In summer 2022, when I attended the Swannanoa Gathering annual music camp, I took a class in Flatfoot Dancing in addition to ukulele. It was there that I met a Quaker from Berea, KY, named Jennifer Elam, who wrote a series of pamphlets at Pendle Hill. At the end of our week, she gave me 3 of those for our New Garden Library: HILLBILLY QUAKER #475, ART AS SOUL’S SANCTUARY: Meditations on Arts and Spirituality among Quakers and Beyond #452, DANCING WITH GOD: Mysticism and Mental Illness #344. She has facilitated art workshops with Quakers and school children and hospital patients.
The author explains how arts are the place she experiences “openings” (moments of new learning and growth, as Quakers define it); yet art was not accepted by Quakers for centuries.
Now art is accepted as a spiritual practice, which opens and connects people to each other and to God. What’s better is that when using art as a Spiritual Practice you do not have to be able to draw anything!
In her Meeting in KY, they saw a need for creativity and started a second Friday sharing, which gathered people around their creativity – poetry, clay, visual art, essays, dance. Often she started them with a prompt: “What does love look like when standing in front of a person who hates?”
Art as spiritual practice is not like academic art classes. Here folks learn to see their hands creating through the Spirit energy of the Creator (just as their voices do in giving vocal ministry). Sharing their art becomes a place through which people can connect on a soul level, versus judging other people’s opinions and actions as crazy or invalid. Art connections show the beautiful humanity among people who may not always agree.
Reading Jenn Elam’s pamphlet helped me guide the Art Curation Committee at NG recently. There is room for more variety and diversity of art on our walls, as well as art as spirituality workshops under our roof.
–– C. H. Holcombe