Feature: 'Drawing' Nearer to God
Story by Cynthia Mendoza
The Bible offers several examples of how creativity is an integral part of worship. From creation itself, with its abundance of visual beauty, to Solomon’s exquisite temple, it is clear God loves and appreciates art and has gifted many with the eye and skills for it. Meet five individuals in the Columbia Union Conference who use their talents to honor and glorify God.
A SPACE FOR CREATIVITY
I fell in love with art because it is an expression. It tells a story on canvas, and there are so many stories to be told,” says Regina Johnson, on how she incorporates art into a deeper personal and spiritual journey. Johnson enjoys abstract art because of the freedom it affords her without a set of rules; it is a healing experience for her and helps relieve anxiety. But most important, it stimulates her connection with God, she says.
As the administrative pastor at Allegheny West Conference’s Grace Community church in Cleveland, Johnson integrates this creativity into her ministry. She has taken her talents to the pulpit by bringing art and music together, creating a singular worship experience. For example, as the minister of music leads in praise and worship, Johnson enhances the message by painting in the background. “I believe creativity deepens the worship service experience by allowing more ways to experience God,” she says.
When COVID-19 hit, Johnson, like many pastors, looked for new ways to do ministry, and the need for creativity came to the forefront. Johnson says that her pastoral team encouraged their church family to paint, write, draw, sing or use other creative outlets from home.
Johnson has also started “Paint and Heal” classes at various churches. Participants express they are connecting with their thoughts and God in a new way.
Watch a video about how art has helped Johnson grow spiritually at columbiaunionvisitor.com/reginajohnson
What started out as an activity for a women’s retreat a few years ago soon became a ministry called “Creative Inspiration,” led by Debbie Howell at Chesapeake Conference’s New Hope church in Fulton, Md.
Howell, pastor of the Potomac Conference Beltsville church’s online campus, and who is currently studying for her master’s degree in Pastoral Ministry from Andrews University (Mich.), has a passion for creativity and art. She uses writing and creative journaling, particularly through God’s Word, to help her and others relax and explore their creativity.
Her process involves using stickers, washi tape, decorative sticky notes, prayer cards and other similar items to decorate journals and write out scripture texts and prayers by hand. In one of the classes, participants learn how to mark their Bibles topically with specific stickers, such as musical notes next to scripture verses on praise or hearts next to scriptures on God’s love.
“I think what people connect with in my class is how simple it is to do creative journaling. You don’t have to be an artist to do it,” Howell says.
The classes, held the first Sunday of every month, are open to anyone who wants a deeper walk with God through His Word.
Howell especially hopes to instill a love of Scripture for young people beyond just reading or memorizing, but exploring and learning.
“There’s a deeper connection with God’s Word when we write it out, even if it’s just one verse,” she says. “I have been blessed with many testimonies of people from my classes who have had a deeper revelation of God’s Word and a renewed passion to know God through Scripture.”
For anyone who wishes to share their creative gifts with others, she offers the following: “Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. God created you in such a unique and creative way. There are untapped gifts inside you, and, when you step out in faith, God will reveal them to you.”
Grab your favorite marker and stickers for an interactive Bible journaling class led by Debbie Howell, April 3, on facebook.com/columbiaunionvisitor
CREATED TO CREATE
Though she never considered herself an artist, Adrienne Rowe-Saulsbury has firmly established herself as one through her “Bible Page” art. Just as the description implies, Rowe-Saulsbury, a fourth-grade teacher at Allegheny West Conference’s Columbus Adventist Academy (Ohio), draws on Bible pages using colored pens and pencils to creatively worship and connect with God.
“It was scary at first,” she admits about the thought of drawing in her Bible. “I got rebuked by some people, but I say God is speaking all the time. It is His Word that is holy, not just the pages of the Bible.”
Rowe-Saulsbury has gone through six Bibles, creating at least one drawing per book of the Bible. The drawings are based on different themes or happenings in her everyday life. For example, when a bird flew into her house, it inspired the “Birds in Scripture” theme, which led to her searching out verses that featured birds, such as when the ravens fed Elijah. These familiar stories help her explore new themes, lessons or layers of the Bible.
Beyond simply drawing as a form of personal worship, this creative artistic expression has also been a form of therapy for Rowe-Saulsbury and a way to share the Word of God and minister to others in their times of need.
In helping her father learn to walk again after suffering a stroke, Rowe-Saulsbury was inspired to create “barefoot” and “footprint” art, based on Bibles verses about walking. She recently finished working on a coloring book called I Will Walk in Power. Her creativity and support for her father has gone a long way—he is now back to 90 percent cognition and walking.
“God is always wanting to reveal Himself to us,” she says. “I’ve learned so much about who God is by doing this.”
A SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCE
Looking for a productive way to help channel Jyremy Reid’s 3-year-old energy and creativity, his mother bought him a sketchbook. His newfound companion accompanied him everywhere, even church.
One Sabbath at church, his grandmother looked down at his sketchbook, and to her amazement, Reid was drawing the podium and the surrounding scenery. That was when Reid's family realized he had a God-given gift. His lifelong journey with art had just begun.
A member of the New Market (Va.) church, Reid’s artistic gifts have led to many opportunities. He has created commissioned work for the Oakwood Magazine, Message Magazine and a gallery at his alma mater, La Sierra University (Calif.), portraying Jesus’ life as revealed in the book of Mark. He has also created “live paintings” during sermons or events.
Reid draws inspiration from several sources, but often feels the Lord places the projects on his heart. “The purpose for my spiritual pieces is to give encouragement and hope,” says Reid. “As an artist, I am also blessed to be able to witness through however the Holy Spirit seems best. It’s a blessing when I hear from others how my work spoke into their lives.”
Reid especially enjoys creating portraits, having done his first self-portrait at the age of 9. When drawing faces, he delves deep into one’s nuances and expressions, even capturing the emotions in the subject’s eyes. When it comes to his social media videos where he depicts Bible characters or stories, he sketches the image on a canvas, sets up the camera and paints. He later edits the videos to speed up the painting process and adds background music.
Reid says the process of creating art is not only a blessing to others but a spiritual experience for him. He recently went through a difficult and humbling personal challenge, leaving him in very low spirits.
“An image I painted of Jesus holding a man in sorrow came to mind,” Reid reflects. “I imagined that man as myself. And every time I look at it, I am comforted. I am reminded that Jesus is always here to hold me.”
One of Reid’s biggest dreams is to create a graphic novel on the book of Revelation, a project he was inspired to do about 14 years ago, at the age of 14. He offers the following words of wisdom to young Christian artists on how to use their gifts for the glory of God: “Stay humble and hungry. Keep learning new techniques, stay open-minded and keep the Lord in your future. He will make your paths straight.”
TEACHER BECOMES STUDENT
Musicians are encouraged to use music for the glory of God, but for artists, what does that mean? It’s not about the subject matter; it’s about glorifying God by any means,” says Shona Macomber, retired art teacher at Ohio Conference’s Spring Valley Academy in Centerville and current member of the Kettering (Ohio) church.
Macomber doesn’t just love art; she breathes it. Through the years, it has been integral in forming a deeper personal experience with God and a meaningful way to teach and reach her students.
Realizing how strongly one of her own art teachers had impacted her life, Macomber wanted to give that same experience to others, especially those who didn’t think they were talented. She asked God to give her a deeper understanding of making art from His Creator’s point of view.
“That’s when I became a student of Genesis 1. Through deep and prolonged contemplation of the creation story, I began to see a pattern. During each day of the creation week, God revealed something important about Himself,” she says. “Then I realized those same foundational principles could apply to art making.”
Macomber passed this insight along to her students. “They not only learned the principles and elements of art, but they also learned about how they were used by Jesus. When we put the Word of God into action, He has promised that it will not return void. I let the kids know I was just allowing the power of the Spirit of God to work because I was applying His Word to what we were doing.”
Macomber believes that participating in art expands the brain’s abilities to process information, such as the concentration and focus that drawing requires, the same way physical qualities of matter become real through creating pottery or how chemistry takes on vibrancy in oil painting. She has found that every student has the potential to make art that is true and honest, and, over time, this can lead to a stronger character, a more teachable mind and an increased ability to understand abstract ideas.
For example, when teaching art to students, Macomber uses the “alphabet of art,” in which lines, shapes and curves combine into something recognizable like letters or other objects or ideas, thus making both art and other subjects come to life. She believes art helps people observe nature in a different way beyond surface appreciation. “It broadens our understanding of the world and expands the brain and its ability to think in more than one way,” she says.
Art is also a way Macomber experiences her own spiritual journey. “Sometimes I’m disappointed in how a piece turns out, but I use what I learned to make the next one better,” she says. “In the same way, God uses the events in my life to build on the next. Art has given me a unique understanding about how that works.”
3 WAYS TO BECOME A BETTER ARTIST
Shona Macomber shares tips to tap into your creativity and draw you closer to the Creator:
1. Focus on a favorite medium: watercolor, acrylic, pencils, etc.
2. practice! Take art workshops or lessons. There are also some good tutorials on YouTube.
3. Realize that “realistic” doesn’t necessarily mean “better” art. Learn what good art is by visiting art museums and galleries. And don’t compare your work to anyone else’s.
To view additional pieces by the artists in this feature, visit http://columbiaunionvisitor.com/cuartists
Read (and download) the March/April 2022 Columbia Union Visitor here.
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