My spiritual art journey began very early in my childhood. As a priest’s child, I have fond childhood memories of my mother bringing a sketchpad and crayons for me to entertain myself, as my father celebrated mass. With the church as my inspiration, my artwork often depicted what I saw, heard and read during mass. Crosses, angels, and bible stories were a rich source of inspiration to me. This inspiration carried on to my artistic endeavors at home. I remember crafting a chalice and patent out of a Parkay margarine tub, 2 lids, a toilet paper tube, and aluminum paper, so that I could play priest. Of course, I usually hummed or sang church hymns as well, as I worked on my artwork.
Art and spirituality have continued to be a part of my life to this day. First of all, the first degree I earned was a Bachelor of Fine Arts. The latter allowed me to experiment with a wide range of media, which I found spiritually exhilarating. However, I also discovered that not all forms of art are necessarily spiritual. I worked in the advertising world for a while, and I did well. However, I learned that when I use art as a means to an end, it wasn’t always spiritually fulfilling. For art to be spiritually fulfilling, I had to use it to explore the present and claim a sense of what is authentic to me. As Dr. Betty Edwards said in her book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, artwork should be an expression of who you are… a reflection of your style.
As a Christian, I know we were created in the image of God, and as such, we have inherited the gift of creativity. This is addressed in Exodus 31:1-6, where God talks to Moses about Bezalel and the building of the Tabernacle:
I have filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, to design artistic works… and I have put wisdom in the hearts of all the gifted artisans, that they may make all that I have commanded you.
Hence, I believe that spiritual art can be expressed in a variety of ways, such as writing, music, woodwork, stitchery, quilting, photography and more. Styles and themes may also vary.
So what makes art spiritual? I believe spiritual art should reflect the principles and values of beauty, heartfulness, creativity, honesty, generosity, discernment, patience, perseverance, profound emotion, and the transcendence of God. Hence, prayer, contemplative reading, meditation, music, and even scents may be involved. This can begin with a nature walk, a memorable experience, lectio divina, and more. It’s about being in touch with ones personal feelings, emotions, and thoughts. This can evolve into words, images, rhythms, designs and more. It’s about letting go, so that creativity may flourish. Spirituality does not have to mean religious imagery, for our whole world is part of God’s creation.
The spiritual creative process can be messy. Think about Genesis 1, “In the beginning… the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep.” From that chaos, God created something that “was good.” In my opinion, that’s how every piece of art begins. First something grabs you out of nowhere, an image, a sound, or a memory that captivates you. It may be something raw and it may not make sense at first. Then, you meditate on the latter by going deeper and exploring the possibilities. This may involve brainstorming, researching, or simple contemplation. Finally, you express it in the form of a product that is tangible or intangible which can be shared with others if you wish.
In closing, I want to say that spiritual art doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s about the process, not the product. So enjoy the process, but don’t worry about sharing the final product.
O God, whom saints and angels delight to worship in
heaven: Be ever present with your servants who seek through
art and music to perfect the praises offered by your people on
earth; and grant to them even now glimpses of your beauty,
and make them worthy at length to behold it unveiled for
evermore; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(Book of Common Prayer – page 819)
By: Arnoldo L. Romero
Arnoldo is a student with Iona Collaborative, a diocesan training program for bi-vocational priests. Arnoldo will graduate in May and will be ordained to the diaconate in June. He is currently serving as a field education student here at St. Philip’s. Arnoldo and his wife Lisa are members of St. James Episcopal Church in Del Rio, Texas.