Dancing with the Holy: On Being Broken, Spiritually Mended and Called

Dancing with the Holy

It was holy—it was so intimate, so exquisite and precious, that to put it down in words here for you will diminish it immediately. That is the nature of being Spiritually Mended.

There I was, clinging. I came with a cavernous pain, my need was huge.

I came saying to myself I’m broken into pieces. I’m useless. 

But isn’t that the way we must always come to Him, open?

I’ve been hurting. Life’s been bitter and difficult for a long, long time.  Most recently I thought, I won’t survive this.  But here’s the beauty of what I learned: We are all Broken and the Holy One offers healing.

This weekend was Pulse, a conference for Artists in the Church.  I barely showed up, but there I was breathless and desperate. I sat. I worshiped. I walked amongst other artists and creatives. I sensed the Spirit of God who is always with us, mystically and profoundly, but at times we allow the chaos and rush and performance and pain of life to intervene.  I did.  I had.

I thought this weekend might be intellectually stimulating. In my pride and arrogance, and no small amount of insecurity, I slipped into critique mode where others always come up lacking. Reflexively I began to evaluate and not admit that I was there to receive.

God saw my haughty heart.
God said bring me your broken heart.

And there it was, in tension.

I think I’m too good for this.
I think I’m not good enough.

Both, And. 

Strangely that is the dichotomy of being Spiritual Creatives.

We have to accept our humanity but so many days it is our very humanity that gets in the way of growing spiritually and being able to celebrate – being able to absorb, to revel, to dance and sing with others who are different from us, perhaps even better than us, at least more accomplished and successful and happy.

It is there, in our doubt and weakness, that we must face our brokenness, humbly. And receive from and celebrate others.  And most importantly accept that God has gifted us all in some unique, distinctive way.

I sat, knowing all this and facing that I’ve allowed my broken heart to keep me from Believing, from Creating, from Joy, from Hope. To receive A Holy Call takes brave heart.  We know our brokenness, we’re all too aware of our ugly hearts

God was saying to me—I want to use the way I’ve made you, I want your Story.  It has a purpose.

Say What?

I was imprisoned; the bars surrounding me were of my making.  I had built a cage and painted a bold sign on it: DISQUALIFIED. I believed it too.  I came convinced that my brokenness disqualified me from making anything good, from being useful, from my life holding a Holy Purpose.

Life’s psychotic touch had sucked the breath out of me; it felt as if I might drop dead in a moment from the strain of life’s challenges. I was living a lamentation, I was walking dead with Job, and I was crying and desperate on my knees confessing with David.

I came, fraught and anxious, suspicious, daring God to speak.

But I came.  And that’s really all he asked.  Come to me.  I came, doubting.  Worried that if I surrendered there, admitted my weakness, I was already disqualified to create and I’d get a double crushing from God.  How twisted, fearful, and uncertain I was.

And He called me: Beloved. Chosen. Blessed.  

Like Mary when she learned that she was to be mother of Jesus, as she was being told by the angel that this was her destiny — doubt, disbelief, and dismay all ran through her. And yet she did not question it or seek clarification.  She boldly said, “Yes. Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said will be accomplished.”  She believed.

I’m full of doubt, disbelief and dismay. I keep thinking I’m not good enough, I’m too broken. I am certain I of all people am shattered into so many pieces that not even God can glue them, paint them, write them, duct tape them back into something useful,and in that,

I am wrong.

Jesus called to me: Beloved Sister, I love you.

I thought all my pain had made me self-centered in a gross distasteful way, “curved inward on myself” as Tim Keller calls it, “creating a dissatisfaction, irritability, an envy and brooding, a resentment toward others” whose lives aren’t as painful and difficult as mine.

I resented those whose spiritual walk seemed dreamy, whose day-to-day was so much less complex than mine.  Who seem to create so easily, have less troubles, and live full of joy – I disliked them all!

But I heard Him. He called to me, the Holy One breathed in me an awareness this weekend.

  • Broken doesn’t disqualify. 
  • Honesty and transparency are not shameful when you are living on the way to healing. When there is Grace.
  • God’s work is Restoration; he’s in the work of renewing us.
  • We are made in the image of God for a purpose, to live, to worship, to create beautiful art!

