Post Author: Muriel Morley Jahn and Jessica Harren
Human beings are complex, created by God with many parts that make up our selves. In this article, two Young Clergy Women explore through art what it means to bear the yoke of ministry. Words sometimes fail us and are not always sufficient to relay all that cries out for expression. And yet, for some of us, words are the primary way in which we communicate. Below you will find both a statement from the artist and a reflection on the artwork by the editor. You are invited to look closely at the artwork, and to discover where it might touch some part of your life or experience.
Artist Muriel Morley Jahn writes:
Whenever scripture describes a minister, the minister seems to be a flawless superhuman (see for example 1 Timothy 3), someone who is capable of amazing feats such as maintaining perfection in ministry while also running an impeccable household (which, one could argue, not even Jesus attempted). These ideals weigh heavily on my shoulders and constantly run through my mind because they seem out of reach for me, yet despite the bitter reminders of imperfection, I walk into ministry with stars in my eyes toward that sweet promise of Christ: “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:30)
Jessica Harren reflects on Morley Jahn’s artwork:
“Bittersweet” . . . this word describes so much of my life in ministry. So many moments are so sweet and so fulfilling: those times when someone I’ve been providing pastoral care to tells others that I have changed her life forever, or when a child or teen draws a picture of me while I am leading a service, times when I know that I have made a difference. And then there are the other times: the moments when I make mistakes or the times when I am simply a projection screen for whatever else is going on in people’s lives, and I get hurt. Occasionally, I even find myself lashing out.
In this piece of artwork, the artist mixed dye on the fabric. After the blue dye had dried, she mixed in the black dye. This dye could only be worked with for one hour after it had been mixed. The artist had to put this image of the minister into the fabric very quickly, without any time to worry about proportions being perfect. Dye cannot be erased; the imperfections just have to be accepted. This is in stark contrast to the words painted on the fabric from Timothy 2 that lay out the expectations for ministers. Many hold ministers to this impossible expectation of perfection, and many of us ministers hold ourselves to this standard. The everyday work of ministry, however, is often like the dye that can only be worked with for a brief time, rendering perfection impossible.
Listening to the artist describe her work, I came to understand that while we do carry a lot of weight on our shoulders as ministers, we are also imperfect, and there is fruit in that tension. Just as in this fabric piece, our imperfections can enhance our lives and the impact we are able to make on others. The sooner we can let our imperfections be, the freer we are to enjoy the art of ministry.
I would have been sad had the artist thrown this away and not shared it with the world because it wasn’t perfect. Likewise, our world would suffer, too, if we threw our own ministries away just because we are not perfect. This piece tells me to claim who God created me to be, let myself be that person, and allow for the imperfections. Then, even if my ministry and I are not perfect, we can still be beautiful, just like Murial’s art.
Muriel Morley Jahn is an artist deep in her soul, and does ministry as the pastor of St. John United Church of Christ in Belvidere, IL. She works hard to combine her artistic self with her ministry self in ways that encourage others in their lives of faith. She lives with her husband, her fish named Lazarus, and her dog, Aglaya. Aglaya is sometimes supportive of Muriel’s artistic endeavors (but sometimes wants to play ball). Thankfully, however, Muriel’s husband is highly supportive.
Jessica A. Harren is the current editor of Fidelia’s Sisters The Ones We Love, and is trying hard to learn about the artistic side of life. She is grateful for all that the artwork of Rev. Muriel Morely Jahn has taught her about life, herself, and the world as God created it to be. She is the pastor of Capron Lutheran Church in Capron, IL, and lives with her husband, son, and two cats (whose names are Mai Tai and Gandalf the Gray).
Image by: Muriel Morley Jahn
Used with permission