For over 2,000 years, Christians have learned the poetry of their faith from gospel stories, stained glass windows, the paintings of El Greco, the sculpture of Bernini and the music of Beethoven. Integrating your curriculum with literature, visual arts, and music offers a multicultural, interactive, intergenerational, holistic and appealing approach to all learning modalities.
The Arts can build a foundational spiritual vocabulary. We wouldn’t think of depriving children of learning to speak or other basic life skills. We teach children – on purpose – the words, signs and symbols need to function in the world. At first, we teach the basics: yes and no, hot and cold, 1-2-3, apple, ball. We teach them who Mommy or Daddy is, and that an eight-sided street sign means Stop. With these kinds of basics, they begin to navigate their world, making discoveries and meanings on their own.
Learning the language of faith requires similar attention. Children (and teens and adults) need instruction in the basics of Christian vocabulary, along with some kind of roadmap to the world of “practical” Christianity. We need to know what pray and church and Bible mean. We need an introduction to Jesus, his mother, Father and Holy Spirit – not to mention the whole cast of characters from Adam and Eve to Paul and Silas. Moreover, we need the words to describe our core Christian values: love and help, togetherness and friendship, compassion, truth and forgiveness.
The arts can serve as an engaging way to expand on these Christian basics. An artful, authentic rendering of a mother and child is a bridge to Mary and baby Jesus – and the “feeling” in the picture has a name. A piece of poetry-as-prayer becomes an experience of the loving communion of which it speaks – the words God and love come to life in new, richer ways. Consider this: Is it the words or the melody of “Kumbaya” that made our first contact with it not only memorable but, many years later, prayerful as well? “Come by here, Lord. Come by here.”
We all enter the world as natural artists. Our appreciation for creation – both ours and God’s – is uncluttered and deeply authentic. To a child, a cardboard box is a skyscraper, a city bus or a place to serve tea; a random noise becomes the inspiration for a song; a fragment of a song becomes the inspiration for a dance. Children carry the entirety of the possible with them into the next “moment of becoming” – that is, until we train spontaneity out of them.
God is Creator. God is creativity, its source and its inspiration. A big challenge in faith formation with children is to help them remain comfortable and present in the creative process, that is, close to God. Exposing young children to the arts helps safeguard this creative spark by sending the message: Divinity welcomed here. In the true spirit of Christian unity, children can be encouraged to experience the artwork of others for what it really is: an invitation into their own.
And by “children,” we also mean adolescents and adults. That divine creative urge remains in us all, even if culturally (including Church culture), it’s only occasionally nurtured or encouraged. To draw close to God is to draw close to creativity. To nurture creativity is to nurture faith.
To view a painting by Marc Chagall or read a poem by Nazik ‘al-Mala-‘ika is to invite God to open your heart and soul to new possibilities, to give God the opportunity to disrupt your thinking, shake up your feelings and usher you into a new space where you find fresh, original ways to perceive the world and your relationship to it.
To pick up a pen, paintbrush or ball of clay is to join God in the on-going process of creation. What might come of it? An insight, a connection, a release of emotion . . . who knows? The process, however, is the thing . . . you and God joining hands, working together, creating.
Living the Good News is a lectionary-based curriculum for all ages that incorporates the arts in its lessons through sculpture, poetry, music, contemporary & classic works of art, and drama. It is now a fully on-line resource, allowing complete access and integration of the arts on your computer to your classroom.