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.

Art and Eternity · Touching Transcendence · Uncategorized

Turning Down The Noise

In a vintage song Carly Simon thanks her new lover for showing her how to “turn down the noise” in her mind. I don’t know what her lover did that encouraged her to change her life, but she was grateful.

No new lover here. The powerful and moving witness of the 21 Martyrs, the Coptic Christians murdered in Libya, and their families, has compelled me to turn down the noise in my mind. A brother of two of the martyrs was quoted by Kathryn Jean Lopez in “Heaven In the Face of Hell”  (National Review Online): “We are proud to have this number of people from our village who have become martyrs,” he explained. Lopez asks: “Who would have an ounce of gratitude at such a moment? The answer: one who has hope — hope of something real and eternal.”

Is my hope that real?

Coptic Church in Cairo, Egypt By Effeietsanders (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons
Coptic Church in Cairo, Egypt
By Effeietsanders (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

Lopez again: “It sounds crazy to a modern secular society, one that tends to view religious faith as sentiment, comfort, and milestone ritual.” I hate to say it, but many Christians, myself included, view faith as a source of comfort. It’s a cozy way to think about life.

I hunger for a robust faith that speaks as the brother of two martyrs. That’s why I’m so passionate about the arts, imagination and creativity in the Christian faith. The arts give us a way to wrestle with these profound questions of hope and a faith even unto death. A robust art will help me turn down the noise and focus on what’s eternal. It will help me develop a robust faith that can speak with confidence in a God of hope.

Art and Knowing · Touching Transcendence · Uncategorized

But Still I Write

I met a publisher at a conference and pitched her my book idea about how engaging in imagination and creativity strengthens our relationship with Jesus. She asked for a proposal. Her evaluation: “You’ve hit a felt need about the divine origins of creativity. But I don’t know how to sell it.”

I pitched an agent at another conference. He said, “I absolutely love your idea. But nobody will buy it.” I found out this agent was so impressed he used it as an example during his class—of a great idea that wouldn’t sell.

Another agent has expressed an interest, but no commitments. That’s how the “biz” works. You can spend years of your life writing, end up with a hard drive full of work, and that’s where it stays.

Window, Mount St. Benedict Monastery Chapel, Erie, PA
Window, Mount St. Benedict Monastery Chapel, Erie, PA

I’ve been working on this for a year and a half. I have good friends who write fiction and talk of writing thousands of words in a week. I have spent an afternoon on one page. I’m not only cranking out a philosophy and theology of the nature of artistic creation, I’m also on a personal journey to figure out how it works for me. If I can’t articulate that for myself, then I won’t be able to reach an audience.

I won’t say I haven’t gotten discouraged, because I have. But that nagging Voice says, “Write it. Write it.” If I go a while without facing that blank page, or the pages waiting for revision, I get restless. I have to write. Then I pace around the house, make another pot of coffee, check my e mail for the umpteenth time, all to avoid facing my fear. Maybe I am delusional. Who am I to think this is God? The professionals, whose judgment I trust, say (so far) it’s a non starter.

But still I write.

Power Of Symbols · Uncategorized

Why I Am Not Saying “Je Suis Charlie”

I cannot say “Je Suis Charlie.” This is not meant to be mean spirited or disrespectful. By not saying it, I am paying utmost respect to my fellow writers and artists who paid for their calling with their lives.

All I can do is stand humbled by the thought, “What would I do?” What would I do in the face of a threat on my life because of what I believed? Would I have the courage of those writers, editors, publishers and cartoonists?

Think about what you're saying with this serious meme.
What are we really saying with this serious meme?

“Je Suis Charlie” is a great sentiment, sincerely held and believed. Right now it’s comforting many people and helping them feel strong in the face of this horrific crime. I know how important that is in the face of such personal, professional, and national tragedy. Serious memes like this or others like “Boston Strong” capture our imagination and unite us.

But for me, this is a time of reflection. Do I have that kind of courage? Would I stand strong in the face of such an existential threat?

Honestly, I don’t know. So far, I have not had to make that choice: my art or my life. I’ve not had to make an even more important choice of Jesus or my life.

I will respect my God given gifts–and the memory of my fellow artists–by challenging myself to aspire to the highest reaches of my art.

