Beauty In Life · Feeling God's Pleasure · Pleasure of Creating · Spiritual Places · Touching Transcendence · Uncategorized

A Retreat For Christian Creatives, Updated!

Good morning.

You may or may not have noticed that I haven’t blogged for a while. I’ve taken a hiatus to refocus, but mostly, I’m now working on a book that I’m really excited about, a book about how God wants us to create and imagine and feel His pleasure while we’re doing it. (You’ll be hearing more about that later.)

A great place to write!
A great place to write!

I’m also working more on promoting a retreat that I first held last spring, Blue Wind Retreats for Christians in Creative Expression. “Blue” represents our creative work, and “Wind” is the breath of the Holy Spirit who fills our work and glorifies Jesus in it.

I’ve pasted the (old) blog about the retreat below. We enjoyed our first day long event at SansMoco Art Gallery in Greenville, PA. The Lord is leading me to move it to an actual retreat center, a “destination” if you will, where folks can really enjoy the sense of “getting away.” So the next one will be at Villa Maria Education and Spirituality Center, Villa Maria, PA (western Pennsylvania), November 6 – 8, 2015.

If you are interested, or know anyone who might be, here’s a link for the brochure. I appreciate your consideration. But most of all, I covet your prayer for this new venture. I believe there is a real need for Christians to make time to get away from all the noise and get alone with God. He wants us to value our imaginative and creative gifts as much as He does. Blue Wind Retreats will hopefully provide that space and create a community of like minded, creative believers for networking and fellowship.

Thanks for your time.

Beach Glass from an October search
Beach Glass from an October search

Lora Zill

Blue Wind Retreats: A Gathering For Christians In Creative Expression

As a Christian artist/writer, I often don’t give myself time to pursue what feeds and restores my spirit. It’s tough to justify the total focus my latest project demands when other, seemingly more pressing issues, demand my attention.

But when I’m creative, I feel God’s pleasure. Why do I have to justify (even to myself) the time I spend in His presence?

During my last prayer retreat at the Benedictine Monastery, God spoke to me to begin a retreat for Christians who practice creative expression. You can be an artist or crafter, jewelry maker or woodworker, composer or a dancer, in other words, anyone who feels the need to make time to create.

He gave me the name: BlueWind Retreats. “Blue” to represent creative work, and “Wind” for the Holy Spirit who glorifies Jesus and breathes life into our expression.

Scene of my sister's home near Clearfield, PA made from cut and painted glass
Scene of my sister’s home near Clearfield, PA made from cut and painted glass

I will offer workshops on imagination and creativity, including a Scriptural basis for our creative gifts. My friend Ben Beck, a fellow artist passionate about Christians in the arts and director of SansMOCO Art Gallery in Greenville, PA, will help host and teach a workshop. There will be time to work on your art or craft and share if you like.

Our focus will always be, not on the artist within, but on The Artist Within: Jesus, in Whom and through Whom all things are created.

If you are interested, I talk about this more on my website.  Here’s a link for more information and a downloadable brochure. My first retreat is in April 2015.

I covet your prayer for this new venture. I believe God is in it. It’s time for God’s people to have confidence in their creative gifts and in His power to use them.

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Feeling God's Pleasure · Losing Your Mind · Pleasure of Creating · Spiritual Places · Touching Transcendence

A Retreat For Christian Creatives

As a Christian artist/writer, I often don’t give myself time to pursue what feeds and restores my spirit. It’s tough to justify the total focus my latest project demands when other, seemingly more pressing issues, demand my attention.

But when I’m creative, I feel God’s pleasure. Why do I have to justify (even to myself) the time I spend in His presence?

During my last prayer retreat at the Benedictine Monastery, God spoke to me to begin a retreat for Christians who practice creative expression. You can be an artist or crafter, jewelry maker or woodworker, composer or a dancer, in other words, anyone who feels the need to make time to create.

Paper Roses from old hymnal pages
Paper Roses from old hymnal pages

He gave me the name: BlueWind Retreats. “Blue” to represent creative work, and “Wind” for the Holy Spirit who glorifies Jesus and breathes life into our expression.

