The Art/Prayer Intersection Part Four: The Spiritual Terror of Performance Art



My hands freeze and I start shaking about 30 minutes before a performance.

Last weekend this nervous reaction came as I sat quaking at the back of a room filled with my dear friends in a women’s retreat in Port Orchard. My hands felt so stiff and cold I wondered if they would be able to move across the keys.

Gail saw me trying to warm my fingers and kindly offered to hold my hands in her toasty palms. That helped. A little.

“What in the name of everything holy was I thinking when I said I’d do this?” I asked myself.

But I knew what I was thinking before. I had wanted to play because I so enjoyed choosing the music and practicing it with my trumpet/piano playing son. I enjoyed picturing in my mind how I would play, and the way I might give a gift of music to those who heard me.

And as soon as I got up there to introduce my music the blood began to move back toward my fingers.

The playing was even better. It felt like singing out what was in my heart to touch others sitting nearby.

It was the first time I had chosen my own music for an audience. It was the first time anyone had cried when they heard me play. And it was the first time people had danced to my music. 

Those firsts were worth the cold fingers.

The terror of a performance art comes wrapped in the complete exposure to an audience. Unlike writing or drawing, I cannot revise or decide mid-way through this isn’t the piece I want to share.

Sometimes, though, that terror morphs into a joy that the other art forms cannot match. I connect with people in live time in a way that transcends all else. I experience a moment when the audience members wrap their hearts around me and warm my soul.

Because of this, playing my clarinet is one of the best prayers of all.

I did not record myself. That kind of internet terror I am not ready for yet, spiritual or not. Here, instead, are others playing the two pieces I chose.

May you know that these players, too, are receiving your gift of listening even as you hear the sounds of their music.

For the sorrows of life:

For the joys:

If you’d like to hear the terror live, I’ll be playing with the Puyallup Community Band on Friday, May 15th from 7:30-9:00pm at the First Christian Church in Puyallup near the fairgrounds.

I probably won’t have the cold fingers, though, because I’ll be tucked into a crowd of others singing their hearts into their instruments. The guy with cold fingers might be the spectacular tuba soloist Andrew Rink.

Here’s his picture and a link to his bio. His music is even better. 

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Art/Prayer Intersection Part Three: Fiber Arts


For spring break last week I went with my mom and youngest son to Sequim,Washington out on the Olympic Peninsula. We had a marvelous time looking at where I lived until I was five, indulging in nostalgia and walking out on the Dungeness Spit where the waves crashed along over 5 miles of sand bar.

As we drove through the old downtown Sequin, my mom said those dangerous words:

“This looks like a place that has a knitting store!” 

Sure enough. We found A Dropped Stitch and the friendliest knit store owner ever (Really! I could tell she loved her job, wanted to be there and she even helped me entertain my kiddo so I could shop. 5 stars for her!!).

The moment I touched the chenille I knew I was lost to another project. The Bella Chenille is soft like those throw blankets you can find in the stores around Christmas – the ones my boys fight over when they want to lounge on the couch.

Universal Bella Chenille

Universal Bella Chenille Tropical Mix

When I work with yarn, I have an intense sense of calm connection. Perhaps it’s because of all the twisting and weaving and how each stitch combines to create a larger pattern. Transforming the yarn reminds me of that sweet (okay and sappy) song from the Prince of Egypt movie.

“A single thread in a tapestry
Through its color brightly shine
Can never see its purpose
In the pattern of the grand design.”

(‘Through Heaven’s Eyes’ by Brian Stokes Mitchell)

I can’t help but think of how we are all woven together as I click those needles and work the patterns in the varied and sundry places I go. 

At one point, I tried to write out for my niece all the locations I had been while crocheting a pink shell blanket for her. I struggled to explain the way I did a sort of extended praying in color for her while in the jury duty pool, of all places.

I don’t write these sorts of things out for people anymore. I simply hope they can feel my good wishes for them as they wear or use what I’ve made in study sessions, sitting at doctors’ offices and waiting in a coffee shop while my mother has cataract surgery. 

Perhaps that’s the secret ingredient in the handmade that we love so much and (hopefully) are willing to pay a bit more for: love.

May you find joy in making your gifts.

May you find the love wrapped in the gifts given to you.