Art and Storytelling · Uncategorized

Joseph and the Angel: The Big “But” in Christmas

If I see too many “buts” in a story by one of my students I circle them and ask for a rewrite. But I put my pen away when it comes to the “buts” in my life’s story…many times those interruptions or contrary circumstances have changed the course of my life.

I would have bought the other house but for a reluctant seller. I love the one I’m in.
I would have run for re-election but for a nagging voice telling me I’d had enough. Now I’m following a different call.

You fill in your blank: “I would have _________________ but for ________________. Now I’m ________________”

There is a big BUT in the Bible that not only changed the course of a life, but of history. Joseph discovered his betrothed was pregnant. He wanted to “do right” by Mary, so he considered privately divorcing her. His plan was an extraordinary act of kindness, because by rights he could have made Mary into a public spectacle.

The Dream of Saint Joseph by Anton Raphael Mengs. 1773-4
The Dream of Saint Joseph by Anton Raphael Mengs. 1773-4

BUT, and a big “but,” an angel showed up to change his plans. God had another idea. Joseph was sensitive enough to listen, abandon his plans and follow God’s.

How often have you had a “BUT” in your story? Does that “but” represent an act of God in your life? Was God trying to speak to you through a series of “buts?”

I’ve needed every one of the many “buts” in my story. I bet you have too. No rewrites at all. God’s “buts” are the rewrite. Everything after is a revision, a much better revision than I could ever achieve on my own.


Note: This blog idea came from Rev. Nathan Seckinger’s sermon at Greenville Alliance Church on November 30.  Check it out!

Spiritual Places · Touching Transcendence · Uncategorized

The Search For Transcendence: The Experience of War

37 mm gun crew in battle, Saipan, 1944
37 mm gun crew in battle, Saipan, 1944

In his book What It Is Like To Go To War (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2011) Karl Marlantes describes fighting in the Vietnam War and the actions of men he served with. Marlantes steps back to reflect after watching a comrade charge into the heat of battle, seemingly oblivious to the danger.

Why? Who was he doing this for? What is this thing in young men? We were beyond ourselves, beyond politics, beyond good and evil. This was transcendence.

War is transcendent? Marlantes describes how war calls out of warriors qualities that feel mystical: awareness of your inevitable death, concern for others above yourself, feeling part of a community, and focus on the moment.

I’ve had many family members in military service. My dad served in the Army during the Korean War. Aunts, uncles, cousins served; some were “lifers” or married “lifers.” I do not pretend to adequately discuss the sacrifice of our warriors. But can we look at a bigger idea: our desire to touch transcendence. I don’t know if any military recruit enlists for that reason. But once they find themselves in the heat of battle, in the middle of a moral or ethical dilemma, or completing a successful mission, do they experience a moment, a feeling they will never forget? That changes them forever? Is that why loyalty to comrades is so strong and something civilians envy?

But we haven’t paid the price for that moment of transcendence. We haven’t undergone the rigors of training, serving, separation from loved ones, or war. It’s a price often paid with a life.

We want that transcendence too, but look for it in ways that aren’t so costly or fraught with peril. That search seems to be built into every human being.

Do you search for transcendence?

Art and Knowing · Beauty In Life · Spiritual Places · Uncategorized

Go On ‘Til You Find What You’re Looking For

Those who watch us pursue our passions often don’t understand what they see us do, or why we do it.

This past summer I was on the hunt again for beach glass in an area frequented by boaters and folks playing with their dogs. A couple was sitting on an old picnic table as I approached, head down, scanning the sand.

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

The man called out. “What are you lookin’ for?”

I played a little coy. I’ve met other searchers on the beach and we’ve compared our finds. But just then I didn’t want to divulge that location as a rich source of glass. But there was also no reason not to be honest.

I looked up. “Oh, just some pieces of glass, maybe some cool rocks, and I pick up garbage too.” (All true.)

The man chuckled and ribbed me in a friendly way. “From the looks of it you haven’t found much.”

All he could see was me walking with my hands in my pockets. I smiled.

“Yeah, some days are better than others.”

In my pocket my right hand jiggled two dozen pieces of glass from just that day, a “better” one. The man didn’t understand what he was seeing. But I knew what I was looking for.

Could be you are pursuing your passion and loved ones don’t understand what you’re doing or why. They don’t know you’ve found it, or that you’re simply content in the process until you do. All they can see is you don’t seem to be what they consider “successful.”

