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Thursday, July 23, 2020

Holy Family | By John Hougen

This summer, we are featuring meaningful art in our new blog series: Art and Identity. In this week's post, John Hougen reflects on anger and rebirth through oil pastels. If you have artwork and commentary you'd like to share, please email Liz er@interfaithphiladelphia.org and Andrew jaf@interfaithphiladelphia.org

One of the turning points in my life was facilitated by the spiritual exercise of Art Journaling. I have practiced Art Journaling on and off for the 23 years I have known Sister Marianne Hieb RSM. She is a spiritual director who has encouraged me to use simple art materials to explore what’s happening in my mind, heart, and soul. (See Hieb, Marianne. Inner Journeying Through Art Journaling: Learning to See and Record your Life as a Work of Art. London and Philadelphia, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2005.)

I created this piece while I was a Regional Director for Lutheran Campus Ministry. I had returned from a series of meetings with Bishops and their Synods’ Campus Ministry Committees. It had not gone well. I was angry with myself and the people I met with. My proposals had been rejected, and nobody came up with anything better. 

That night, I took out a large sheet of paper and oil pastels. I made hard angry lines of orange and red. I added black lines of despair. Then, I noticed that the black lines looked like a music staff and the oval looked like a whole note. I turned it into an agitated eighth note. Take that! Angrily, I rubbed and rubbed with my thumb and fingers, adding more color until the entire paper was filled. 

I sat back and looked, relieved because I’d gotten my anger and utter frustration out of my gut and onto the paper. After looking at it for several minutes, I did what Sr. Marianne did when I brought my art into our spiritual direction sessions. I turned the painting on its side, then upside down, and then onto its other side…

I was stunned! What I saw was a nativity scene, the holy family in the stable: Mary holding the baby Jesus, Joseph wearing a red head covering on one side and the angel leaning over them on the other. 

…. What or who was that over in the lower right corner? Immediately I knew it was me; and the long arm of Jesus was extended, bringing me in to be part of his holy family. I was loved. Persuading others with convincing arguments and finding practical solutions to intractable problems was not the way to approach my ministry. Instead, I was to soak in the warmth of holy inclusion and the joy of being Jesus’ brother in the holy family. My calling was to be loved and to relax into whatever God would reveal for the future. 

Then it hit me: the long arm of Jesus’ embrace also is reaching for others. If God can reach out to pull me closer when I am angry and frustrated, bitter and cynical, then who would be excluded? No one! God’s embrace is wide enough to reach the people who frustrated me during our meetings, the entire Christian Church, all people of faith; indeed, everyone! 

Art Journaling has been an important factor in my faith formation. Because of it, plus other study and experiences, I am committed to a radical version of the Lutheran understanding of God’s grace. I believe God’s affirming and accepting love is freely given to all people, whatever they do, whatever they believe, whoever they are. I strive to live with gratitude for being included, and to treat others as beloved siblings in God’s Holy Family.


1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing this intimate creative moment. Thrilling! Humbling. Beautiful.

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