But, all for His Glory not our own.

“Whoever wants to save her life shall lose it, but whoever loses her life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:25)

This is what I see now. We’re all wounded. Some of us admit it.  

In disclosing my story, there is a cost and risk.  Living and creating on the precipice of risk and possibility, that’s petrifying.

But it can also make you gentle and empathetic. It will help you SEE others differently; both their pain and their glorious gifts and you’ll want to dance with them! I don’t naturally dance, literally or euphemistically, so this is a holy uncomfortable realization.

God made me with an inclination to be vulnerable and with a melancholy that aches within me. Many days I resist admitting how much the pain sits on me heavy, thinking it makes me look weak, less than holy, and not good enough to be a spiritual leader.

I’m learning: Confessing our anxious humanity, fraught with our need, perhaps even accepting our brokenness, this living on the edge is accepting the way God put me together.  Have you accepted the way God put you together?

And this is accepting a Holy Call.

She named me—Story Teller.  She didn’t know me or my story but she said it’s important to tell our stories.  To the audience of many, she said our Stories Matter.  As we learn to tell our Stories of Suffering, they become an Offering.  As we set aside fear, we can accept the gifts God has given us.  He didn’t make a mistake.  And this opens a Doorway to a different life.

This song says it all.

Joyful, joyful we adore thee.

God of Glory Lord of Love.

Hearts unfold like flowers before Thee,

Hail the as the sun above.

Melt the clouds of sin, sin and sadness

Drive the dark of doubt away, Drive it away

Giver of immortal gladness

Fill us Fill us with the light of day Light of day!

As Artists we live on the Edge of the Precipice and we have a Choice.  We live between the worlds of What I Am and What is Possible with God.

Because of the Hope we have in Christ, we can lay our inadequacies and fear, our sin, our broken duct taped hearts, whatever it is, we can lay it all down at Jesus feet.

We can accept that we are broken.
We must accept that we are healed, we are useful, our life has a Holy Purpose.

Both. And.

And then, we must listen to Him, with our intelligence and fierce expectation, with our minds and hearts.  This discipline of listening (John 10:3-4) is as important as our confession.

Creatives are you listening? 

How is God shaping your soul?  How did he make you, both the strong and the weak parts?  He wants both. What is he saying to you in your broken places and how is he mending you? That’s your story.  That’s your Purpose and Holy Calling. It is through our Stories that God will renew the world, in the coming together of Us and Him.

The visions are intoxicating and limitless, filling the world with the Light of his Gladness. Frederick Buechner’s challenge is to find “the voice of our own Gladness.”  That’s where we find our Call.

I woke up today, still Broken.  I’ll face this day with my Fears hanging heavy, like most days.  The difference is, today I’m refreshed and relieved to start again.  Mercifully, I’ve found some Gladness.  I’m filled with a little bit of light; the rays are shining through the shuttered places in my heart.  In sharing this I hope, just for a moment that you see it too, as you dance with the Holy that you’ll find your gladness too.

Highs and Lows of being an Artist in the Church

I know how blessed I am by my church though most of the time I wish only for a few deep connections.  

But a mega church blesses others when they can put on a quality mini-conference.  This weekend I attended the Pulse Arts conference sponsored by Blackhawk in Madison, WI.   It’s a unique event that brings together worship leaders, songwriters, visual artists, dancers and anyone who considers themselves “a creative” for a 24 hour blitz of music, learning and rubbing shoulders with others of a kind.  For one brief period it feels normal, even great, to be an artist and a Christian.

Two years ago I met a few artists at a Pulse event who have since then became more than acquaintances, though not quite friends. I am collaborating on a Stations of the Cross art show in a few weeks with six other visual artists and a half-dozen or more musicians.  This materialized from relationships made at the Pulse conference.  I had to put myself forward as wanting do something collaborative. Oh how I hate to put myself forward — It’s so scary.  More on that later.

Ego and Self-esteem.

Is it just creative types that are the unlikely and slightly grotesque blend of both insecure and full of themselves?

I speak for myself when I say that it is hard to be a creative and a follower of Jesus’ teachings.  We know we must be original, even imaginative.  We know we must put ourselves forward, promote ourselves and our work.