But still you go on, until you find what you’re looking for.




Beauty In Life · Power Of Symbols · Spiritual Places · Uncategorized

More Sacred Spaces: Beauty For All

The beauty of Sacred Spaces must please God and the people who enjoy them.

St. Hedwig Church on East Third in downtown Erie was built in Tudor Gothic style. Two “crowning interior features” are an 18th c. baroque crucifix hanging over the altar and an icon depicting the “Black Madonna and Child” sacred to Polish Catholics. I was also captivated by the stunning blue ceiling and stained glass windows (pictured).

Ceiling, St. Hedwigs Church
Ceiling, St. Hedwigs Church












Altar area, St. Matthew's Lutheran
Altar area, St. Matthew’s Lutheran

St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church on West 7th was built in a Romanesque Revival style and considers itself a traditional “neighborhood” church.  I loved the cross hanging over the altar, the focal point of the sanctuary.

I believe a “sacred space” can exist whenever and wherever you meet with God. But the sanctuaries set aside for worship and buildings that house His work and the work of His people deserve special attention. Given tight budgets and differing priorities for precious resources, we may not see new construction like this again. Those that tend these sacred spaces also deserve recognition, from the priests, organists, volunteer “docents,”and cleaning workers to the ladies who provided refreshments for visitors. I also am grateful for the woman at St. Mary’s who shared warm words of comfort with a stranger.

They welcome strangers, perhaps even angels, and so welcome Jesus Himself.

Power Of Symbols · Spiritual Places · Uncategorized

More Sacred Spaces: Where Do You Find Beauty?

Interior, First Presbyterian Church of the Covenant, Erie, PA
Interior, First Presbyterian Church of the Covenant, Erie, PA

Here are more photos of my recent visit of downtown Erie (PA) churches which opened their doors for the public during the Erie County Historical Society’s Fall “Sacred Spaces” Tour.

First Presbyterian Church of the Covenant on West 7th Street, Erie, PA is built in the image of a Gothic Revival Cathedral. It reminded me immediately of the National Cathedral in Washington, D. C. Its Vicary Organ, with 103 ranks and 6,000 + pipes, was designed and built specifically for the sanctuary’s acoustics. A tour guide had me balance on a cement wall outside where I could see a gargoyle through an archway. You don’t need to balance while standing in the magnificent sanctuary enveloped in organ music worship.


Exterior View, First Presbyterian Church of the Covenant, Erie, PA
Exterior View, First Presbyterian Church of the Covenant, Erie, PA













The sanctuary of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Church on East Ninth Street is lined with statues, including St. Anthony of Padua and St. Benedict. Only a heart of stone would refuse to be moved by The Pieta.  There is nothing else to say….

The Pieta, St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Church
The Pieta, St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Church
Power Of Symbols · Spiritual Places · Uncategorized

Sacred Spaces: Where Do You Find Beauty?

Stained Glass Windows, St. Patrick’s, Erie, PA

Where do you find your sacred space? You may find it in your local place of worship, a favorite spot in nature, or even in your living room during personal prayer time. Probably most of us would call a “sacred space” wherever we meet with God, formally or informally.

But whenever we want to meet with other believers in a sacred space we usually head for sanctuaries in established churches or created in other places. Some sanctuaries are ornate with religious art or intricate carvings, others emphasize simplicity and function. Speaking as a Protestant, many contemporary Protestant churches prefer less ornamentation and few, if any, objects appreciated just for their beauty. This may reflect a common sense attitude toward allocating scarce resources.  I think we’re missing something by not emphasizing beauty in our spaces, but that’s another blog!

Older Protestant churches built in a different era are often stunning in their architectural details and interior design.  Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches have always included much beauty in their sanctuaries and exteriors.

Today and next week I’ll be sharing my photos (shot with permission) of the downtown Erie (PA) churches I recently visited as part of the Sacred Spaces Tour sponsored by the Erie County (PA) Historical Society. I visited Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, and Lutheran churches. As beautiful as they are, these spaces are only a reflection of the beauty of God. But I think He’s pleased to be so represented.


These life sized, hand carved, and recently restored Stations of the Cross are resident in St. Patrick’s (Romanesque Revival), the “Spirit of the Bayfront.” The stained glass windows have also been restored.

St. Patrick’s, Erie, PA, Interior View