Today is the feast day of St. Luke, the patron saint of artists. He's also the patron saint of student, physicians, surgeons, and butchers--there's likely a poem there, a poem about people who deconstruct, who reconstruct, who hack and who stitch.
For a more theological meditation on St. Luke, I wrote a post on my theology blog here.
I'm intrigued by the early Church's embrace of the arts. Luke is given credit for creating the first icon of the Virgin Mary. The early Church knew that creativity can enrich our spiritual lives. What happened in the intervening centuries?
I'll let others tell that story. Happily, in the past few decades, we've seen many churches move to embrace the arts and to explore the ways that artistic practice can lead us to a deeper spiritual rootedness.
For those of you interested in exploring these intersections, let me recommend Christine Valters Paintner's latest book, The Artist's Rule: Nurturing Your Creative Soul with Monastic Wisdom. Much like Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way, Paintner's book is set up as a 12 week intensive immersion into techniques and practices that will make us better artists and deepen our spiritual experiences.
But unlike other books that claim to do the same thing, Paintner's book finds inspiration from monastic practices. Paintner is not the first person who has noticed the similarity between artists and monks, but her insights bear repeating. Both groups work in fields that aren't always honored by the larger community. Both groups are largely misunderstood by the larger community. Both groups engage in practices that aren't always understood. Both groups have to practice some sort of contemplation to do what they do. Both groups have to establish boundaries. In many cases, both groups experience a sense of awe and wonder on a more regular basis than members of the regular world will experience.
Paintner's book is a wonderful introduction to monasticism. It's also a wonderful introduction to a variety of practices that can be used in a number of ways. She has her readers make wisdom cards and arts altars. She has her readers experiment with movement in a variety of ways. She offers guided meditations. She suggests that readers play with poetic forms and fairy tales. The book includes poems, Bible verses, and quotes, and Paintner encourages the ancient practice of Lectio Divina, close reading which allows readers to uncover wisdom.
Her writing style is accessible, even for those of us who have never given monasticism much thought. When she offers activities for readers to do, her tone encourages novices and experts alike. Each chapter gives a wide variety of possible approaches, and most of them sound intriguing. I was first introduced to Paintner's approach to life and her writing style at her comprehensive website, and this book doesn't disappoint.
So, on this feast day that celebrates the patron saint of artists, pick up your paint brush, your pen, your camera. If you're stuck at a desk at work, move your arms or flutter your fingers. Google icons and think about what a contemporary icon maker would do. Cook something tasty for dinner. Plan your garden for spring, and include some restorative herbs. Think about ways to make space each day for more creative practice.