I once wrote a song that surprised me. I’d never composed something like it before. The lyrics were dark, confessional, soundings of grief. Layers of foreboding minor chords grounded the aching melody. Vocally, I was forced to go to new and vulnerable places as I reached for a timbre that would embody the searching questions in play. With my guitar in hand and a coffee-stained notebook before me, my life was opened to God in a new way through making art. The writing process did something to my soul. It drew memory and language up from deep within. More than that, it drew out prayer and intercession that, until that moment, had lain dormant and subterranean. As I listen back to the song now, it strikes me that I am being taught to pray: art is shaping my life with Jesus.
Plenty of songs and works of art do just this, invite us into communion and contemplation. Obviously, not all art leads to prayer, and not all art-making is prayer. However, the creative process at times feels like a “holy wrestle.” Interestingly, “holy wrestle” is the language theologian P.T. Forsyth uses to describe prayer. It is language that highlights the need artists have to question and interrogate the shape of their life with Christ. How am I being formed? Who is Jesus Christ for me? What might it mean to open my art-making to God? The artist’s life with God matters.
This is the first of two editions of Common Ground dedicated to the arts. This month, we’re opening up a conversation about artists and Christ: how Christ’s lordship re-shapes, redeems and liberates the artist and their work. This is exactly the question John Dennison takes up in our lead article, “Art, Ambition, and the Presence of Jesus”. The story he works with is his own: his journey as a poet with God. It’s a vulnerable and candid accounting about vocation, ambition, and God’s kindness. Whether you’re an artist or simply interested in God and work, you’ll find this moving.
Interestingly, David James tells a similar story in this month’s Field Notes interview. His is a story of God’s gracious initiative to touch and transform his life as an artist. We’re delighted to bring you this conversation with David, whose work at Atelier and the Majesty gathering has done so much to encourage artists. We’re stoked, too, to feature the work of Waitara-based interdisciplinary artist Elliot Collins. Take some time to linger with his arresting explorations of place and memory.
Our From the Tradition column this month features interviews with the feminist Christian artist Allie Eagle (1949-2022). Made in 2004, around the time Briar March’s documentary about the artist was released, these interviews offer a snapshot of Allie in her prime: curating, painting, while all the while in lively conversation with Jesus. These conversations were first published in CS News, the magazine of Chrysalis Seed, the mission that for more than a decade did so much to foster the national conversation about faith and art—we’re grateful to be able to connect with that mahi here.
It’s the inimitable Andrew Shamy who rounds out this edition with his personal essay “A Book is Not a Mirror But a Door”. What is it that good writing does for us? When we read, do we simply slip into another world, or can excellent fiction open up reality? This is yet another compelling and beautifully written piece from Andrew, rich in observation, memory, and insight.
Whether you make art, enjoy art, or just like a good read, we trust you agree: the artist’s life with God matters. So once again, “take up and read’ and explore the richness of life in Christ.
Nga mihi nui,
Guest Editor, Common Ground