Wednesday, February 02, 2005

arts in church

Symposium and post-symposium conversations and thinking have got me pondering about the place of art in the church. And more specifically, the types of art that are appropriate/useful as a part of the congregational worship service.

I went to one session during symposium where they talked about the "pod" system of artists they had at a church in Ontario. These artists got together with one leader who was particularly interested in interpreting the biblical text. Then this group together studied one particular text together, and meditated on it and exegeted it and worked together to come up with some visual artwork that grew out of that passage. This seemed to me a wonderful way to build community by working toward a common goal, and acheive a deeper understanding of the bible and then share that understanding. I wondered if this would work for groups of people working in other creative arts: poets, songwriters, dramatists. I thought of all the times a conversation at a Vespers planning meeting has inspired me to write a poem about those themes or truths that we connected in our conversation.

Then I started thinking about how these different forms of art can work in an actual worship setting. It seems almost easier to enlighten a conversation through a painting than it is through a poem. Perhaps poetry is a dead medium, as some have suggested. I do know that one will enlighten very few by just reading a poem without explination in a regular worship service, as I found out by watching faces as I was reading this particularly thick work (for me) in my home church's christmas eve service.

And then I thought about the way Elmer Yazzie uses his art to illuminate the sermon in churches. He makes the art, and then offers and explination to help us understand what it means. This makes me think of Paul's advice about speaking in tongues (I'm pretty sure this is somewhere in the epistles...): only do it if there is an interpreter, and then only a few at a time, and everyone else listen. Perhaps more obscure creative expressions have a similar place in corporate worship: they are welcome in small doses, when there is an interpretation offered, so everyone can benefit.

Or maybe I'm not giving congregations enough credit. Or maybe I'm not giving art enough credit for its ability to speak to people where they are. After all, artists don't generally like to over-explain their work. I don't know.


Steve said...

Bethany, Congrats! Your Blog is #1 in Google Searches. Keep Writing! I typed "Chaistic Structure Expplained" and your blog came up. I am usually disappointed with Blogs, but yours was good. I heard the word "chiastic" mentioned so much in Bible Study I had to find out what it meant. I am a student at Dallas Theological Seminary.

bethany said...

Hi Steve, I'm glad you found what you are looking for. I don't believe that "chaistic structure" is a frequently searched term, but I'm happy to have credit for something.