It seems just about right that after a year of following bloggers and authors who’ve left the church (check out Rachel Held Evans and Barbara Brown Taylor) that I’d find myself wavering in much the same way, but with small group studies. It’s not that I wanted to ditch them entirely; I just couldn’t figure out how to stay engaged in the same old curriculum offerings when I knew they weren’t working for me anymore. This spring, I wanted to be an eager participant, ready for spiritual growth in new and compelling ways. I was pretty sure that another study from a top evangelical pastor wasn’t going to fit the bill.
Let me introduce you to Ally, my fierce and fabulous friend who designed a group experience that is thoroughly creative and thought provoking. I think you can guess Ally is an artist; she’s full of wonder, bright ideas, and questions…always questions. You’re not going to find something like this on amazon.com or your fave Christian bookstore for the simple fact that it can’t be reproduced. It’s not a boxed set of principles and rules. It’ s an organic movement animated by the energy and stuff that our members bring to the table. Our project is “100 days of light” and it’s Ally unadulterated. This is how she wrote it up:
Soul Tending: 100 Days of Light – A Faith & Art Experiment
100 Days of Light will be grounded in a contemplative practice of Christianity. We will dive into Scripture having to do with God’s light and explore its meaning for our lives.
We will practice silence (also known as centering prayer), lectio divina (reading God’s word and reflecting on it for our lives) and a time for sharing our weekly creation. The reading will be brief in order to ponder it for the week. The practice (i.e. homework) will be a simple, creative expression of light on 2” x 2” slips of paper (1 per day). At the end of this class you will have expressed light in 100 different ways and created a unique piece of artwork.
This was a bit outside my comfort box. How many times have I used watercolor pencils and glitter for adult group bible study? Zero. Nada. Zip. How many times did I visit a crafts store looking for inspiration for hearing from God through the Bible in a new way? Again, it’s never happened before.
It’s now May and we are well into our group experience. During the first week, I was doubtful that I would produce anything of worth, much less 100 pieces of it. And here I sit, astounded that I’ve made 60 squares (more than half way!!), each a unique representation of light. On most days, I create a few squares just to get creativity flowing; perhaps I’ll end up not using them in the final creation. But, taking a simple step in establishing a rhythm of creation has allowed me to abandon the need to control the outcome. I’m really not an artist, I tell myself. But, there’s something sweet about drawing an image, sharing it with a group of friends and having them affirm that they, too, see light in the image.
I think this is exactly what I was looking for all these years of small group discovery. There’s a place for deep exegesis, a time to park on meaningful topics with a Christian perspective. And there’s also a need to recognize that as image-bearers we all have an inkling to be creators of something of significance. I can’t think of a better way to practice this than in the capable hands of my leader Ally and our merry band of artists-in-training.
Following our 100 days, we continue to revel in the light. At church today, our pastor invited the congregation to a gallery show of sorts, displaying our artwork in the sanctuary and highlighting the creative process through a study of the parable of the mustard seed. Rod said, “It’s not about explanation; it’s about exploration.” Our insistence to know the “right way to do it” and to be called “good students” is what our ego craves; however, I’ve learned through this that producing something of worth and significance comes with a good dose of fear; fear in creating something unknown, in making something out of nothing; fear in putting my thoughts out there to be judged. And, in the end, all of us broke through the fear and willingly gave our art to be shared with the world.