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Spirituality

The Heart of Art: Living Artfully in a State of Prayer

Kim Mennillo | Aug 3, 2022

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

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Kim Mennillo | Aug 3, 2022

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

Some of my most amazing insights occur in the early morning when my mind is not yet clouded with the minutiae of daily living. 

One spring morning as I prepared for a Baha’i art fundraiser, I realized I would be the only one there with creations made from stones excavated from the earth – jewelry and prayer beads with agates, jaspers, corals, fossils, minerals, semi-precious gemstones, and crystals.

In my emerging consciousness, I realized the word art is smack dab in the middle of the word earth. I love that, especially since I am a bonafide rock hound! Working with stones gives me such joy and peace. Then it hit me! All art comes from the Earth. Lead, ink, pastels, paint, paper, cloth, wood, metal, clay — all of it — at one point or another, came from some part of the earth or the flora that grows on it. Indeed, the heart of art is in the earth! The Baha’i teachings make this clear, as Abdu’l-Baha did in this speech he gave in Chicago in 1912:

All the existing arts and sciences were once hidden secrets of nature. By his command and control of nature man took them out of the plane of the invisible and revealed the in the plane of visibility …

RELATED: Nothing Sweeter: Nurturing a Practice of Prayer

Even us! Humans are created from dust and will return to dust. We create  vibrations in the air when we sing! We dance upon earth’s surface. The Earth truly is our muse. Mother Nature’s breathtaking magnificence inspires us. Other people, other cultures inspire us. Everything, earth and human, is connected in the creation of art. Everything! How utterly, spine-tinglingly astounding! 

We, in turn, honor our earthly beginnings by making art. If the heart of art is in the earth, then the soul of art is in the artist. How we make and share that art is our gift to the world. 

How does art connect with prayer? The most obvious connections occur when we sing prayers, accompany prayers with music or dance, or create a calligraphic rendering of a prayer – but any artistic expression can be a way to pray, reflect, and grow a relationship with God. Your personal devotions should be true to your style and personality, thus presenting your authentic self before God with your art. 

If you desire to incorporate more art in your spiritual life, recall yourself as a child, lost in coloring or drawing, totally focused on your masterpiece. We were probably most authentic as children, unencumbered by the duties, roles, and responsibilities of adulthood. We can tap back into that time as adults, deeply focused as we practice our preferred art form. There are documented health benefits associated with creating art; and spiritual benefits as well. Our art can be a form of prayer. We need not be professional artists. As long as we are being our true selves, we are creating art to glorify God. The author Henry Nouwen wrote:

Spiritual formation, I have come to believe, is not about steps or stages on the way to perfection. It’s about the movements from the mind to the heart through prayer in its many forms that reunite us with God, each other and our truest selves.

What spiritual practices inspire you and make you feel closer to God? Where do you see God’s creativity and imagination coming alive in you? We are children of God and created in His image, thus the act of creating honors our Creator. Let’s become childlike and uninhibited again, and be free to explore art as prayer! Abdu’l-Baha said:

There is nothing sweeter in the world of existence than prayer. Man must live in a state of prayer. The most blessed condition is the condition of prayer and supplication. Prayer is conversation with God. It creates spirituality, creates mindfulness and celestial feelings, begets new attractions of the Kingdom and engenders the susceptibilities of the higher intelligence.

How to begin combining prayer with art? Here are some guidelines:

  • Have a special place to create.
  • Determine which art medium you enjoy most or want to try.
  • Keep a journal and pen/pencil handy at all times. You never know when inspiration will hit.
  • Keep required art supplies on hand.
  • Collect photos and images that intrigue you.
  • Read holy writings, poetry, inspirational quotes, song lyrics and favorite prayers.
  • Surround yourself with color and items that bring you joy.
  • Get out in nature. Go forest bathing. Walk along a beach. Stroll through a garden.
  • Be a joy spotter. Notice everything!
  • Take lots of photos. 
  • Listen to your favorite music.
  • Watch children create things.
  • Share artistic prayer with family and friends. This will aid in the spiritual growth of your community and help advance civilization.

If you want to create art, breathe, listen, be full of wonder. Ask yourself, “What does God want to share with me?” Take time to reflect, then react. It’s nice to know an anagram of the word creative is reactive. It will be in the doing that our prayers come alive.

RELATED: What Happens to Our Unanswered Prayers?

When you create, you will see God’s imagination, creativity and beauty everywhere! His love and grace surrounds us. You will begin to live in a state of prayer. In the Baha’i teachings even work, when performed in the spirit of service to others, is considered prayer. Ultimately, whether you’re working or recreating, you’ll live in an inspired state of prayer. How marvelous! This prayer from Baha’u’llah asks God to inspire our souls:

Inspire then my soul, O my God, with Thy wondrous remembrance, that I may glorify Thy name. Number me not with them who read Thy words and fail to find Thy hidden gift which, as decreed by Thee, is contained therein, and which quickeneth the soul of Thy creatures and the hearts of Thy servants.

Finally, be kind to yourself in your artistic endeavors. There are no mistakes in art; there is also no perfection. Only God is perfect. You are doing everything right. The goal: to reunite with God and your truest self in artful prayer, as Abdu’l-Baha put it in this powerful passage:

All art is a gift of the Holy Spirit. When this light shines through the mind of a musician, it manifests itself in beautiful harmonies. Again, shining through the mind of a poet, it is seen in fine poetry and poetic prose. When the light of the Sun of Truth inspires the mind of a painter, he produces marvellous pictures. These gifts are fulfilling their highest purpose, when showing forth the praise of God.

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Comments

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  • Barbara Lachmar
    Aug 4, 2022
    -
    Kim what a wonderful insightful article! I love hearing about the connection between art in the earth and between art and prayer and contribution to the world in spirituality - thank you so much!
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