I will offer workshops on imagination and creativity, including a Scriptural basis for our creative gifts. My friend Ben Beck, a fellow artist passionate about Christians in the arts and director of SansMOCO Art Gallery in Greenville, PA, will help host and teach a workshop. There will be time to work on your art or craft and share if you like.

Our focus will always be, not on the artist within, but on The Artist Within: Jesus, in Whom and through Whom all things are created.

If you are interested, I talk about this more on my website.  Here’s a link for more information and a downloadable brochure. My first retreat is in April 2015.

I covet your prayer for this new venture. I believe God is in it. It’s time for God’s people to have confidence in their creative gifts and in His power to use them.

Creativity of Language · Feeling God's Pleasure · Pleasure of Creating

Bruce Hornsby and Touching Transcendence

Bruce Hornsby at the Wanee Festival, 2012 by  Mark Johnson, Blue Ridge, SC via Wikimedia Commons
Bruce Hornsby at the Wanee Festival, 2012
by Mark Johnson, Blue Ridge, SC via Wikimedia Commons

How many artists strive for excellence and transcendence?

Recently I heard Bruce Hornsby, one of the best, if not the best rock/jazz/pop/blues pianists in the country, in concert at the Kent Stage. I knew him from his days with his band “The Range” from the 1980’s and love his mega hits “The Way It Is” and “Mandolin Rain.”

At this stage in his career he is exploring different musical languages and creating new sounds and effects. For his latest cd “Solo Concerts” and during the live concert he mixed the modern classical music of Schoenberg and Elliott Carter with New Orleans blues, modal folk, hymnal, and boogie. A few times he began a familiar piano riff from one of his radio hits, but then segued into atonal bars and never returned (as far as I could tell) to the familiar.

The liner notes from “Solo Concerts” says that he is searching for “inspiration, challenges, and new vistas…a search for inspiration and transcendent moments; moments that give you chills, make you cry, laugh, or make your head move.”

Emily Dickinson talked about the power of art (in her case, writing) to take the top of your head off. I admire Bruce’s quest for excellence, for inspiration and big moments. I think sometimes we are so focused on producing clean copy for an editor or an “aha!” for our audience that we don’t recognize the “aha’s” that are there for us as well.

If the artist doesn’t touch transcendence, how will the audience?

In future posts I’ll be discussing what “touching transcendence” means.

Beauty In Life · Feeling God's Pleasure · Pleasure of Creating

Steve Jobs: Bringing Beauty To Life

Have you ever reflected on why you pay the money to own an iphone?  Or why you shell out bigger bucks to own an ipad rather than a cheaper tablet from someone else? (If you’re an Android user you’ll get a “take away” too from this blog.)

Steve Jobs’ love for simple and elegant design drove his professional vision.  His “big idea” or “mission statement,” if you will, guided his product development. He believed that technology can be and should be intuitive and easy to use and pushed his engineers to develop products that fulfilled those beliefs.

These products (including ipods and ipads) have become so integrated with our lives we can’t imagine living without them.  But they aren’t only functional, they are lovely, sleek, and elegant. Form and function complement each other; one has not been sacrificed for the other.

Todd's iphone
Todd’s iphone

I’m not a shill for Steve Jobs. But I appreciate how he intuited the importance of beauty when we had been conditioned to believe that elegance served function, if it appeared at all. (This is a general statement, I’m sure you can think of exceptions.) But our “conditioning” is changing. More and more products, from potato peelers to plastic shampoo bottles, motorcycles to personal watercraft, are now beautiful and elegant as well as functional.

I think our love of beauty and ease of use arises from God’s creation. Surely God was the first One interested in bringing beauty and elegance into our everyday lives. Our appreciation and desire for it reflects His desires for us.

Not a bad thing, this integration of beauty and art into our daily lives, wouldn’t you say?

Feeling God's Pleasure · Pleasure of Creating · Spiritual Places · Uncategorized

The Root Of Creativity

“When we say that someone is a deep person, we mean they have achieved a quiet, dependable mind by being rooted in something spiritual and permanent.” (David Brooks, “The Deepest Self,” The New York Times, March 14, 2014.)

Practicing creativity through doing your art or other kinds of creative acts is one way of rooting yourself in that spiritual, permanent place Brooks describes. But sometimes, we catch ourselves not quite achieving that “quiet, dependable mind.”  We still feel unsettled, not “rooted.”

