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Blessing of the Hands: for GR CIVA

hand1.jpgI wrote this for the meeting of the Grand Rapids affiliate of Christians in the Visual Arts which we had last evening.  This is the text of the small talk that I gave before we had a hand blessing for all the artists gathered at our monthly meeting.  

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  A few words before we begin the blessing of the hands ceremony.       //      As Christians, we are called by God to live as lights in a dark world – a world that sometimes does not even seem to notice anymore that it is in darkness.  To the world, the darkness has become normal.  Light, it seems, has become irrelevant, or something optional.  It no longer is seen as something needed to live the good life.  In fact, the very definition of what the good life is understood to be has changed from who we are, to what we have or are associated with.  The darkness has been re-imagined to be a complex, intriguing world, and the world revealed by the light has been stereotyped as sentimental and inapplicable to those who are accustomed to the excitement of the dark.    //     As artists, we are called by God to responsibly handle one of the more curious gifts given out by God.  Whereas many children find joy in creating, as we mature, society discourages many people from pursuing their creative gifts into adulthood.  Those who do, find themselves embracing their own inner sense of playfulness, wonder, and expressivity that may at times give them great pleasure, and at other times, a sense of isolation.  For some of us, our church homes have been places where these gifts have been encouraged to grow, and for others, our church homes may be places were we are discouraged in using these gifts.  Often, as with any relationship, there are times of both understanding and misunderstanding, calling us to reply to others with patience, grace, and humility when our culture may encourage us to respond out of indignation or heated anger.  But if we persist, we come to find that our creative voice becomes our private aesthetic language with which some of us preach, teach, and pray.  Many of us create works or art which aesthetically companion those walking in our dark world, reminding them of the light of life.    //     To be a Christian and an artist is to balance these twin callings – to be light bearers in a dark world while being faithful in learning to use a sometimes mysterious and unwieldy gift with increasing elegance and skill.  We each speak an aesthetic language, and many of us speak with divergent visual accents.  We speak with these visual languages at times in the community of light-bearers, hoping to touch some, and at other times take this language of the eyes to add our visual voice to the babble of competing ideas in the dark places of our greater communities, hoping to touch some.    //      We are called by God to touch some by being sensitive representatives of His teachings.  We are called not to have the same values of the world – to be known, to be wealthy, to be loved, or to be powerful – but to be faithful, humble, loved by God, and to be servants of the weak and powerless.  We are to be kind to those whom society has rejected, to take our visual language not only to the places where that language is understood, spoken and rewarded … but also to those places where the visual is forgotten, misunderstood, or seen as irrelevant.  We are called to be aesthetically generous to our neighbors.  We are challenged to find ways to honor God with our aesthetic “first fruits”, to tithe from our gifts to benefit others.  We are asked to serve “the least of these” with our art, and to be “like children” in the ways children try to please us with their own creations of crayons, finger-paint, and popsicle sticks.     //     We are called to stay involved in our church communities, even when these people hurt us as artists.  We are not to run away and hide our talents, our light, under a basket or stone the moment our feelings are hurt once again.  We are called to be a different kind of artist in this world, not only in the content of our art, but similarly in our character.    //     So we are called to speak visually to those around us who share our faith, who share our love of art, and even to those who share neither our faith nor our love of art.  We are especially called to love those whom the world, and sometimes even the church, has turned their backs on: those who may make us uncomfortable, those who are very different from us because of class, culture, or faith.  We are called to the poor, the helpless, and the strangers among us.  We are called to love with the language of art, the speech of our mouths, and the service of our hands.  We are called to do this in spite of the financial storms that whirl about us and have captured so much of our attention and anxiety.      //     And when these storms hit us, may we be mindful that we have a God who never leaves us.  He walks with us even when we do not feel Him near us.  May we be the tangible representatives of God’s love to each other as we are each others creative companions on this sometimes lonely road.  May we encourage each other to press on, to continue the race, and to persevere.     //     May we each have a  sense of God’s presence as we create.    //     May we sense Him smiling on us as we prepare to work.    //    May we feel the joy of creating when we begin to get sparks of ideas that light our imagination while we work.    //     May we have more moments in God’s presence when we lose track of time and are enfolded in the rapture of creation.    //     May we have a sense of God’s peace when we stand back from a finished work of art that brings a contented smile to our face.   //     May we remember to thank God for these times.    //     May we remember God, and not just think of ourselves.    //     May we remember God.        //     (pause)     //     As we prepare to anoint each other’s hands, do so by repeating these words while making the sign of the cross in each other’s outstretched palms:   —   “May God bless you, as you go and create.”    —