One of my favorite subjects (besides English) is Art. In fact, I often wish I had pursued my M.A. in Art History - but, hey, I have a lifetime of education ahead of me. There's still time. One of my most recent discoveries is spiritual journaling with prompts from icons. I've been able to merge my two favorite subjects by first studying art, then writing anything that comes to mind from this interaction. It has proven to be a powerful spiritual discipline for my own faith journey.
1. Art can Connect us to GodIn his book, Behold the Beauty of the Lord, Henri Nouwen, describes his interactions with four particular icons. He responds through writing detailed descriptions of how each speak to him and how they assist in his connection with God. He states how these pictures help "[lead] us to the heart of God as well as to the heart of all that is human. It is a sacred event in which contemplation and compassion are one, and in which we are prepared for an eternal life of seeing."
Pictures, paintings, mosaics, woodcarvings, etc. all can draw people nearer to the author of creation. In fact, this is why so many were in the church back in the day - because those who were illiterate could not connect by reading Scripture and therefore could gaze upon the depictions of Scripture which aligned the cathedral walls.
2. Journaling allows for HonestyAccording to Ann Voskamp, "Journaling cultivates deep honesty and authenticity." I whole-heartedly agree with this statement. It allows for honest feelings and opinions because it is only for you to teeth out emotions. A much cheaper version of counseling, if you will.
No one else will see this, so it doesn't matter what you say or feel. Why do you think people get in such an uproar if someone looks through their journal or diary? Their privacy has been invaded! The personal deep thoughts and emotions are compromised because now someone else is aware of this intimacy between you and your journal.
This is another reason why so many use the act of journaling as a spiritual discipline. It is a great way to be honest with God. It can hold prayers, fears, and questions that may be too difficult for group prayer. But I find it is much easier to voice my opinions through the power of the pen.
3. Art invokes ResponseThe last time I visited the Cleveland Museum I stood in awe amidst some of the largest paintings I had ever encountered first-hand. It's hard to realize their grandeur when merely studying them in a little art history book. My response was to simply stand, stare, and take it all in.
These paintings hold so much truth behind each brush stroke. I love learning about the hidden meanings of the colors used, or the objects embodied within the painting. So many details which often go unnoticed! It makes me wonder about the artist, too. What were they thinking when painting this? What was the cultural climate? Was this just a job or were they deeply invested in the subject matter?
Looking, studying, and feeling these pieces of art has helped bring me closer to the artist's intention, to the importance of art, and to the vast creation God has made. It invokes a response of awe and wonder. It invokes praise and adoration for God and the amazing talents He has given his people.
4. Art Journaling is Approachable for EveryoneEven if Art isn't really your thing, journaling about your response to creation (which I think is God's artwork) is just as important. There is no need for a degree in art history to appreciate the value of creation. If there really is no response to a fresco, mosaic, embroidery, or painting, then write about that! No one says you must fall to your knees in response. Write about frustrations or hopes and desires. This discipline of journaling - specifically art journaling - might not be for everyone. It is merely a suggestion because it suits my particular interests and desires. But I have a hunch that not only is it approachable for everyone, but helpful.
So... give it a shot. A spiritual discipline is important to make that connection with God routinely. So often we allow our days to fill up with stuff and squeeze him in at the very end.
Focus on one piece of religious-ish art each day for a week.*
Journal about anything that comes to mind- whether that be praises, adoration, thanksgiving or even fear and sadness.
Contemplate for a bit.
Then let the words flow through pen to paper.
You'll often be amazed at what can come from your own hand.
*One book I've found particularly helpful as of late is: The Face of Jesus
Comment below with any pieces of art you've found particularly intriguing or helpful insights to spiritual art journaling.