Art as Incarnation

Yesterday I attended a Sunday School class on the book, How (Not) to Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor by James K. A. Smith – I didn’t take notes, but after a conversation today about art, culture, and the church, I remembered that I wanted to get a better overview of Smith’s writing on Taylor’s work, so I went to YouTube and found this 25 minute interview with Smith from Eerdmans Publishing.
I was especially intrigued by the conversation there around “excarnation,” so I Googled “excarnation Taylor” to learn more and landed at this blog post, where there is a reference to Charles Taylor’s definition of excarnation as “the steady disembodying of spiritual life, so that it is less and less carried in deeply meaningful bodily forms, and lies more and more ‘in the head.'” Another blogger has a beautiful response: “So what do we do, as Christians? We rediscover the incarnation: the paradoxical place where the divine and the human occupy the same space without either being diminished by the other: As Taylor says, Christianity, as the faith of the Incarnate God, is denying something essential to itself as long as it remains wedded to forms which excarnate” (p771).
And a Google search for “art as incarnation” led me to a soul-affirming post that says
God allows us to share in [the] power of creation. We are artists, and we are tools in the hand of God. Rather, to be an artist is to be a tool in the hand of God.
The art I am making – hand-drawn mandalas, repurposed paper collages, paper tile mosaics – is not about the made thing, which is a fabulous relief since the end products are lowly and humble in the grand scheme of things (or even in the modest scheme of things.) Instead, the art is in the making itself, in the incarnated expression of creation for creation’s sake, loveliness for loveliness’ sake. It is my communion and my prayer, my chance to be, as Mother Teresa once said “…a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world.””
And a late-evening addendum: I just got home from week five of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course I’m taking through the Atlanta Mindfulness Institute. The conversation was about strengthening the parasympathetic nervous system in order to be more in the body in order to be more grounded. When I sit in meditation, as when I’m in the flow of creating a piece of art, there are fleeting moments where I can get out of my head and into my body. Different context, but this takes me back to incarnation (and excarnation). Everything’s connected!


Light and dark

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:5

Today I’ll be creating scratchboard art with a group of women who have known darkness, that place that feels forlorn and barren and hopeless. We’ll talk for a moment about their experience of the eclipse and what that might symbolize for them. Then, out of the black of the page, we’ll scratch away the dark to reveal the color and light that is already there. While I probably won’t be so explicit with the participants, privately I’ll be reflecting on the ideas of Pelagius, Erigena, and Michelangelo, each of whom had convictions about the goodness within that needs only to be released.

Red roses – and green and blue and yellow ones…

This project took place over two weeks with a group of summer camp kids. The first week, campers tore scrap construction paper and discarded office memos into “coin-sized bits,” tossed them into a blender with some water, then whirred the combo into soupy fibers. The mix was poured into a circular mold over a window screen, squeezed out a bit, and left in the sun to dry. The second week, the dried discs of lumpy, bumpy paper were carefully torn into spirals that were reshaped into colorful rustic roses and mounted onto contrasting color disks to be gifts for mom or mementoes of happy camp crafting.


This is where projects begin – as ponderings! I have way more ideas that I can ever follow through on, and sometimes the ideas are enough in themselves, or serve as springboards to other good ideas. Sometimes I just need to get them onto the computer screen and off the racetrack in my brain. Take a look and let me know what you think!


What is a contemplative practice? James Finley of Center for Action and Contemplation, calls it:

any act, habitually entered into with your whole heart, as a way of awakening, deepening, and sustaining a contemplative experience of the inherent holiness of the present moment. 

This notion of contemplative practice speaks deep and true to the dignity that has been present throughout time and place in the flourishing of a paintbrush, the wielding of an embroidery needle, the sculpting of clay and all making of new things from old that are the hallmarks of the creative spirit.

For me, crafting as both an artistic endeavor and a spiritual one means sinking deeply into a mindful and meditative place of seeing, hearing, imagining and creating. Contemplative crafting yields not only new works but new ways of thinking and knowing and being in the world.

Welcome to Contemplative Crafting, a website designed to affirm and celebrate this truth: We are created to create.