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/ .
That first painting — that round one — it’s so lovely! Do you sell your work, by any chance?
Corrie, sorry it’s taken days to reply. Life with kiddos, you know. Yes, I do sell my work. But I haven’t posted any of these paintings to sell just yet. I’m praying my way there. The church wants me to hang them up before Easter, since I’m mysteriously busy up in the balcony, and people are growing curious. Perhaps after that!
Putting aside ourselves to use our gifts and talents for God’s glory is something I just journaled about today! Your step in faith to do just that has encouraged me. And blessed to read how your step in obedience has led to a youth ministry!
Lynn, it’s so good to know you’re journaling and encouraged! Indeed, it does require obedience. One bit of the obedience seems to be slowing down. A willingness to become still so that God can speak. Thank you for your words! You’ve blessed me here.
Lynn, thank you so much for your comment. And I’m glad that you are journaling and encouraged. Yes, it does require a measure of obedience to slow down, get quiet and listen. Tough to do in our busy world! You have blessed me with your words today. Thank you!
A beautiful demonstration of how we are to have liberty in Christ, especially in our expressions of worship!
Desiree, thank you for your words. Indeed, liberty in a way that we can scarcely define. Thank you!
At my childhood church (it’s in a different province and I only visit there once or twice a year), there is a man who paints during the service as well. I was intrigued by that when I saw it. I am glad to hear this has become a meaningful form of worship for you and your community.
Jeannie, interesting! Yes, I think intrigued is a good word for it. I find that is how people approach it. Last week, I handed my paintbrush to someone to see if he wanted to finish the painting. He gently bowed out, but I suspect he’ll be back to explore that creative intrigue. Thank you for sharing!
I love reading about this and admire your courage. My son’s church had a young man who painted in the back. sometimes people joined him. If I had such a talent i’d do the same. I do often write prose/poetry in response to the worship. I haven’t thought much of sharing it, but as I read this I realize again, as we share our way was hearing, others can sometimes see things they couldn’t and they received as we receive and give. thanks for sharing this.
Carol, thank you for sharing! Yes, I am beginning to feel that each of us comes with a certain resonance that moves in God. When we strike the right chord, whether it’s visual or auditory, perhaps cooking or writing, maybe designing a building or a garden, or caring for another human, we resonate in God. We each have it. And then we move with all the other chords. All these various talents. God makes beautiful things (from the song by Gungor). Thank you so much.
I am so glad that you have found a way for your whole self to show up in worship. Your creation piece is so beautiful.
Sue, thank you so much. Yes, it is something tough to gather all the pieces of the self and present all the beauties and not-so-beauties to God. He transforms. Thank you.
What a terrific and wonderful creative gift! And to do it during worship is fantastic. When I am not leading worship I often am moved to write poetry and prose in worship – sometimes in response to the sermon but just as often in response to a lesson or an act of kindness observed or a gesture. Keep Creating!
Pastor Larry, thank you for your words here! Indeed, I will keep creating. And you as well. Indeed, it is a call and response. I find that moving my hand and eyes and mind along with the sermon gets the message into my body. Makes it a part of me. Thank you so much!