“Do whatever brings you to life…create whatever causes a revolution in your heart.” Elizabeth Gilbert
I am a creator artist of an unusual sort. Reading the quote above called me to a new awareness of this. My mission of “creating contemplative communities” means I am a creator. I am creating. And yet, as is always true with art, the truth is closer to this: unique art is being created through me by The Artist.
My art consists of creating groups of people who practice the presence of God. But even that sounds too arrogant. What really happens all over New Orleans is that I gather groups of people who become the raw materials with which The Artist creates. The people choose to let their own lives be those materials used by The Artist. My work is being the gatherer.
But even that sounds like a stretch. Because people often contact me to ask about a contemplative group, or class, or workshop, or retreat. They take the initiative after hearing about us. Friends also suggest I contact their friends who might be interested in gathering with us. Sometimes those friends take the bait and take the risk to join us.
So how is it that I am a creator artist?
Several years ago I started walking away from my life, the life I was then living. I wanted to create something that was causing “a revolution in my heart.” I wanted to spend my time gathering people into small communities who would practice the presence of God. That was the art I wanted to make with my life.
Now I see a larger Truth: The Artist Creator was nudging me to gather people together so their lives could become a canvas for beautiful, amazing, alive art.
Creating contemplative communities is making alive art out of human beings. My role seems to be as gatherer of those people. Then The Artist Creator can begin the artistry.
The group members, as in the photo of senior adults at Mercy Endeavors above, become the fabric, the canvas, the blank page. As people gather for contemplative practice and group sharing, their varied fabrics are being sewn into some mysterious design. Life stories of raw human experience become shades of paint The Artist will use. The Writer and Filmmaker will unite the experiences and stories into a fascinating live documentary.
We say our mission in The School for Contemplative Living is “creating contemplative communities who practice the presence of God for personal transformation and radical engagement with the world.” We say we are creating, but aren’t we the ones being created, transformed, engaged by The Artist Creator?
The artistic creation we are becoming is alive, organic, ever-changing. We unfold moment by moment. This is mind-blowing to me. Most art is static. The canvas is still. But our colors dance. The words on the page have been printed into place and they will not move. But the art we are is changing every moment of every day. We are alive art!
As we practice the presence of God in some hospital, or university, or church, or home, imperceptible changes are going on across the inner canvas of each group member. Thoughts of the thousand things are passing through our awareness and being released, like fabrics we chose to put aside. Emotions rumble through us, have their way with us, work us over, and then move along out of consciousness. The Artist sets them aside to bring forth a lasting beauty beneath whatever is temporary or ugly in us.
Our lives are being transformed one stroke at a time, as colors, not of our own choosing, are brushed over us. Contemplative transformation is just like this: we consent and become receptive to The Creator’s best work in us.
The worn out colors of old compulsions and cracked memories are slowly replaced by vivid colors in the present moment. Worries about a future we can’t control anyway dissolve like fading water colors into the new color of experiencing of our own sacred breath. A tender, sacred word, that expresses our heart-felt desire for oneness, is painted into our consciousness over the intrusive color of our favorite old resentment.
Another hand holds the brush. Our life’s canvas is made new. The torn places of our fabric are woven back together by small, invisible hands. Hands of a Creator Artist glide lovingly across the sculpture we are becoming and bring great pleasure to her heart.
So what is our part in the art of creating contemplative communities?
First, we show up. We place the canvas of our lives on the table so The Artist has materials to work with. This is the beginning of contemplation.
Second, we hold nothing back. All of our life stories are placed on the table, including the toughest places where we have been ripped apart. We do not only submit our most lovely life fabric. When we enter contemplation we bring all we have been, are, and hope to be. We offer all of ourselves to The Artist.
Third, we allow The Artist to change things in us. We trust The Artist even when we are afraid. The Artist might want to wipe away the colors that dominated our canvas for too long, (our most cherished suffering, well-hidden shames, or embarrassing memories). The Artist has other plans for us, like restoring our original purpose and revealing our true mission. To get there we will need to trust the artistic process and surrender to our own transformation.
Finally, we nurture the hope that someday we will be given new eyes to see what we are becoming. We pray that as alive art we will be useful to the world.
In fact, our contemplative communities are already offering hope to others. Yes, there is a safe place where you can let down your guard, settle into the stillness, be in the presence of The Artist Creator, and present your true self in a loving community. There is a place where you too can become alive art, creating and being created along with us. Come find us in New Orleans or form your own group where you live. The Artist is waiting.
[To connect with one of our contemplative communities around New Orleans go the website for The School for Contemplative Living at http://www.thescl.net and link to Our Groups].
(The quote to open this piece is from Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book, Big Magic, p. 101).