An accomplished artist once recognized a missing element as she went about doing her creative work.  “I’m missing something valuable that would guide me deeper into creativity.” Though she doesn’t profess a specific faith, she prays and believes God answers. But she wants to know what that “something” is and how to get it.

Part of the Sistine Chapel, Michelango
Part of the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo

I think Christians are similar to this artist, in that we want more from creativity but we don’t know what “it” is or how to get “it.” We engage in creative pursuits and intuitively sense there’s something “missing.” We want to know God more deeply, but don’t know how creativity will move us toward that goal. We keep our creative lives separate from our spiritual lives.

Once an editor of a Christian publishing house asked me, “Why is it that nonChristian artists describe creating art as a spiritual experience and Christians don’t?”

What if our longing to be creative and doing it is seeking the kingdom of God? That desire may just be God inside of us wanting expression, from His “spiritual and permanent” place in our hearts.  I need to honor Him by allowing Him to work.

Feeling God's Pleasure · Pleasure of Creating · Spiritual Places

Flash Mobs: Surprised By Joy

I love the Flash Mobs who surprise by joy, often with spontaneous (or planned) explosions of public music and dance.

There are lots of variations. “Flash mobs” share (at least in the videos I’ve seen) in train stations, hospital lobbies, outdoor parks, or shopping malls. One performer arrives, sets up, and begins to play, sing, or dance. Bit-by-bit, they are joined by other artists (or interested parties) who enter into the work. Dancers move to prerecorded music by the supergroup ABBA or Rodgers and Hammerstein. Vocalists sing Handel’s Messiah; musicians play Ravel or Tchaikovsky. (Check the links for examples.) A videographer catches the faces of the spectators, whose looks range from wariness, to pleasant surprise, to total engrossment and pleasure, even outbursts of joy.

But I want to reflect on what I see in the musicians and dancers in Flash Mobs:

Flash Mob Adam Kliczek/Wikipedia, CC-BY-SA-3.0
Flash Mob
Adam Kliczek/Wikipedia, CC-BY-SA-3.0

1)  For the most part they betray no self-consciousness, seemingly losing themselves in the moment. They’re focused on the transcendent goal of joining together for the love of their art and audience. Or they are just enjoying a spontaneous moment of fun with friends or strangers.

2)  The element of surprise is an important part of the moment. The performers have the joy of creating it and the audience of receiving it. Or perhaps the participants have surprised themselves by a new breath of courage.

3) The artists embrace newness. The musicians must get used to a new venue and acoustics that demand a different focus. The dancers must dance on dirt or dust, not on a real floor. All accept and go with it, incorporating it into the moment.

Flash Mobs: Seems to be much I can absorb for a new day.

What do you see?

 

Art and Knowing · Feeling God's Pleasure · Spiritual Places · Uncategorized

The Decision: “All In”

Photo taken at Fresh Grounds Coffeehouse, Greenville, PA
Photo taken at Fresh Grounds Coffeehouse, Greenville, PA

An artist friend told me recently that he is quitting his job and devoting himself to his art—painting–full time. “I’m all in,” he said, “I don’t want to come to the end of my life having never done it. The time is now.”

This artist has worked hard for years and has the talent to achieve his dream. Will he? He doesn’t know. But he has to try.

His words witnessed with my spirit. I shared how I have recently come to understand my call and how I’m pursuing it. I love teaching, but have devoted myself to discovering the intersection of faith and creativity through writing.  I’m not quitting my day job, as this artist is, at least for now. But I am “all in.”

For me, “all in” means distinguishing between choices and making decisions, what I do and not do, where I go and not go, who I spend time with and who I don’t, based on their relationship to my call. I measure my life each day by that standard. It really is that simple, though following through often isn’t.

“God has given me a great gift,” I told the artist. “I have to find out if I’m worthy of it.”

Like my artist friend, I don’t know if I will “succeed” or not.  I don’t know what else this gift will  demand of me.  But I don’t want to reach the end of my life, however long or short it is, not having pursued God’s highest purposes.

I’m “all in.”

