Art and Prayer

Blue Hair, Play Dough, & Snow Angels

“Choose an activity that will be genuinely soul-stretching…” One of the assignments for Selah, the spiritual director training program I’m in, is to:

Do an activity that fosters a communal and/or rejoicing experience of God. Choose one that will be genuinely soul-stretching for you, not one that is easy or already habitual for you. Do it three times in the course of a week. Summarize the experience itself in a few sentences; then summarize the work that this experience did in your soul. What went on in your prayerful awareness of self, and of God?

The activity I chose from the list of options is, “do something completely playful that might strike you as childlike…” I chose that one because, after the past year, which was full of administrative responsibilities (not my forte) and other tensions, I’ve been feeling like I need to add some lighthearted play into my life. I’ve also been feeling like God is inviting me into a sense of spacious freedom, which seems to include a sense of childlike delight in life.

I chose “Play,” thinking that, while the idea of playing isn’t really soul-stretching, choosing to set aside time to play might be. My first “play” activity was to dye my hair blue. That was both to celebrate the end of those responsibilities and tensions and also to just plain have fun. When I told my spiritual director what I was planning to do, she called it “The Spiritual Practice of Dying My Hair Blue.” And, indeed, it turned out to be a spiritual practice. First, it was just plain fun and silly and whimsical and it made me laugh with delight– a wonderful spiritual practice! Some friends also laughed with me when they saw my hair, and that was shared fun. But then someone expressed disapproval (nicely, but they clearly disapproved). That’s where another aspect of spiritual practice came in, as I explained why I’d done it, without taking their reaction personally. That also sensitized me to how people might feel when they stand out conspicuously in some way that others might react to. I want to be aware and ready to respond with welcoming grace.

Next I ran outside and made snow angels. That was fun and didn’t give me any insights at the time, other than that next time I shouldn’t wear mittens that let the snow in. But seeing my angels around the yard has made me smile every time I’ve gone outside since then; my thoughts go to Clarence, the guardian angel in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” reminding me that this is a wonderful life!

My third form of “play” surprised me by turning out to be genuinely soul-stretching. I bought play dough, eagerly opened it, and… immediately drew a blank. As I sat looking at it, I felt anxiety rising—was I going to fail an assignment to play? Finally, I Googled (how embarrassing to need to Google how to play!), and saw a suggestion to make little play dough animals. That was the jump-start I needed, and I spent the next hour or two happily making multicolor snails, arranging and rearranging them on the table.

While playing with the snails I was absorbed in creating, more unself-conscious than reflective. After playing I felt lighthearted, free, open– eager to explore the spacious freedom I’ve sensed God inviting me into. As I reflect on this later, I think in playing with the brightly colored play dough, rather than my typical watercolors, I have started to break free of some of the artistic “rules” and expectations I have both consciously and unconsciously placed on myself. Perhaps that is another aspect of God’s invitation into the spacious freedom he has for me.

8 Comments

  • Shauna

    I loved this Melissa. The play dough snails are so colorful and make my eye smile. I think you nailed this assignment. Good job sister. 👏🏽👏🏽😊

  • Janet

    You’ve really got me thinking about “spacious freedom” – what is God teaching you about that? I am trying to get my head around it! ❤️

    • melissafischerartist

      That’s a great question, Janet, and I’ll have to think about how to express it in words that will fit in a blog comment, or maybe I’ll write some more about it in another blog post. Two Bible verses come to mind when I think of spacious freedom: Psalm 18:19– “He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me,” and Psalm 119:32– “I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free.” While those verses don’t define what I mean by spacious freedom, they do describe for me the wide-open (spacious) feeling I get as God grows me and increasingly frees me from the kind of internal pressures that bind and crush the soul– comparison, worrying about what other people think, being overly responsible for outcomes instead of entrusting them to God, etc. And now you’ve got me thinking about how to describe this more clearly!

  • Karen Mo

    Love this. I don’t usually ‘play’ solo but with others, especially a grandchild. I’ll have to think on how to play this week where I’m at. P

    • melissafischerartist

      I’ll be interested in what sort of play you come up with, Karen. I imagine playing in some way could be a welcome addition to the rest of what you’re doing. You continue to be in my prayers for strength for every day.

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