The Sacramental Quality of Art
Monday 20 June 2011
Well the formal part of the interprovincial Solemn Vow retreat has begun. Today we were privileged to have the first session of our weeklong experience with Jerry Bleem, OFM, the friar and professor of art at Chicago’s Art Institute. Our day began, after breakfast and morning prayer, with a discussion intended to introduce ourselves, share what our individual understanding about the relationship between art and spirituality is and reflect on how we are doing at this time. After that, we made a book.
It was very interesting to take sheets of paper, fold them and sew them together with a cover to make a sketchbook. These books, our very first art project of the week, would then be given to the friar partner we were assigned so that they could draw in them (with the messy charcoal pencils we were given) symbols that represented our personal answers to three questions.
Let me explain (because I was confused at first too). In pairs, we were to go out into Santa Barbara to walk and discuss three questions: a) What is one significant moment in your life? b) What about the Franciscan charism drew you to this life and c) What is one hope you have?
We were to share these things in conversation with our brother and then we were to, using the environment around us, identify something that would symbolize that response – the other friar would then sketch that thing in your book, which would ultimately be returned to you.
I have to say that I was not all that excited about this project (it’s partly informed, I think, by my despising of all things “small group”), but after my brother friar and I went out and discussed some of these questions amid the beautiful (and, FINALLY, SUNNY!) California afternoon, I appreciated the exercise. I understand we are doing some painting tomorrow. We’ll see how that goes.
If it isn’t clear from the way I write or the way I organize my thoughts, I am not a particularly “artsy” kind of person, by which I mean I don’t sketch or draw or paint or sculpt. So this week, which engages all of those media to highlight some embodied dimension of spirituality is indeed a challenge, but a welcome one at that.
Today also marked the second night during which four of us played Gin Rummy for many round and for what seemed like several long hours after dinner – Steve DeWitt, OFM, Bob Valentine, OFM, Richard Goodin, OFM, and I have been enjoying this lively and entertaining experience that really does build community amid much laughing and teasing after dinner.
As the art projects continue, I ask for your prayers for all of us on retreat! Know that we have remembered all who are praying for us in our own prayers at our daily mass and office (morning and evening prayer).