Summer break has commenced, but for many Wake Divinity students the summer is an ideal time to delve into internships that provide significant and meaningful opportunities for their vocational discernment and formation as future religious leaders. From working in hospice and palliative care, ministries supporting the imprisoned, homeless and burdened, assisting with art and restoration efforts of a living museum, to being immersed into the fullness of congregational life in a diverse array of churches, Wake Divinity students are dispersing across the country. This summer, the Unfolding blog will feature weekly posts from several students who are participating in an internship. Each story will speak to their expectations and experiences.
I think it’s fair to say that we all connect to the divine in different ways. For some that way might be a church worship service or other religious experience, and for others it might be elsewhere.
Art is my passion, particularly visual art; it’s my link to the divine. When I connect with art I get a sense that I am connecting to something powerful and sustainable – something far bigger than me… a creative source… something that I like to refer to as the “divine creator.”
Art does not require words, it does not require you to give an explanation. Art simply holds whatever you ask it to hold.
When I look at something I have created, I see in it the emotions or ideas that I asked it to hold. For example, if I paint out of a feeling of despair then when I look at the painting later it holds that despair for me. The feeling isn’t gone, it’s just been transferred to a painting that holds that feeling and honors it–which means I don’t have to feel it as strongly.
Art can be a prayer –a passing off to the divine creator the things that we don’t know what to do with, the things we have no control over. Visual art has the power to communicate in ways words can’t.
I grew up in the church, yet for some reason I have a hard time finding my link to the divine in a church. Maybe there is too much history there for me –too many distractions obstructing my view of the divine. Regardless, it is for this reason that when I sought an internship this summer I did not look for one at a church.
Thus I wound up at the Elsewhere Museum – a place bursting with creativity and possibilities. It is not a faith community but it is a community united by their love of creativity. It is a place filled with abandoned objects from an old thrift store. The museum invites artists to come and reimagine these objects and then invites the larger community to come in and experience the creativity for themselves.
There is a sacredness to the objects at Elsewhere that I love! Everything has the potential to be useful, to be admired –to be reworked into a piece of art. As I look around the museum each day, I am constantly inspired. I have filled more pages of my notebook in this museum then I ever had in a church building. For me, I had to go elsewhere – to go outside of the church walls in order to find a connection to the creator God.
However, sometimes when I talk about art, I feel rather trivial. There is suffering, violence, death, destruction, hatred, pain, loss, etc. And what does art have to do with any of it? Does a place like Elsewhere have any opportunities for using creativity to help in the reconciliation process?
The truth is I don’t know exactly. I do know that art has the potential to be a powerful, moving source in this world. At Elsewhere there are various programs under the title of “South Elm Projects” to help in this endeavor. They have a construction artist currently building a beautiful work of functional art as a space for open conversation on race. I walked with another artist who is visually impaired and seeks to raise awareness of the needs for those who are disabled. Another project will highlight the use of water in the community, and another sought to add beauty and focus to structures in the neighborhood that seemed forgotten.
The possibilities seem to be endless, and I can’t help but think that art is still bursting with potential for even more.
Art can embody feelings and ideas when words just don’t work–when we have to look elsewhere. The challenge is finding ways the arts can be used to benefit and aide a world that is crying for justice and reconciliation in so many ways. It is my challenge, as well as my invitation, to consider how the world can be seen anew through a creative lens.
Christine seeks to incorporate and explore art and spirituality in all areas of her life. When not at Elsewhere, Christine volunteers with “Salvage Garden” a nonprofit whose mission is to reclaim individuals who feel like they do not belong. She is also the leader of the student art group “Mosaic” at Wake Forest Divinity School. More of her work and reflections can be found on her website: cehargraves.com.