Creative work as prayer

Posted by Kenetha Stanton on

spiraling stained glass windows
Image by msandersmusic from Pixabay

"One way to 'pray without ceasing' (I Th. 5:17): cultivate a disciplined artistic practice (draw, paint, music, etc.). Create art as prayer." ~@CarlMcColman

I spent my day yesterday working on my art, amidst the usual requirement of weekly household chores and errands that I do on Sundays. I designed new items, I crocheted, I worked with beads, I tried new ideas (some of which worked, some of which didn't), I made new rosaries and jewelry pieces ... and it was a blast. Those times of creative work always seem to fly by as if time melts into fuel to be burned up by my creative spark.

Yet despite the frustrations I encounter of things not going the way I want them to or of time passing by too quickly for me to try all of the ideas that are in my head, I come away from those extended periods of creative work refreshed and renewed. The work itself generates so many new ideas that no matter how many things I create, my list of things that I want to try next grows longer by the day.

I came from a day spent in that kind of work to find the quote above from Carl McColman on Twitter, and it resonated with me. That creation of art (humble as my artwork may be) feels like prayer in the best possible sense. Writing, singing, playing music feels the same way. There's something about the creative impulse that feels a lot like worship—a participation in God's creative work.

But I haven't always understood prayer this way.

I grew up being taught about the importance of having a regular "prayer time" where one should follow the A-C-T-S (Adoration, Contrition, Thanksgiving, Supplication) method, making sure to hit each type of prayer in the right order. Good prayers kept lists of people and causes which I carefully listed during the supplication portion of prayer. And, of course, it was critical to end it with "In Jesus' name, Amen" to make sure it would be heard and accepted.

Prayer in that sense was an exercise of talking to Someone out there somewhere in a very specified way. Even if done in silence, it was a very verbal, wordy type of prayer.

One of the side effects of having my faith broken apart by life as I've gotten older is that many of my concepts and definitions got broken apart too. I'm not sure I can define what prayer is anymore. As I've become less and less convinced that intercessory prayer "works" that way I used to imagine, I spend less time praying for others in the traditional sense of sending out requests to God in the hopes that He will grant my wishes. Instead, prayer has become harder to distinguish from my ongoing internal conversation about life.

Prayer has become my talking to myself and the Spirit within me as I process my days. It's the listening to my intuition and that quiet voice within for guidance. It's in the inner wresting I do with ideas that I encounter in my reading. It's the digging deeper I do in my journaling. It's in the way I lose myself in the creative process. It's part of sitting in quiet stillness and the meditative engagement with yoga.

It seems somewhat ironic that in losing a clear idea of what prayer is (or who God is, for that matter), I have discovered a deeper prayer life than I ever imagined, even if it's much less defined and even if there are many who would find my approach heretical.

"I found it better to speak to God than about him." ~St. Therese of Lisieux

I think of this quote often lately as my ideas about God have broken apart and become harder to nail down. I talk to God more now in my own undefined way than I ever did when I had a clearer concept of who it was that I was talking to and how I was "supposed" to go about it. The more I find that there's not much that I can say about God—partially because I don't know what I'm talking about and partially because I can't find language to express the little that I do know—the more I am inclined to talk and to listen to God instead in an ever wider range of ways, and surely that's what prayer should truly be about.

It's ironic to me that I can find greater connection and peace the less I am certain what I am talking about, but perhaps when dealing with a mystery as large as the divine, it's the very act of admitting how much I don't know that puts me in the right place to grow.

What does prayer mean to you? Have your ideas or practices of prayer changed over time?

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