Well, in a manner of speaking. God alone saves, but in my case, He decided to use art for that purpose. Leaving that community of prayer and mutual spiritual support left my soul feeling lost and starved, my heart with feelings of bitterness and despair. I did not immediately realize after I left that I needed to have a healthy outlet for these feelings or they would destroy me. And for several months they did indeed tear me down.
I’d always been a bit of an art nerd. I took lots of art history classes in college, without much idea of how to use them other than to soak up my elective credits, despite the continued objections of my academic advisor who thought I was crazy and needed something more practical. I took all my class notes as a series of random doodles, partly from love of doodling, and partly because I have ADD so bad I couldn’t actually take proper notes. The pictures formed for me a kind of pictorial mnemonic device for remembering what I’d learned that particular day.
By the end of my 4 years in college there were guys who would come to me at the end of the semester just to see my notebooks. I really didn’t understand why they were fascinated. The staff there thought it was inexcusable, that I was treating my academics like a joke by spending all my time doodling, so naturally I felt that way too. For me, those scratches represented what I perceived as my own personal weakness and laziness, my inability to be a “good seminarian.”
I eventually would go on to show those scribbles to family and friends outside of seminary, and almost overwhelmingly I would be asked, “Is there any more? Will you please make more?” I had no inkling that this art thing was anything important, but my spiritual director had just reminded me that when you have a gift from God, the Holy Spirit will draw people to it, and they will come to you and ask for it. So I went back to drawing.
I didn’t think I was very good. Actually, I was objectively bad! But I drew because I needed it, as a way to heal. And because other people needed it, and I needed to feel that people needed me, too. In prayer, God made it clear that I needed to do this for Him, because He had people who needed what I could make.
So I learned how to draw in new ways, using new tools. I learned how to use paint. I learned how to engrave. Some people meditate over Scripture by reading it over and over again, but I would imagine it over and over again, and then draw it. Other times, when my imagination would run wild in the Adoration chapel and I couldn’t get an image out of my head, I’d draw it, and then listen to see what He thought.
There were also times that I would draw with the intention of making something for selling, without listening to God or presenting my work to Him – worshiping mammon with the work of my hands, as it were. In these cases I almost always failed. It was humbling to see how my work is empowered by Him, how even when I will not obey His commands, the work of my hands is still the work of His hands.
Through all of this, I was constantly reminded that drawing was something that was for my healing. Not because it stroked my ego (though it sometimes did) but because God made my hands and I was using them to do something for Him, even though I didn’t understand exactly how. I don’t always pray before I pick up my pencil or brush, but in those early days I learned a sense of working with God on this hobby of mine. Or more precisely, this hobby of ours.
I discovered that I didn’t have to change the whole world to be holy or happy outside of a religious community. My vocation to personal holiness and communion with God can sometimes just be about making scribbles and giving them to Him.
Anthony is a thoroughly lovable former seminarian, artist, and Catholic blogger. He is not only the author of this week’s post, but also the creator of its featured image. If you’ve never seen his artwork, check out his blog at http://weaselsgonarf.blogspot.com/.
And please PRAY FOR ANTHONY, because he’ll be marrying the lovely Katie on the Solemnity of the Assumption (this coming August 15th)!
Leonie’s Ladies: What have you found works as an “outlet” for you since returning to the world? Has something in particular helped you to heal, to process feelings, to readjust? Please share in the commboxes below so others can get ideas that may help them!