TED have recently uploaded a talk by art therapist Melissa Walker. She describes her work with war veterans, helping them to recover from PTSD through the use of visual arts.
See, art allows veterans to embody their trauma, turning it into something they can relate to, something that exists outside of them that can be safely left behind at the end of each day. And it’s a long, hard process, but art – particularly the creation of masks – seems to enable and empower those suffering with PTSD to find healing.
In Exodus 35 we read of Bezalel. He’s God’s craftsman, an artist responsible for decorating the Tabernacle and building the Ark of the Covenant. Bezalel has a clear spiritual gift, and we often see that in terms of worship – he’s making God’s throne and God’s dwelling place as a way of honouring and worshiping his Lord, and obviously that’s vital, but Walker’s talk got me thinking about how art is a spiritual gift with wider applications
For one, it seems to be a gift that can heal. PTSD is, I guess, an invisible wound, but a real one nevertheless, and art can serve as a vehicle by which healing can enter into a situation. It may be a long and difficult process, not the flashy, miraculous story we’d like, but there are people who have endured terrible trauma who, by painting and drawing and creating something with their bare hands, have been able to move on with their lives. That’s healing too, and in a world where mental health needs to be taken a lot more seriously, maybe Bezalel’s legacy incorporates art that can heal. The Holy Spirit is a healer after all.
Then there’s the idea of peace. Walker works with veterans, servicemen and women who’ve been to war and are still carrying the trauma of their experience. Now that trauma needs to be reckoned with, and if there’s opportunity to do that through art, if taking a situation, an emotion, an image and coming to peace with it through creativity and art, then that’s another facet of the gift, one that has echoes of shalom.
We have many artists in our churches. We need to be creative in how their gifts are used, but more than that, maybe it’s time for a wider vision of art as a spiritual gift. Maybe Bezalel’s legacy is more expansive than we think.
(More on Bezalel here.)