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Still in the ripping and pulling stage of learning the pattern

Still in the ripping and pulling stage of learning the pattern

Art/Prayer Intersection Part Two: Knowing When to Call it Good

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by Sydney Zylstra

It wasn’t easy to get my mom to let me use her pictures and, looking at these, you might be surprised at the reason why.

“They aren’t right,” she said.

I could feel she meant they aren’t perfect. They aren’t the flawless beauty that she had in her imagination when she began the work.

I told her that of course they weren’t. Our creations are never as perfect as we imagined they would be or as we wish they were.

Then I assured her that my readers are not art critics (that I know of).

I pushed forward when I still heard her hesitate and told her of Iris Murdoch’s quote:

“Every book is the wreck of a perfect idea.”

I could hear her relaxing at the thought of other artists with the same struggles. She decided to send them my way to share with you, imperfections and all.

And since I’m thinking about art and prayer this month, I started to turn over what God said about creation in the first chapter of the Genesis story.

Over and over there is this line:

“And God saw that it was good.”

No where does it say that it was perfect or even the best. Just good.

I am so grateful my mother decided to let you see these. They are not perfect. But they are good.   

May we all declare our work ‘good’ while knowing when it’s time to make it better.

May we also know when we should let it go out into the world for others to love or not while we move on to the next good work in front of us.

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The Art/Prayer Intersection Part One: Praying in Color


My friend Ruth kept telling me about the book Praying in Color by Sybil MacBeth.

“I just love it!” she said many times over, her eyes all lit up from the inside and a soft smile with a shake of the head when she tried to explain it.

I could not imagine a prayer in color so I nodded and smiled back even though I couldn’t imagine what on the green Earth she was talking about.

In the meantime, I kept meeting with her and several other people every Sunday as we wrestled with the Bible, with what we believed and with the trouble we all have in our daily lives.

At the end of each meeting, we ask each other for prayers. Sometimes these prayers are for friends and loved ones with problems and, at times, the prayers are for joys. I dutifully looked at the list of my friend’s names, closed my eyes and tried to pray. Sometimes I wrote these prayers in a journal. They always sounded something like: “Please, God, be with so and so. Take away her pain. Let him be healed.”

This all sounds good and like what I was supposed to do but was often very quick and then I would forget. It also felt an awful lot like worry for or gossip about the person. I thought all about the issues and often felt no connection to any higher order of good afterward. Just anxiety. 

Finally, I gave in and got the book Ruth kept telling me about. The instant I opened it’s cover, I knew this would be something amazing.

The author describes many of my same problems and then goes on to tell how she stumbled upon a solution simply because she loved to doodle and happened to start praying while she drew one day.

Here are the steps:

1. Get pens full of color that inspire you and some paper. (I love my art journals with the heavy bond paper but lighter smaller paper can work better if you wish to carry your prayers around with you.)

2. Write the person’s name or some shape that symbolizes that person for you.

3. Doodle while you rest your mind and think peacefully of that person and your wish for him/her. Dwelling on the troubles of the person isn’t really necessary. When it works best for me, I am simply holding that person in my mind and letting all other thoughts drift through in a sort of drawing meditation.

4. Let the thoughts that come to you guide your doodle and its colors. Don’t be afraid to draw the problem (like a broken heart or eyes for an eye surgery). Let yourself feel the emotions, knowing that your heart can break and then mend again. I have been amazed to see where my doodles have gone.

5. After you finish and as you go through your day, remember what you’ve drawn in your mind’s eye. 

You can work on one doodle over a matter of days. If you have a bouncy person in your life like my four year old, this is often necessary.

You can pray with pens for others, for yourself, for something tragic in the news, or for your enemies. Doodles can be about your finances, about elections, or some grand celebration you are living through.

Most of all, remember that it isn’t at all about making a perfect piece of art! It is about the peace you bring to yourself, to the other person and to the world around you when you put colored pens to paper with a mindset of connection and peace. It’s also about the permission to get out colored pens and simply play as a prayer.

I will be brave and share two of my doodles here with you. Next week I will see if I can get some of my mother’s fabulous artwork up so you might understand how difficult it has been for me to overcome my lack of ability in comparison to her. I’m so glad I got over myself and drew anyway.

This month, I’ll look at other ways that artists use prayer in their work. I’m finding that the art and the prayer work in two directions. The art impacts the prayer and the prayer alters the art.

And Ruth was right. Praying in color is an absolute joy. (And if you know her, you understand that my wise friend often is right.)