrase, “a terrifying mystery.” He also mentioned that all this is so integrated with who he is (and is becoming) that he can hardly analyze what part is creativity and what part is spirituality. (See bryanboyddesign.com)
The presentations of both Craig Goodworth (“Art, Spirituality and the Body”) and Phil Thornburg and Miriam Bock (“The Spirituality of Landscaping as Art”) linked art, Spirit, and materiality in a way I consider uniquely Quaker. Spirituality as evidenced in art engages the five physical senses and often has dirt under its fingernails. Goodworth, an interdisciplinary artist who works in sculpture, drawing, poetry, and installation art, speaks of his artistic work as flowing from a grounded spirituality; a spirituality that rises up from physicality, materiality, geography and culture. (See winterbloominc.com and craiggoodworthart.squarespace.com)
Other presentations included Beth Woolsey on blogging, Joel Bock on photography, Nate Macy on music composition, Tim Timmermen on painting, Bill Jolliff on poetry and song writing, and Sarah Klatt-Dickerson on slam poetry.
I also got to present as a poet. As part of my presentation, I articulated my artistic calling “to seek and say the grace of God, hidden in the ordinariness of life.” I found that same thread running through the other presentations. It relates to the Quaker testimony of the sacramental nature of all life. I love the title of Arthur Roberts’ collection of sermons and addresses, The Sacred Ordinary. Perhaps the artists among us are the best qualified to voice (paint, sculpt, sing, plant) that reality. I don’t know if Quaker artists do it better than other people. That’s probably not even a question worth asking. But our commitment to “walk cheerfully over the earth” certainly helps us along. Quakers and the arts? Yes, of course.
Here are some queries:
How can our yearly meeting best encourage the artists among us?
What more can your local meeting be doing to discover and enable young (and old) artists?
What is God saying to us through our artists?
Nancy Thomas, along with her best friend and husband, Hal, has been a Friend Serving Abroad since 1972. She likes creative writing and being mother and grandmother to some incredible people. Nancy is a member at North Valley Friends Church.