About five years ago I found Christine’s blog, Abbey of the Arts, and have been faithfully following her since–through her blog, her books, and her online courses–all exploring the interaction of creativity and faith. This past June I had the delightful opportunity to attend Christine’s week-long retreat, “Awakening the Creative Spirit” (also the title of her book, co-written with Betsey Beckman).
Christine latest book is The Artist’s Rule: Nurturing Your Creative Soul with Monastic Wisdom and she kindly agreed to an interview.
Also, I have a copy of “The Artist’s Rule” to give away (FREE) to a commentor. Leave a comment, your email, and you will be in the running for a free copy! Drawing will be Friday, Aug. 5, in the evening.
The title of your book is “The Artist’s Rule: Nurturing Your Creative Soul with Monastic Wisdom.” Intriguing title—but what do monks have to do with artists?
Monasteries have been great centers of creativity since they were first formed – think of the beauty of Gregorian chant, the great illuminated manuscripts which bring text to life through a marriage with image, the architecture of cloisters creating sacred space as a container for prayer. When I fell in love with monasticism it was the aesthetic dimension which first captured my heart and I wanted to explore how their this path fosters this creative upwelling. My book explores the way monastic spirituality can help creativity flourish in anyone.
How has the Benedictine “Rule of Life” influenced you? And, what is an oblate?
An oblate is a lay person who makes a promise to a particular monastery to live out Benedictine spirituality in their everyday lives. I am an oblate with St. Placid Priory, a women’s community about an hour from where I live. I gather with my fellow oblates monthly for support in living contemplatively in the world with jobs and spouses and all of the demands daily life makes upon us. We are men and women, Catholic, Methodist, Episcopalian, Lutheran, and more, and we work in fields like medicine, accounting, computer science, and spirituality. I love the diversity of my fellow oblates.
The Rule of Benedict is a document written 1500 years ago to help offer guidelines for people living the monastic way together. There are many forms of monasticism. Benedict’s Rule is one of the best known because of its balanced nature. It’s not one of those books that you just read through, you sit with each entry and chew on it and ponder how you can bring it into your life and live the gospel more deeply and this is done in community. Benedict describes it as a “little rule for beginners,” and it is a call to remember that we are always beginning again in the spiritual life.
Where, or how, did you get the idea to integrate the arts and faith?
When I was growing up my parents weren’t religious people, but they did have a great love of art. My father worked for the United Nations so we traveled a lot and spent many hours in museums and cathedrals. Because I didn’t have a formal faith structure at the time I found my sense of the great Mystery in these expressions and longing for beauty. I was always encouraged to explore my own artistic side, especially through writing. In my early twenties I was working as a campus minister for a Catholic high school and I began developing retreats for the students and faculty. I was blessed to have a co-minister who also loved the arts and so we brought art into all aspects of our work. That was the beginning of my own exploration of integrating art and spirituality more explicitly.
What are the “expressive arts”? Is it like art therapy?
The “expressive arts” is a field which arises from the psychotherapeutic world and approaches the arts as a path of discovery, healing, and transformation. The emphasis is on the creative process over the product. I first discovered it while in graduate school and finally felt like someone was speaking the language I had been for years, making connections between art and the inner journey. I began taking classes and eventually began teaching about how the expressive arts can be engaged in contexts like spiritual direction and retreat to nurture and support transformation through writing, visual expression, dance, and music.
What are your “arts”?
My primary art forms are writing and photography. I wanted to be a writer from a very young age, my parents loved books and I was always surrounded by them. I feel extraordinarily grateful to be able to follow this path as an adult. My grandparents owned a chain of photo supply stores when I was a child so I always had a camera in hand. It wasn’t until my embrace of the monastic path that I discovered photography as a very contemplative practice, one which can help us cultivate a deeper way of seeing.
So, do you pray before you write? Or, go on a photography walk? Do you pray throughout the activity?
Yes, both actually are forms of prayer for me. My practice is to begin with a blessing for the time ahead, that my heart might be open for the way the Spirit moves through me. As I write or walk with my camera I try to stay fully present to the experience. The heart of monastic spirituality for me is the way it cultivates a beautiful presence to each moment as sacred, so really all of life is a prayer. God is there with each breath, we just need ways to pay attention. Writing and photography are two of those ways for me.
Are you surprised at how people are responding to what you offer?
When I offered my first Way of the Monk, Path of the Artist class I was really blown away by the hunger for the material. The class filled immediately as did subsequent offerings. I had been writing a blog on contemplative practice and creative expression for several years so knew there was interest, but I discovered this amazing community of monks and artists in the world who longed for support and companionship along the way.
You provide a plethora of online classes! What are the upcoming classes?
This fall I have another offering of Way of the Monk, Path of the Artist which is a 12-week journey accompanied by my new book, a discussion forum to build community, active input and support from me along the way, and guided meditation podcasts. It is limited to 15 participants to nurture intimacy and sharing. I also have my class Eyes of the Heart: Photography as a Contemplative Practice available on-demand for self-study which can be taken at any time.
Abbey of the Arts is also offering a new series of classes beginning this fall with a focus on supporting what I call soul care practitioners and includes spiritual directors, chaplains, pastors, and counselors through a focus on the arts, contemplative practice, and deep self-care. I am excited about this new adventure.
Thank you Christine!