Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Launch Into Lent: Play with Creative Practices to Enrich Your Spiritual Life

Many of us grew up in churches surrounded by stained glass windows beaming down as the choir sang, but with very little else to speak to our creative impulses. Perhaps we were lucky enough to go to churches that had banners made by the women's group (and sadly, perhaps those banners were created by women long since dead). Maybe we decorated the tree with Chrismons each year. Maybe we went to church in the 1970's, when people experimented with liturgical dance and chancel dramas. But I suspect that our churches of our childhood, and probably our churches now, don't really speak to our creative sides.

And that's a shame. While some of us will find our way to a deeper relationship with God through our rational brains, many of us will be lost along the way, whereas a creative path may help more of us to God. Even if you think of yourself as non-creative, there are creative practices that may speak to your heart. Even if you're deeply committed to intellectual pursuits, there are creative processes that can help you access your intellect.

I offer here a variety of practices, in the hopes that one or two will attract you. You can adopt a creative discipline for all of Lent or you can try a different one each week.

--Yesterday, I talked about prayer beads, but what if you don't have a rosary? Go to a bead shop or a craft store and buy some beads. If you haven't looked at the bead section of your craft or fabric shop, you'll be amazed at how many beads are out there. You can string them together (dental floss makes a strong thread) in a way that pleases you or go here for more traditional ways to make a rosary and to see rosaries that others have made.

--If you're someone who values your intellect above your creative impulses, a spiritual journal might be for you. What to write about? Write a daily or a weekly meditation on a Bible verse. Write about where you see God at work in the world. Write about other material that you're reading. Write a letter to God. Write a letter that you imagine God might write back to you. For more ideas about what to explore in your spiritual journal and for more resources, see this post that I wrote last year.

--Our Faith Writing group at my church will be sending out a prompt each week with a Bible passage and questions to ponder; I'll post the prompt here each Friday and you could work along. Your spiritual journal doesn't have to be comprised of words. You can take photographs. You can respond to the world in paint, crayon, pastel, charcoal or pencil. You could experiment with movement.

--If you're musically inclined, most churches are doing something special this time of year. Join them. If you're not inclined to be musical in groups, sing by yourself; stairwells usually have a beautiful acoustic quality. If you played an instrument as a child, now might be the time to return to it. If you've always wanted to learn an instrument, why not now? A recorder or an Irish whistle is easy enough to teach yourself, and cheap, if you want to experiment with sound.

--A recurring image in the Bible is that of bread; this Lent might be a good time to experiment with bread baking. Bread is a remarkably forgiving food, so it's great for those new to baking or cooking. As you watch the yeast bubble, think about how your spiritual life is like that yeast or ponder how faith is like yeast. As you knead the bread dough, think about how God shapes us, like bread dough.

--Another symbol of God that we see throughout the Bible is that of God as potter. If you don't have time to make bread, get a clump of clay or make some play-dough (go here for recipes). As you work the clay, think about how God is a potter and humans are the clay. If you are the clay and God is shaping you, what is that shape? Make the shape.

--Resolve to explore the foods of different cultures. Even if you don't want to cook them, you can go to different restaurants or explore the ethnic section of your grocery store. As you explore the foods of a different culture, learn about the ways that culture expresses its Christianity. Learn about the other religions of the culture and how the religions interact and inform each other.

--Gather together a bunch of old magazines and explore the art of collage. As you sort through the magazines and rip out images, you might have a Bible passage in mind. Or maybe you have a spiritual question. Or maybe you just want to rip out images that appeal to you or speak to your dreams of the future. Once you have a pile of images, select some, trim them, and paste them onto another sheet of paper or cardstock. On the back, write down what prompted the image. Keep the collages so that years from now, you have their insights.

--Buy several bunches of flowers and combine them into one bouquet. As you create the new bouquet, think about how God's love brings your life into full flower.

--In a similar vein, you might plant a garden, either in the ground or in pots. As you get your hands dirty, think about the ways that your faith roots you.

--Buy a piece of silk or flittery fabric. Paint on the silk. Think about God as Creator, your life as the silk.

--Take your painted piece of silk or a scarf and hold it as you move through your space. Move your hands and watch the silk flutter. Think about the Holy Spirit as wind. Think about John 3:8, which describes the Holy Spirit as wind blowing, and we cannot tell where it comes from or where it's going. John tells us that Spirit-filled people are similar. Watch the scarf and think about the Spirit.

--Make wind chimes out of any items you have in your house that sound pleasant when they clink together. Hang your wind chimes outside and think of the Holy Spirit each time you hear them move.

--If you're technologically savvy, explore the ways your computer lets you be creative. Make a Power Point presentation that talks about your faith journey or your spiritual history. Most of us have software on our computers that allow us to make even more sophisticated videos, and most of us can learn them in just a few hours. Take your photos and learn to use iMovie or MovieMaker. Add your voice reading a Bible passage or a poem. Add some music--but before you upload your video to a public place, make sure you're not using copyright protected music.

--Don't forget the traditional liturgical arts. Even if you can't make stained glass, you could do something similar with tissue paper and black construction paper. Create an ornament that will remind you of your faith and hang it over your desk or dresser. Make a banner out of paper or fabric. Needlepoint or embroider a prayer cushion or a kneeler. Write a chancel drama. Go even deeper into your church history and explore the world of icons. Make or paint an icon. Take a familiar hymn and write your own lyrics. Make a lap quilt or a prayer shawl. Put together a pot luck supper.

There are so many possibilities out there, and there are more books on Creativity and Spirituality than I can count. There are also conferences and retreats. If you find yourself longing for a retreat that helps you think about faith and creativity, why not join me at Lutheridge the week-end after Easter? Go here for more information about the Create in Me retreat, a remarkably affordable retreat (the price includes food, lodging, and supplies).

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