by Debbonnaire Kovacs

by Debbonnaire Kovacs, August 28, 2013

Chapter 23 of The Monastery of the Heart is called “Sacred Art.” In it, Joan Chittister speaks of the fact that historically, the great monasteries were centers of art and literature, seeing in art an attempt to capture at least a few slivers of reflections of the sublime and indescribable beauty that is God. She says,

Basic to monasticism
are the very qualities
art demands of the artist:
silence and contemplation,
discernment of spirit and humility.
Basic to art are the very qualities
demanded of the monastic:
single-mindedness, the search for beauty,
immersion in praise and creativity.

I will never forget the day I received a flyer for a Sacred Arts Conference that would be hosted by the First Friends Church of Akron, Ohio. I had never seen the words “sacred” and “art” put together. This seems extraordinary to me now. At the time, I stopped in my tracks, halfway from the mailbox to the house, my heart literally beating faster. Sacred Arts! I loved the very sound of the phrase!
The flyer had a background of light, greenish-gray stones, like flagstones. It made me think of a castle courtyard, open to who knew what secret gardens. I tugged hastily at its fastenings, and it opened to a large sheet, beautiful in itself. It didn’t just talk about art, it displayed it. I saw a mission statement which, as far as I can remember, was something like “We, the Sacred Arts Committee (the Sacred Arts Committee! This church has a Sacred Arts Committee!) exist to discover and reclaim the place of the arts in worship, and to seek to reach the hearts of artists in our community.”
They’d reached me, that’s for sure!
The flyer contained a grid of dozens of classes and seminars in everything from worship music to pottery, storytelling to dance, ways to use art to enhance worship spaces, painting, drawing. . . I discovered I was holding my breath. I had to go to this! What were the dates? Was it possible? I had to go!
I did. That was the beginning of my dream of creating a homestead (here in Kentucky, as it turned out) where I could explore what I came to call “the sacred art of living”—close to nature, close to God, close to others. There was born in me a desire, today greater than ever, to see sacred arts “discovered and reclaimed” in my own denomination. When you think of it, probably all art of every kind was originally meant as worship. Sometimes, like everything else on this planet, it was used in worship of the fake imposter instead of the One True God. Does that disqualify all art for worship?
When the early colonists came to North American shores, they had seen enough of corruption and ostentatious display to last several lifetimes. They knew too much about supposed church leaders who enriched the cathedrals and themselves at the expense of God’s beloved children. They wanted simplicity. So the white clapboard New England meetinghouse was born. That’s a thing of beauty in its own right. Simplicity is good. It’s art, or it can be. But it’s not the only art.
My dream is to attend an Adventist church that will let me have a Sacred Arts Committee without shooting down everything we try to do that “hasn’t been done before,” that recognizes that we are whole persons, not just minds, and that our physical surroundings can enhance or depress our sense of the presence of God. Imagine a church where the worship committee that meets each week makes sure the altar display, the art on the walls, the banners, if any, the music—all of it—the Bible readings, the children’s moment, and the sermon are on one beautiful, Biblical theme. Imagine that kinesthetic and visual, as well as auditory people, could find and worship the Spirit who created all art and all artistic natures. I do attend a church where all that happens. But my Adventist one is not open to such unseemly displays.
I have only one question: Do we really think so all-fired much of ourselves that we think we invented painting and dance and poetry and vision and sculpture and scent and drama and fragrance and color and  . . . well, do we??