En pointe ballet shoes

Raising the Barre: Faith Lessons from the Ballet Studio

En pointe ballet shoes“Alright everyone, let’s face the mirror and stand in first position, arms en bas. Give me a demi port de bras, then pause with the arms in second position.”

The adults – mostly women in their 20s and 30s – organize themselves into some semblance of a line as they follow my directions and arrange their body positions accordingly. If you have never taken a ballet class before, watching dancers respond to ballet lingo like this might seem pretty impressive. How do they know what that all means and what to do? you may wonder. I’ve heard from many of my students that signing up for a ballet class took courage because of how intimidating they thought it would be.

And indeed, ballet isn’t easy. Beyond the “lingo” that one must learn (and it quite literally is like learning another language, since all the ballet terminology is in French), the physical movement is a challenge. The turnout, posture, strength, and grace that ballet requires are all very foreign to the range of normal human movement. In teaching how to do an arabesque, for example, I find myself giving several simultaneous and sometimes contradictory instructions: Shoulders down. Shoulders back. Extend the arm. Don’t reach with the arm. Lift the chest. Straighten the leg. Point the foot. Lift the chin. Don’t stick the chin out. Indeed, ballet might be beautiful, but it isn’t easy. Read more

My Relationship With Scripture: Reclaiming the Living Word Through Bible Art Journaling

Exodus 15:11

Exodus 15:11

People assume pastors read the Bible every day for spiritual growth and study. In my experience this is almost universally false. Many pastors say we read the Bible every day, or we don’t correct the assumption that we do this; but get a pastor talking honestly about our complex relationship with the Bible, and many will admit that, no, we don’t read the Bible every day. In fact, many of us only read it when we’re preparing for a sermon or a Bible Study. The Bible is a tool in our belt, a means to an end. We flip it open (or call it up on our web browsers) to figure out how to provide spiritual food for our congregants, but we’re not using it to feed our own spiritual hunger first. How sad, especially given the fact that so many of us became ministers and pastors precisely because of how much the Bible led us into ministry.

I wonder if it’s seminary that made our relationship with the Bible so complicated. I know that is true for me. It started with all of the classes on the Bible, beginning with Old and New Testament 201. Followed by Exegesis, Hebrew, Greek and so on. In seminary the work was always to come up with a new theory or interpretation, something nobody had thought of before. “C’mon Bible,” I would think, “Tell me what I need to know.” I remember sitting in the basement of the Princeton Theological Seminary library one afternoon reading about the lack of archeological evidence for the walls of Jericho and feeling like it was the last straw. Is it true that there may not have been actual walls that fell? It felt like something had been taken away from me. I felt the same way I did when I had to dissect a frog in High School. Seeing all the guts all over the place made me uneasy. I muddled through, though, and graduated from seminary with a new, even deeper love for the Bible.

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Bittersweet, Muriel Morley Jahn, Cotton cloth, dye, pigment, beading 44” x 34”

Bittersweet, Muriel Morley Jahn, Cotton cloth, dye, pigment, beading 44” x 34”

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.



Vaginas Everywhere

Georgia O’Keeffe’s Series 1, No. 8, 1919.

And so, I painted. I drew. I sketched. I took every art class my high school offered until I reached the very last class in Advanced Placement Studio Art. In this year-long class, I was challenged for the very first time to make a statement. After all, artists are supposed to have something to say. Artists are the ones that muse about the world. They express those musings in bold color and shape. They say something for which the non-artists struggle to find words.

I didn’t know how to do this. I had the skill to make a still life look almost life-like. I had the ability to blend colors to evoke the feeling of that apple. I had enough talent to be in that room with the other would-be artists. And yet, when it came time to create that portfolio that would ultimately determine my grade, I didn’t know what was unique about my artistic voice. And it had to be. That was one of the requirements. We had to have something to say.

I vividly remember sitting on that stool in the back of my art school art room staring at a set of pastels. I wasn’t making art. I was eating a clementine until I noticed how interesting it was. I noticed other colors in the obvious shades of orange. I picked up the pastels and started to draw. Thus, my portfolio was born. It didn’t say a darn thing. I was just looking really closely at the natural world. I was trying to understand it as much as I was trying to understand myself. I didn’t know that then. Then, it was just fruit and vegetables. Lots of them.

