When serving at St Clement’s, North Vancouver, as a priest, several times I led a short retreat for the Altar Guild at the beginning of Advent when they were polishing all the brass for the sanctuary so everything was beautiful for Christmas. Polishing together in silence was a wonderful meditative exercise.
Creating beauty for worship is a way to honour God and a way to enhance our worship, to lift our souls out of what is weighing us down and to focus on God who creates beauty. Beautiful art, like nature, leads us to awe and reverence, either to soothe or inspire our spirits, to bring peace or joy, to pull us away from self-absorption into reflection on the holy. “Inspire” means to breathe in the Spirit.
For the Altar Guild retreat, I used a text from the Book of Exodus. Moses brings from God instructions for creating the “Ark of the Covenant,” the “tabernacle,” the sign of God’s abiding presence in their midst; that they would carry with them on their journey through the wilderness, and the “tent of meeting” – their portable worship space. The instructions (six whole chapters of Exodus! 35 to 40) call for artisans to offer their gifts: spinning, dying yarn, weaving, embroidery, leather work, woodwork, metalwork, the creation of vestments, design, and construction. God called a man named Bezalel and “filled him with divine spirit, with skill, intelligence, and knowledge in every kind of craft to devise artistic design, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, in every kind of craft.” (Ex. 35:31-32) Bezalel taught and supervised others in the crafts needed for creating beauty for worship. For this reason, the name Bezalel is given to many Jewish art schools.
One of the ways we as human beings are made in the image of God is our ability to create. We can imagine something, find the appropriate medium or material, and then shape it into what we imagine. In Genesis 2, God took clay and formed a human being, breathing life into the clay form. Whether it is baking muffins, modifying a recipe, playing a piece of music, arranging flowers, sewing a garment, painting, building furniture, or carving a piece of wood… our creative labours are one way we express our divine nature. Some of the images for God as Creator in scripture include:
- Gardener, Architect, Designer, and Builder: e.g. (Hebrews 11:10)
- Knitter (Psalm 139:13)
- Artist (Ephesians 2:10) says “we are God’s work of art.”
- Potter (Jeremiah 18; Isaiah 64:8)
- Singer (Zephaniah 3:17)
At the end of August, when I heard that St George’s West Kelowna was put on evacuation alert, I phoned the wardens to see how they were doing. Not waiting for an “order” to come, they had already taken everything out that they thought they would need for having worship elsewhere: bread, wine, vessels, linens, robes, hymn books, hangings and banners. *
“Now we can worship no matter where we are.” I was delighted with their forethought. Robes, hangings and banners are such unique creations, particular to each worshipping community: demonstrating the use of creative gifts in community.
Offering our artistic endeavours to God is often a way of prayer and meditation. Working with our hands or teasing a poem out of our brains, composing prayers of the people or polishing the silver in the sanctuary, writing a letter to our MLA or making jam, refinishing an old desk or playing the piano are ways of focused concentration that bring an inner silence, a way of listening to God.
How do you create beauty in your life? In your home? In your worship? How do you offer your particular skill for creating to the glory of God our Creator?
I invite you to nurture that offering of your creative gifts as a spiritual practice.
Yours in Christ, +Lynne
*(Yes, remembering the archives, they brought out the vestry book too; I told Kathryn our Diocesan Archivist that they had done this, and she cheered.)