delaney-story1.jpgWhen I was a young girl, I counted down the months and days until the children’s Christmas play at church. Once the roles were assigned, I studied my lines devoutly and listened to the CD every day on the way to school. I loved the play, not only because I liked being the center of attention (what can I say—I lived for the spotlight!), but also because I felt the presence of God when I sang and danced. I remember singing the words to “I Can Only Imagine” at about 10 years old, and truly imagining what the face of God looked like and what heaven would feel like. Art led me into the presence of God and helped me think theologically even as a child. 

As I grew older, I learned just how much I loved music. I learned to play piano and guitar and wrote my own songs. I joined the youth group’s worship band and discovered that I felt the most fulfilled when I used my musical talents for worship leading. I became involved in theatre, where I gained close friends and learned valuable lessons about walking in another’s shoes. When I went to college on a musical theatre scholarship, I knew I loved theatre but my dedication to it started to fizzle out as I realized that I wanted to direct my passion for art into the local church. I didn’t want to be a Broadway star like my classmates; I wanted to be a pastor who incorporated art into worship.

Art by DelaneyThis summer through the Candler Advantage internship, I have had the opportunity to explore the important role of art in worship. Specifically, I have focused on how art helps us understand God in new ways, helps bring peace and comfort in difficult times, helps us process feelings like grief, loneliness, confusion, and trauma, and gives new meaning to familiar sacraments and creeds. Often, we do not have words for what we are feeling or do not know how to pray aloud the pain we have. Especially during a summer of great uncertainty due to a global pandemic and the injustice of racism, art can help us navigate these experiences and communicate honestly with the Divine. When words fail, melodies and watercolors and dance movements can step in. A quote that has stuck with me this summer is, “Art provides a vehicle with which to approach God.” Whatever we choose to offer before God, whether it be our joy and praise or our grief and anger, art can help us express it. 

Art can reveal truths about God

Every other Wednesday this summer, I held a painting class in which we focused on a Scripture reading and creating a piece of art that interacted with it. Each week I did a different sort of reading of the Bible verses. One week I read it every fifteen minutes in a different translation, one week I read the verses and an excerpt about its meaning, and so on. This combination of reading Scripture and painting it helped participants see the Scripture in a new light and learn about the character of God. For example, one week we studied Psalm 91:4, which says, “He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge.” We talked about the multitude of metaphors used in the Bible for God, reflected on what it means to view God as a bird who protects us with its wings, and painted canvases inspired by this concept.

Art can transform familiar liturgy into holy mystery. 

Throughout my internship, we wanted to use art in interaction with familiar sacraments and creeds so that people may find a deeper connection or understanding of them, and thus find communion with God. For example, I choreographed a dance to go along with a song called “This I Believe (The Creed),” which is an interpretation of the Apostles Creed. It actually uses direct quotes from it. Watch the video here. So this week, instead of reciting the Creed like we normally do and likely forgetting its power and meaning in our lives, congregants were encouraged to watch the dance movements/sign language and listen to the words of the Creed in a new way, hopefully being able to truly reflect on what we believe as Christians. Thus, art transformed something that had become familiar and stagnant into a holy mystery again.

Art can help us lament and repent. 

Art by Alyssa BrownOn July Fourth, I felt a little discouraged because my church had decided to do patriotic hymns in worship. This was right in the middle of our country being up in flames over racism and division, and I felt like flying the American flag in church and singing songs about America the beautiful could be extremely hurtful. I feel that the church’s job is not to glorify the nation, but to lament and call out injustices and at the very least to help people reflect on the state of the county and the state of their hearts. So we decided to use art to lead the church into a time of honest reflection. I invited a talented artist in our church, Alyssa Brown, to do a live painting (pictured here) along with a song called “See the Love,” which reflects on how our country is often divided by hate and how we want to see love surrounding people who are outcast and hurting. The painting used muted and abstract shades of red, white, and blue, with sketches of people in all skin tones, and a dove representing the Holy Spirit. This depicted how under the Spirit of God, we should all be united in love. I believe that art like this can lead us to a state of necessary repentance and holy lamenting. Watch the video here. 

Art by DelaneyForms of art like painting, music, and dance are powerful and help us worship when we are at a loss for words. But sometimes we forget that our words can be art as well. There are times in my life when I feel confused and overwhelmed with grief, and I think there is no way I can communicate all my emotions. But when I start to detox my mind and get it all out on paper (even if it seems like nonsense at the time), it often turns into a piece of poetry or even a prayer to God. Our words have the power to speak life and truth into a broken world. So I leave you with this poem I wrote and will be speaking on the last Sunday of my internship. 

When you feel like jumping for joy
Or when you want to lay down and wallow 
When your pillow is soaked with tears and your laughing has grown solemn 
All these feelings can be holy 
As Christ felt every emotion boldly 
He laughed and he cried, he knew the joys of friendship and the grief of losing it 
So when you feel like hiding away and burying emotion under stones, embrace it and say God has sent it 

Yet sometimes we don’t have the words
We feel it in our hearts but we can’t express it aloud 
The Holy Spirit intercedes through dancing, melodies, poetry, and pastels 
You see, art is a vehicle to the Divine 
An honest yet mysterious way to the Divine 
We feel and search for words and we create just as God creates our world
We let our breath sing beauty and our hands mold newness like our Creator and our words cry out for justice through rhyming and vocabulary like David the psalter 

And through this art we find solace with God, we find answers to difficult questions, we worship with gladness, and we find new ways to see the Divine 
Worship and communion with God is not just going to church on Sundays or reading your Bible which are both fine 
But God is much much bigger that this... God can’t be put into a box so we search for ways through the abyss 
And come out on the other side with dancing, melodies, poetry, and pastels