Feeling God's Pleasure · Pleasure of Creating · Uncategorized

Guitar Hero Wannabe

Being around people passionate about what they do is contagious. They make you want to go out and not waste another minute pursuing your own dreams.

Martin DX1AE
Martin DX1AE

I’ve been on the prowl for a new guitar and a friend recommended NStuff Music  (“Family owned and operated since 1968”) in Blawnox, one of the many small boroughs surrounding Pittsburgh. (You really need to hear a native Picksburgher say “Blawnox.”)

So I walked into this nondescript store and became a drip of estrogen in the sea of testosterone. Men sat on stools picking and strumming, men lined the counters and aisles, men talked guitars and listened to guitars. The walls were awash with the instruments.

I kidded one employee that I wasn’t the right gender or young or “hip” enough and he just waved me off, laughing.  Once I found my way to the second floor acoustic section I was just one more guitar lover, tucked in a little room, playing guitars. (A player with a baritone bass joined me and we talked guitars. He invited me to try his bass. I did.) The Martin or Taylor guitar that “talked to me” would be mine.

It was the Martin. I told the Martin rep the least he could do was throw in a T shirt. “C.F. Martin & Co. Heart/Tone/Legend. Stay tuned.” As I stood at the counter a shaggy haired guy who could’ve been (or still is) a Deadhead smiled knowingly and nodded. “You’ll love your Martin. I love mine.”

I do love it. But I also appreciate the love of those men (and the few women) for their art and the tools of their trade. If my passion ever gets watered down, I’ll remember those black T shirts at NStuff Music.

Feeling God's Pleasure · Spiritual Places · Uncategorized

Circling the Olympic Rings

USA Olympic Committee Logo
USA Olympic Committee Logo

I admire the dedication of the marvelous athletes competing in the 2014 Olympic Games. They freely undergo the rigors of training and the sacrifices it demands with no promise of reward.

The most meaningful commercials during the games show the athletes competing now, then growing younger, always involved with their sport. The sliders began sliding in their backyards. The skaters began as tiny children on roller skates. The tag line reminds us how every big moment is preceded by many little moments. Decisions made daily, for years, directing lives toward a goal.

I turn to Evelyn Underhill for a spiritual connection. In The Spiritual Life she says we must give time and attention to our spiritual lives, “a deliberate drawing in from the circumference to the center, ‘that setting of life in order’ as St. Thomas Aquinas prayed.”

These athletes have drawn in to the center and have “set their lives in order” to pursue their goals. I am humbled by their devotion to earthly glory. How much more do I need to be passionately devoted to spiritual things? I spend too much time on the circumference of spiritual Olympic Rings, skirting the responsibilities and demands of pursuing my calling. I circle, circle, circle, but don’t “draw in.”

In a week or so, the 2014 Winter Olympics will be over. The athletes will return to their more or less “normal” lives, which for many means training for the next Winter Games. So, what exactly, will I do with my “normal” life?

Art and Storytelling · Art As Conversation · Feeling God's Pleasure · Trust Issues · Uncategorized

Whose Line Is It Anyway?

I’m not very good at “improv” games.  I’ve heard it said that writers usually aren’t because they’re trained in careful, disciplined choices of language and “improv” encourages spontaneous dialogue and interaction.   “Improv” doesn’t have rules, or judgment, or make room for “error” because there isn’t any.  There are no criteria to live up to or judge by.  The only requirement is the willingness to participate and openness to spontaneity.  "Improv"

But it takes courage to play “improv.”  You have put away self-consciousness, trust yourself and the other players, “be present” in the moment, and follow the process where it leads.  It’s also not a “secret” process or one accomplished in your prayer closet.  It’s out in the open, public, usually with an audience who participates and responds by approving (or not) through clapping, hooting, laughing, friendly yells, yawning in boredom or checking their cell phones.

I am a good audience for “improv.”  I usually catch a joke, or see the possibility of one when it wasn’t intended.  I laugh well.  But I can also see where I can add some “improv” to my life.  I can recognize the many areas of life where I can be spontaneous and make decisions purely for the enjoyment and pleasure they offer.  Not everything in life bears a heavy moral or ethical dilemma or is reason to be “outraged.”  I’ve blogged about Eric Liddell and feeling God’s pleasure.  Maybe it’s time for me to discover more of my own!