September 13, 2019
Silence, Presence and Discernment
I wrote last week about silence, and a couple of the ways in which it was explored in a 2017 edition (volume 28, number 2) of “Arts: The Arts in Religious and Theological Studies.”
In that same issue there was an article entitled, “Art as Discernment.” The author, Michael Hebbeler, explores this in several ways, but the essence of it for me is the idea that discernment comes through taking time – time to look, time to pay attention, time to really see what is around us. In our fast-paced lives, it means that in slowing down we are better enabled to be present to the moment in which we find ourselves. In that presence, we open ourselves to seeing things that we might never have seen before.
The author shares some of his experiences in taking an art class, something that he hadn’t done for almost twenty years. This in turn leads him to discuss with his own students the benefits of art classes. But for most of his students, an art class is something that distracts from their pursuit of other classes that will contribute to their future abilities to earn a living. An art class doesn’t fit in well with their ever-moving lives.
The author acknowledges that an “art class does take time. Not only are studio classes nearly three hours twice a week, but the process of working and reworking a charcoal figure drawing, or mixing paints to get the tone just right, requires a commitment and a patience that one can hardly afford on a campus where overscheduled calendars and instant communication rule the day.” (page 21)
He goes on to say, “regarding lack of time, I know that the times I am busiest are often the times when I most need to be still. And that is what art class has become for me during the frantic pace of the school week. Drawing slows me down, inviting me into an attentive state, an entrance into the present.” (page 22)
I have found such to be the case during the couple of arts workshops that we have held at our church. People have set aside the other concerns of the day in order to be present to the activity at hand. It has been wonderful to watch.
In the same manner, spending time with art, with poetry, with drama, are ways to help people in the church, people anywhere of course, to slow down, to truly engage with what is before them, and thereby to notice things that have likely eluded them in the past. But just as taking a class requires a commitment, so spending time with these various art forms requires a slowing down, perhaps time spent in silent reflection. After all, if we rush past a painting, or read poetry as though it is the newspaper, we will never receive the rich gifts that we might if we take the time to really engage with what is before us.
Silence, a slower pace, a deliberate looking, all contribute to a richer journey for us. It is our choice to open this opportunity for ourselves.
Welcome to my website. I hope you will discover a connection to the life of small churches, and the richness that the arts can bring to these churches.