by Sarah Lane
“We must show our Christian colors if we are to be true to Jesus.” –C.S. Lewis
A mostly obedient creature of habit, I have always approached church as I learned it: clean up, put on Sunday best, slide into a pew and alternately listen in silence and sing songs and praises aloud. However, beneath that calm, dressed up, cleaned up and mostly composed exterior, there has always been a loosely restrained (introverted) spiritual adventurer, outwardly registering a less-than-satisfied response to worship. A pilgrim, seeking two-way conversation with God. The mysticism of my ancestors, including encounters with God. An understanding of God’s love and grace that resides deep in my cells. Prayer and worship in a way that is uniquely between the Lord and me.
After writing for this site in January about leaving my more-than-full-time day job and returning to painting, I felt empowered to ask my pastor if I could paint during worship in church. It was an experiment of sorts. I wanted to know if I’d be “permitted to rebel”—that’s just how rebellious I am–and bring my watercolor paints to church to pray and worship in the best way I knew how.
Perhaps expressing myself through sable hairs and earthen pigments would fulfill what often feels like a primal need to talk with my Creator in the spectrum of language God gave me uniquely, and in some way, to all of us, collectively. For in His image, we, too are creators: “Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you the potter; we are all the work of your hand” (Isaiah 64:8).
On the first Sunday of February, I came to church with my plein air (outside) easel, brushes and watercolors, paper, a Mason jar of water, towels and a heart brimming equally with excitement and anxiety.
Excited to experience traditional church worship in a new way, actively and in living color within the space of our church and among our community. Anxious because I had that human fear: I might disappoint, spill paint, create a spectacle or a painting that is unrecognizable. Or worse.
When we bring our talents into worship, the ego would like to accompany. I brought with me keen awareness that I might also be seeking purpose or approval in this worship community. Doing this to celebrate myself the talents that God gave me, rather than Christ, himself. I prayed prayers of humility and took these with me, offering myself: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship” (Romans 12:1).
With this, I set up my easel in the balcony of our church, where it is a little dark and quiet compared to the rest of the sanctuary. I read the bulletin and opened the Bible to the Scripture for the day: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). And I prayed.
Buzz of inspiration, warmth of movement, color saturating the thick, cotton paper. Creation. The Creator. And God gave us a little piece of this—all of this. Bless the Lord, oh my soul (Psalms 103:1), how honored I felt to touch brush to Scripture like touching the brush to the willow or the sunflower or the storm cloud. God’s Creation became tangible and tactile in a whole new way. Creation floated, swam, teemed, settled, rose and fell and exploded and zipped.
I put down water, color and marks and repeated as the Word floated up from the front of the church. Some sang and swayed in the waves of song. Others prayed aloud or punctuated the sermon with an “Amen.”
I heard all of this in the language that God gave me uniquely. I heard the call of the Scriptures in the same way I hear God’s voice on the wind during outdoor painting. The Word in worship through painting became a creative call and response. And I understood in my body how others were moved deeply by song and dance. I connected.
What had been missing from my worship in community was me. I had left my artist’s spirit at home while my cleaned up, dressed up body went to church.
It has been over a month since I’ve begun painting worship. During that time, our church youth have come up to watch and talk about their own art. One young man shared that he painted the Pentecost for his school project. Youth and adults, alike, offer creative stories and interpretations.
“We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.” (Romans 12:6)
In upcoming months, the youth ministry will explore creative worship in community—a call and response in unique voices that make up the collective of God’s people. What began as an adventure that might bring the danger of ego eclipsing the Word grows prayerfully in God’s Grace, becoming quite the opposite.
Sarah Lane parents four beautiful kids, ages 20, 17, 10 and 9, with her husband, Peter, in Bellingham, WA. Life has taken her on a nomadic work/family journey. However, her relationship with God through art and writing in the studio and in God’s great outdoors, fitness and contemplation have accompanied her, wherever she has served others. She has taken a break from personal blogging athttps://sarahwoehrmanlitartsblog.wordpress.com/ , since her canine blog partner passed away, but she posts art and blogs on occasion at https://www.sarahsartlife.com/ .