Art as a Spiritual Practice
Sue Carroll, Liturgical Artist-in-Residence at St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church in Bethesda, MD, shares how her mixed media artwork–a creative outlet she found later in life–has both enriched her faith and allowed her to share the Good News with others in her home parish and beyond.
I never thought of myself as an artist, but apparently the Holy Spirit did. That she waited until I was in my 60s to let me in on this idea is just one of the signs of her sense of humor. It was also a demonstration that “growing in the faith” is possible at every stage of life.
My work life had always involved words: writing, analyzing, planning. I’d long had a love of practical theology, achieving a Masters in Divinity from Wesley Seminary and serving as a volunteer instructor at a seminary in South Africa. And my faith had sustained me through many difficult times in my life.
But, art? When I first gave it a try, with watercolor, it was awful. I was awful! But I loved learning about colors, shapes and techniques–and when I discovered the vibrant world of mixed media, I was hooked.
When the pandemic closed down in-person worship at St. Dunstan’s in 2020, I began creating a scripture illustration every week for our Zoom services. I have since been named the “Liturgical Artist-in-Residence” at St. Dunstan’s, with an exhibition of my pieces last fall entitled “Art to Lift Spirits: Modern Icons of the Good News.” Since then I have regularly kept pieces on display in the Nave, and I still do a new piece almost every week. I would not have this soul-enriching art practice today if it were not for the support of the community at St. Dunstan’s.
Part of the joy of mixed media for me is the theological meaning in the art form itself: taking diverse, tattered scraps of material and making something bright and significant with them echoes the never-ending re-creative force of God. I also try to build layers of meaning into my pieces; e.g, to illustrate Ezekiel’s prophecy that the Lord will plant a tree for “winged creatures of every kind” I cut the bird shapes from maps, so that every continent is represented. It is a joy to be able to immerse myself in scripture and share my vision of God’s deep, enduring, powerful love.
Liturgical Artist-in-Residence, St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church
In recognition that this practice is a gift of the Spirit, my liturgical art is available for free from my website: www.art2liftspirits.com. If you would like to receive pieces by email every week, keyed to the lectionary, please email me.