At an event like Pulse where there are some who have “made it” the conversations were dominated by the singers and songwriters who haven’t made it who are full of puppy dog, hero-worship.

I went this weekend wanting, even needing, to have deep discussions about art and faith — mostly our deep faith as an artist.  In that aspect I was a little disappointed.

Creating Art for Art’s sake.

(Who decides what’s good anyway?) 

Creatives live with the tension between our need to be fresh and original, all the while knowing there is no new idea under the sun. We also know for a fact that unless you promote yourself you may toil in obscurity forever.  But self-promotion is an anathema, at least to me.

I spent a lot of time this weekend thinking about this connection between making “good” art, success and self-promotion. 

Someone promotes themselves really well and gets a ton of attention for their thing, whatever it is.  I look at it and think it is about nothing.   Do I simply not know quality when I see it? How do “the Arts” and artists in general win, if we’re simply promoting (and opening doors) for our friends without being objective about the quality?  Yes, that’s the way the world works.  And if I’m unwilling to play the game, should I just give up now?

Before you start thinking I’m just whining because I haven’t personally been “discovered” I hope you will read on.  It is so much more complicated than that.

Essentially, art is useless.

We all know that.  We have complex reasons for creating.

In the positive column, the reasons are many. We hope to help others escape or enter a different place in a good beautiful way through the images or words or ideas or music we make.  We hope to challenge someone to a different way of thinking.  One of the sessions talked about creating for or out of a renewed sense of wonder with the world God created. We create to challenge and to point toward injustice and ugliness of the world, in the hopes of bringing change. And especially if we are believers, we create out of a wish to comfort and console, to move others toward the consolation of God.  This is not a Hallmark conclusion, but as Tolkien said in his essay On Fairy Stories, we accept “the happy disaster” of this life. Tolkien the master of language and communicating even made up a word for “the happy disaster” calling it eucatastrophe.

As artists who are Christians we are able to create a sacred space in time for others that accepts the long defeat of this life and yet also reflects the hope we have in Jesus.                                                      

I suppose in the end I was able to see very clearly this weekend that the “experts” are simply people a little further down the path, who are pointing out what they have learned.  Depending on their facility to talk about it, the depth of their self-awareness, the richness of their experience with Christ, and how well they tell their story, they may or may not be able to help someone else.   But there is no magic to it.

I also faced that no matter how much you may believe that you are creating something worthwhile, something more than “useless art” the tension exists that success for the artist, just like everything else in the world, and can be simplified down to being popular and cool. Yes, we’re all still living in a perpetual hell of high school.  Each of us has within us something unique to give, because we are gloriously different from one another, and yet sadly that doesn’t guarantee success.

How does One Succeed? These are the people who succeed: (mostly) Those that have a combination of skinny good looks (yes, even Christians idolize youth), an ability to communicate well with others and a willingness to do self-promote, to learn and work the system, a tireless belief in themselves and lastly a strong ego.  They are the ones that usually “make it.”  Yes, cynical me.  There are exceptions of course.

Downward Mobility of Christ

Ironically this success formula is nothing like what we Christians are called to, which is the downward mobility of Christ.

In the end I realized that I must be willing to do some of that self-promotion and there is no shame in it, if you don’t want to toil in obscurity.

But as it is equally imperative to create from an inner, original space.  And it must not, dare I say cannot, be motivated out of a desire to succeed–to reach the big time.  I must create from that place of absolute acceptance that I have received from God, the place of being loved by the Holy One.  God made only one of me, only one of you.  Do the thing he has given you, your creative work, out of that place.

Lay it down, yes your best work, as an offering to the Holy One and continue to create, write, dream, and give of your heart.

Not gazing out, or up toward the desire for success but looking down, setting it down as an offering to God. 

It may seem like you are giving away little pieces of your heart to just a few people here and there.  (Okay, I speak for myself when I say that.)

But I was encouraged this weekend.

I came away still believing that word followed by word, image by image, song by song, we are making sense of the world through our art.

Yes, we are to work

backward,

downward,

toward a perfection that is found only

in creating for the Holy One.