Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of five columns written by Ron Byler, Mennonite Central Committee U.S. executive director, to mark 100 […]
From a very early age, I experienced God’s love through the beauty around me. I felt God’s faithfulness as I marveled at the sky change in and out of its many coats. I felt God’s goodness as I held up a piece of kim (Korean for “seaweed”) against the beaming sun and counted all its glorious shades of green. Looking back, beauty has been one of my primary languages of faith.
When I was 15, my family immigrated to Elkhart, Indiana, a land that felt so strange and foreign, and I clung to my spiritual language of beauty — specifically of visual arts — even more.
When communicating with words seemed insufficient and frustrating at best, I turned to art to express my deepest emotions.
Pencils, brushes, cameras and colors became my new vocabulary and, soon, art became the most intimate language of my inner being. As I processed the shock of transitioning to a new culture, I “wrote” wordless prayers through shapes, colors, textures and marks.
Through this challenging time of transition, I would come to learn that art is a powerful mode of abiding with God. I continued to explore the relationship between beauty and faith, as I went on to study art and Bible/religion/philosophy at Goshen (Indiana) College.
During my studies at Goshen, I also tried to understand my place within the Mennonite tradition. I had grown up in an Anabaptist-Mennonite church in Korea, of which my parents were a part. They were drawn to the values of Mennonite faith — especially, its emphases on discipleship, community and peace — as a necessary balance to the mainline Korean church. Since they served as church leaders, I naturally learned those values too. However, I had not yet chosen that faith as my own. My time at Goshen College was an important space to ask the hard questions about faith and examine my relationship with God and the Mennonite tradition.
Among many reasons, I was particularly drawn to the embodied faith of the Mennonite tradition. Mennonite faith took the call to follow Jesus seriously, and this commitment permeated every aspect of life, into the minutia of living. From composting and war-tax resisting on an individual level, to Mennonite Central Committee relief sales and Mennonite Disaster Service trips that brought together various Anabaptist groups in community, Mennonite faith had a robust praxis. I was drawn into that embodiment, and by the end of my time at Goshen College, I had chosen it as my own.
Joining the Mennonite church has been a growing experience — one not without challenges — that continues to strengthen my relationship with God and others. Whether through providing visual centerpieces or designing bulletin covers, I’m grateful for the ways the Mennonite church has called out and nurtured my gifts. Those opportunities have used my sensitivity to beauty to embody my faith.
I long for our worship practices to more fully represent the breadth of our senses.
We excel at embodying our faith through sound in singing and preaching, but we have practiced our faith in worship less fully through the visual arts. They can be a powerful way of moving us beyond our heads and into our hearts.
I am hopeful that the inclusion of visual arts in Voices Together will help us engage God through our sense of sight and deepen our experience of worship, both within the gathering of community and in our personal spirituality. One specific way I see the visual arts in Voices Together helping us to deepen our relationship with God is by using them to practice visio divina.
To read the full version of this article on MC USA’s Menno Snapshots blog, click here.
SaeJin Lee is a member of Hively Avenue Mennonite Church in Elkhart, Indiana, where she regularly leads music and worship. She studied Art and Bible/Religion/Philosophy at Goshen College and enjoys serving on the Worship Resources and Intercultural Worship subcommittees for Voices Together. SaeJin is a curious observer of “holy beauty” in ordinary matters.
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