Art, Delight, and the Spiritual Life

Today I am honored to welcome a guest blogger to the Anam Cara blog—my colleague, friend and constant source of inspiration and hope, Christine Valters Paintner. Christine is a spiritual director, author, retreat leader and speaker, as well as a supervisor of spiritual directors. Her Abbey of the Arts is a wonderful place to find rest for your soul. Christine's most recent book, The Artist’s Rule: Nurturing Your Creative Soul with Monastic Wisdom, is one of my favorite's to come out this year on the spiritual life and next week I'll be doing a giveaway for a copy. I asked Christine if she would write on "art, delight and the spiritual life." I know you'll enjoy her insight as much as I do…

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The law of Wonder rules my life at last

I burn each second of my life to love

Each second of my life burns out in love

In each leaping second love lives afresh.



When Tara asked me to write about art, delight, and the spiritual life it was really that word “delight” which shimmered for me.  Summer for me is a season of savoring sweetness and delight, of relishing the gift of abundance as I walk through our weekly farmer’s market or watch my dog romp and play in wide open fields or cherish long warm evenings.

A former theology professor of mine, Alex Garcia-Rivera (who sadly passed away last year), taught me a great deal about beauty.  “Beauty,” he would say, “is that which moves the human heart.”  I loved that definition, so simple and yet profound.  When I cultivate beauty in the world through my art I am seeking to savor that which stirs my heart and offer that experience to others.  I am giving honor to my experience of delight and trusting it as a source of wisdom for understanding the nature of the divine moving through my life.

Trusting our delight and what moves our hearts can sometimes be challenging for those of us who grew up in traditions suspicious of such things.  It takes practice to remember the goodness God lavishly proclaims again and again in the creation story.  When my teaching partner Betsey Beckman dances the creation story she says the words “it was so good” after each moment of creation with such utter conviction and joy that I remember the real meaning of those words. I feel them stir something in me – a recognition of the deep goodness of the creative act.  It takes practice to cultivate our attention to where this kind of wonder arises spontaneously in our hearts and give it room to breathe fully.

Art is rooted in a deeply-felt experience of meaning.  Through art we give can form to our delight.  Sometimes through art we explore grief or other difficult emotions, but giving these a place for expression, we allow them a way to move through us and offer us wisdom.  We open up space for the possibility of delight to arrive again. 

We may not trust these things that pull on our heart because we don’t believe that we truly are “artists.”   We may resist the places where we feel discomfort.  I have recently given myself over more fully to dance.  I am definitely not a “professional” dancer nor do I have anything that closely resembles a “dancer’s body,” and yet I am finding that trusting fully my body’s desire for movement and the delight that stirs in me through this form of expression is unleashing deep wells of joy in my heart. 

This is how we become artists of our everyday lives.  We listen and tend and honor the deep impulses within us.  We begin to trust our own heart’s movement toward joy.  We start to see how simple moments are ripe with possibility:  tending to a garden with our senses fully alive, savoring the preparation of a meal for loved ones, witnessing the unabashed joy of children playing, witnessing our own opportunities for this same unbridled joy.  Whether we write or paint or dance or sing, what matters is showing up for the possibility of delight.  What is important is making room for the creative spirit to stir our hearts and to honor this with some form of expression, to grow more at ease with a spontaneous response to the joy wanting to be unleashed.

How often do you give yourself fully over to something which kindles a deep joy and delight?

What are the art forms which are calling to you but you resist because you fear you are not an “artist”?

What might happen if you simply embrace the joy that comes from this practice, knowing that you are cultivating room for more delight in your life?

Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE is the online Abbess of Abbey of the Arts, a virtual monastery offering online classes and other resources to integrate contemplative practice and creative expression.  She is the author of several books including her two newest: The Artist’s Rule: Nurturing Your Creative Soul with Monastic Wisdom (Ave Maria Press) and Lectio Divina—The Sacred Art: Transforming Words and Images into Heart-Centered Prayer (SkyLight Paths).