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?

Pleasure of Creating · Power Of Symbols

Beach Glass And Amazing Grace

I spend time looking for what has been “lost,” for what is left from milk, beer, and pop bottles that were tossed into a lake. Over the years that glass has been broken and churned in the sand to wash up on shores as beloved beach glass.

seaglass
Not quite the colors I find, but you get the idea!

I’ve blogged about beach glass and forgiveness. Since then I’ve found hundreds more pieces. I get home from kayaking and empty my pockets. It’s scattered all over the house: in boxes, plastic cups, jelly jars and shallow bowls, or just lying loosely on tables, shelves and my bay window. I had to empty it from my car’s cup holders because I needed the space for coffee.

All this “lost” glass is now found and ready for other purposes. I’ve made earrings and wrapped pieces for necklaces to wear or give away as gifts. I could add glass stain to the clear pieces for some nifty color. Stained glass or wrapping them for a “wind chime” effect would be lovely.

The old hymn, “Amazing Grace” says, “I once was lost, but now am found.”  These “lost” but now “found objects” have given me the chance to think imaginatively (How can I use these? What would that look like?) and hopefully create some beautiful work. All that time, sometimes decades, all that churning in the sand, tossing by the wind and waves, to finally come to frothy rest on the shore. Now dropped into my pockets to be reimagined and recreated into something new.

Sounds like a spiritual lesson here, doesn’t it, describing God’s work in our lives? I keep learning it over and over.

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.

Art and Knowing · Pleasure of Creating · Uncategorized

How To Untie A Knot

Knots on a sail boat
Knots on a sail boat

“Better to know a knot and not need it, than need a knot and not know it” is the enthusiastic motto of Animated Knots by Grog (TM). Knots have hundreds of creative names and a quick online check shows an International Guild of Knot Tyers, even knot historians. Who knew?

Knots can be part of an art work because they can be crafted into aesthetically appealing lines and shapes. If you work in fabric or wool you know how knots add beauty and texture to your work. Even knots for fly tying are not just functional, but quite beautiful.

As kids we learned the hard lessons of the granny knot. Other knots are elegant as they come undone, like the grief knot. There’s even an art to it: “It unravels elegantly: as tension is applied, the ropes rotate like little cogs, each one twisting to feed the rope through the knot.” (Wikipedia)

I don’t know about you, but when knots in my life have unraveled, it hasn’t been elegant or pretty. Not much “art” in evidence in that coming apart.

fishing knot

Other knots have had years of wind, weather and tension hardening them into shape, much like the knot on my sailboat’s main sheet (line.) When it finally gives, it won’t unravel, it will snap, and I’ll capsize. (Why I keep checking it.)  Better to undo it and let the wind and weather relax it into a new shape. Better to catch it before.

Can I find elegance in the unraveling?  Can I find the humility to undo the knot?

I am in need of grace. God.

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?

 

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.

Pleasure of Creating

God’s Perfect First Draft

I create heeding Anne Lamott’s advice, but maybe I should also write and live according to Evelyn Underhill’s vision. She compares the artistic process to God’s creative activity in us.

Creation is the activity of the artist possessed by the vision of perfection; who, by means of the raw material with which he works, tries to give more and more perfect expression to his idea, his inspiration, or his love. 

I don’t know about you, but when I sit down to create art (in my case, write) I’m not usually possessed by a vision of perfection and I’m much less able to express it. I appreciate Underhill’s lofty goals, but I’m usually possessed by earthly (or earthy) thoughts and it’s a struggle to get them on paper.

Painting by Adolf Holzer 19th century
Painting by Adolf Holzer 19th century

My writing, at least in its early stages, is less like Underhill and more like Anne Lamott’s s***** first draft.  I’m often tempted to stop there because I’ll never attain the “perfection” of Underhill.  It’s not worth the struggle, the hours, or the effort.

But wait, there’s more from Underhill.

From this point of view, each human spirit is an unfinished product, on which the Creative Spirit is always at work.

What an amazing idea: God changes us not to revise a lousy “first draft,” but to craft in us—an unfinished product–his vision of love.  He is the Artist possessed by the vision of who we can be.

Lamott encourages writers to write and not worry about “perfection.” That’s what revision is for.

But I’m glad to know that no matter what we have done, God doesn’t look at us like an imperfect first draft that He needs to revise.  His creative work is to express his vision—of perfection–in us.