I have an odd relationship with my body. It doesn’t have the stamina I would like and I feel like it lies to me quite regularly. But it doesn’t lie. Rather, it whispers in a way that requires an intense listening. Slowly I feel that I might be learning the full-bodied type of listening required that creativity has been helping me learn and that I have been trying to be intentional about this year. It has come as the result of a reluctant road I’ve followed due to ill health. Late in 2005, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a condition characterized by unexplained pain, insomnia, and what is commonly referred to as fibro fog – a deep, grey and constant unclearness, or fogginess, of mind. It has become an underlying pillar of my life, providing an unsteady platform on which to construct my thoughts about life and faith.
While my health is somewhat improved presently is still requires management. This life has thrust to the forefront the importance and necessity of a slower paced approach, steering me in the direction of contemplative spirituality and a deep appreciation of ritual. I have a deepening and growing appreciation for the sacramentality of creativity, as in the past few years just about any moments of grace have been felt through some creative engagement.
I feel like I have to constantly fight against my body to not feel uncomfortable. And by fight I mean carefully and deliberately care for it in a way that I was not taught would be necessary. I must consciously and deliberately spend time at the end of the day encouraging my body to let go. An evening is sometimes the very least amount of time it takes for me to ‘come down’ from the day. Many days I can physically feel and hear the ‘buzzing’ of my blood as it races around my body and into my brain as though hyped up on a constant new influx of fizzy drink by direct injection.
Ritual has become a path to follow and a direction to face myself towards. One of the most recent for me is ‘The One A Week Psalms Project’. The premise is to reflect on one Psalm a week and engage creatively as a spiritual discipline. At the moment I have an A4 journal that serves as the basis of the creative practice along with a writing journal and I do any combination of read, pray, write, sit, become distracted, draw, scribble, make, glue, and stare at the page.
At the moment, only just six months in, I think I am learning to practice a type of listening I now realize I tentatively began a few years ago. I spend a lot of the Psalm Project time listening to, and with, my body. And in this process I have discovered some of those grace-filled, sacramental moments. I sit and read, and think, and feel, and then decide with my whole body what I might like to try ‘doing’. The gestures that feel drawn from me, or to me. What marks do I want to make and what process do I want to engage with: Precise circle drawings? Free repetitive lines? Random scribbles? Colour? Black ink? Cursive letter drawing?
It can be difficult for me to realize how it is that I actually feel underneath my fizzy blood and what I am thinking in my buzzed up brain. This process encourages me to wait, with a small blank page, and small expectations. It is becoming a spiritual discipline that is surprising built around a growing awareness of my longings – not frivolous wants or desires – but deep physical and feeling longings to sit in the quiet and desire to learn to listen to God’s words through, around, above, beneath, and within me. It is teaching me to be integrative, incarnational, to not divorce aspects within myself, and instead to try and be as honest as I can.
It is in these moments that I am learning to wait. Waiting is difficult; I have plans and ideas and things to do. But that is not how my life can be lived. It is not wrong, rather it is different to my expectation of how I would live my life. It is also not a waiting for everything to just fall into my lap without participation. It is an active waiting; a waiting until waiting can be done no longer. This creative and spiritual practice bleeds into the rest of my life and I find that I am slowly, and with many failures, learning to be active and still with an ear more tuned towards God. I am learning also that God is there in the waiting, life is not passing me by in the waiting but is the actual life. We live and do and be and all while we wait upon God.
In this space of engagement with the Psalms I am continually invited to reflect on who I am, and who God is. I’m not any more certain of anything, but I think I am learning to sit within the uncertainty. All I can do is hope that I am able to continue the practicing. We both practice and live life simultaneously in this weird, public, performance art rehearsal space.
The Psalm Project is not meant to be the entirety of either my art or spiritual practice. It is simply a way of practicing. It is a place to begin that builds on what has come before. It allows me to sit within the pains, the busy mind, the uncertain thoughts, and sometimes to simply stare at the page and the psalm and wonder yet again, why these psalms are so upbeat and joyful, why they are so violent and bloodthirsty, why they are so depressing and lamenting? How do they depict what I am feeing, and also what I am not? Whatever life is at the moment, it is something I am learning will be enough so long as I am facing towards God, often with a pen, or pencil or pastel in my hand but always trying for some stillness.