On the day of my high school graduation, my parents encouraged me to display this art around the living room. I had already received my grade and felt a little crushed. My beret-adorned dreams were dampened. The truth had been told. I didn’t have a unique voice. Still, in a family of artists, it’s important to show your work even if it’s terrible. So there it was for all to see.

I managed to ignore the ogling at my art until my aunt called me over. She pointed directly at the clementine. She told me it was a vagina. I was mortified. Was that what the AP Boards had seen? Had they concluded that I was some sex-starved adolescent with nothing but her own anatomy on her mind? Of course, my aunt went on to point out the vaginas in each piece. There were vaginas everywhere. With each exclamation she made, I sank deeper and deeper into shame. Read more

Handmade Clergy Stoles by “Piecemaker Rev”


These stoles are pieces of art. Like most art, these pieces have absorbed many emotions through their creation: hopes and frustrations, dreams and disappointments. These artistic endeavors retain impressions of me in each stitch. But these are not simply pieces of art, not merely pieces of cloth put together in a creative way. They are stoles, and a prayer shawl: holy garments. These stoles will be worn in ministry to God’s people. They will acquire more imprints of the wearer, of the people she encounters, and of the situations in which they are worn. Before this, however, I make another contribution to the memories woven into the fabric of these garments by blessing them.

The Call to Create: An Interview with Mary Allison Cates

Communion, copyright 2009

There is one room in my house that tells much of the story. An easel, acrylic paints, a sewing machine, stacks and stacks of fabric, and print-making tools abound. My six-month-old son primes himself for crawling on a nearby blanket while sounds of my three-year-old’s post naptime jabber drift in from the adjoining room. I am a parish associate at a Presbyterian church, where my responsibilities include preaching and leading a Bible study once a month. At another church, I co-lead a study group once a week. My office space is not located in these churches. Instead, it consists of a laptop on my bed and this one room of my house where so many creative outlets vie for my attention.

Faithful questioning and grappling with mystery have always been part of my personality, as have the enterprises of getting my hands dirty and making things. Because I was raised in a church that nurtured me intellectually and emotionally, and where the folks most like me were the ministers, I grew to see ministry as a natural medium for me to be who I am.

Similarly, my desire to create took shape in my basic high school and college art classes, where I began to see drawing, acrylic painting, and print-making as potential means for expression. My lifelong exposure to my mother’s love and skill for sewing has recently opened me up to quilting and crafting my children’s clothes. In each case, I have used the mechanisms that are convenient to me to give voice to my God-given leanings. I think we all do this. If I had grown up in a different time and place, perhaps I would now be a philosopher with a passion for basket weaving!

Tell us about your rhythms and routines for creating–do you have a particular time each day or week? How do you “get ready”? Which tools (whether physical or spiritual) do you find indispensable for your creative work? Read more

Reflections on Advent: A Way of Peace

The quote from James Agee ties the images together: “In every child who is born, the potentiality of the human race is born again, and of each of us, our terrific responsibility toward life, and the utmost idea of God.”

According to the artist, “New life happens, even in the face of global warming, war, poverty, and interpersonal conflict. May our saving Lord Jesus Christ be born in us again this Advent season, so that we may respond to our broken world by creating a way of peace.”

Click on images to see full-size versions:

Visual Reflections on the Lectionary

Letting Go. 15th Sunday After Pentecost. Luke 14: 25-33.

The power and mercy of God’s hold gives us courage to let go of that which holds us captive.

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This Month: Visual Art and Poetry

For this, our inaugural feature, we bring you two very different pieces, “On Women and Children and Poverty,” a visual piece by Suzanne Stovall Vinson, and “&,” a poem by MaryAnn McKibben Dana.

While the medium and focus of the two pieces differ from one another, each piece speaks to the particularity of women’s experience while touching on broader themes that unite many of us.

Are you a poet, fiction writer or visual artist? We want to hear from you! Please see our submission guidelines for more information.

And now, on to Christ & Creativity…

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