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Starving artists

Missing a stroke

By Natalie Nohr | Contributor

Photograph by Natalie Nohr

Photograph by Natalie Nohr

Art is hard to find in churches, and many do not notice its absence.

Picture a contemporary church: the sanctuary—or auditorium—the seats, a projector or two, the stage, maybe a fog machine, the steel-lined windows, the taupe walls, the glass doors, the warehouse-style ceiling.

Now imagine a cathedral: pillars too wide to span arms around, supporting a vaulted ceiling that swings higher and higher until it peaks, lofted several hundred feet into the air. Cool marble of red, green, white, yellow and gray is surrounded by warm gold that overlays the moldings. Mosaics shimmer with liturgic words of worship and praise, holding history from generations past. Picture the images of the lives of saints who walked the earth many years ago, in faith, illuminating any surface willing to reflect its glow. One sole ray breaks from the high clerestory to the low nave, reaching from the dome to the floor where eyes turn upward. The church is silent, but there is much to be heard.

“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” (Psalm 46:10, ESV)

Hold those two images side by side; compare the feelings they caused, the thoughts that came to your head and the places where your mind’s eye focused. One of these structures is built with functionality, purpose and modern design. The other with artistry, painstaking detail and quality in mind.

Art is a central facet of the Christian faith. It deepens worship with beauty, creativity, reflection and truth. Interaction with art in worship, whether through prayer or song, challenges churchgoers’ perspectives, shifting focus to the heavenly creator, reminding the church of his faithfulness and presence in the surrounding world.

Yet, if your church is like many Western Protestant churches, it often silences this worship medium for the sake of convenience, cost-efficiency and comfort.

“Although the church has made strides in the past few decades to revive its historically rich relationship with the arts, many congregations still strain to bridge the divide between artists on one side and pastors and worshipers on the other,” Andrea Palpant Dilley wrote in an article for Christianity Today. Dilley is a director, producer, editor and writer who focuses on issues of art and faith.

Art is not an accessory to Christian faith and worship. Rather, it bears the imprint of the Lord. Art is a tangible offering that displays an image of the infinite; seen but unseen, known yet unknown, beautiful and frightening.

The church must seek to encourage and support artists, or else we will stifle a valuable piece of the body of Christ.

“Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness” (Romans 12:6-8, ESV).

May the one who creates, create with passion.

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