Meewasin means beautiful place in Cree
I. To Give Heart
“Encouragement helps you to engage and trust your own possibility and potential. Sometimes you are unable to see the special gift that you bring to the world. No gift is ever given for your private use. To follow your gift is a calling to a wonderful gift of discovery. Some of the deepest longing in you is the voice of your gift. The gift calls you to embrace it, not to be afraid of it. The only way to honour the unmerited presence of the gift in your life is to attend to the gift; this is also a most difficult path to walk.”
John O’Donohue, Eternal Echoes
A couple of weekends ago, I was in Saskatoon with a community of spiritual adventurers and seekers at “Celebrating Spirit: Inner Peace and Joyful Expression”. Facilitated by Rick McCorrister, this weekend was put together by Meewasin Valley United Church. Meewasin (which means “beautiful place in Cree) Valley United Church took the brave step of selling their church building last year and relocating to an office on the University of Saskatchewan where they also use the spacious lounge of St. Andrew’s College for – well – for many things. This past weekend, the lounge was used as a dining room, yoga studio, concert hall, worship space, dance studio, meditation hall, art studio, art gallery and lecture hall.
We had many opportunities to quiet ourselves and listen to the “still small voice within”. We did so using body movements and dance, yoga, by breath meditations, by being still, by eating together in silence, by listening to others, by playing with paper scraps and creating beauty, and by responding as a community to the beautiful art, music, poetry and light that filled the worship space Sunday morning.
As one of a number of resource people at the event, I was invited to share a little about my artistic process. I explained that one watercolour entitled “Where are you now?” came to me very slowly, bit by small bit. When I began, I had no idea how it would look at the end. I painted a bit and then would stop, unsure where to go next. Sometimes I would seemingly be “stuck” in that place of unknowing, of doubt and of vulnerability for more than a few days. It was difficult to wait. Would this painting ever get completed? Then, just when it seemed that I would never finish, an image for the next bit would come to me. It seemed that this painting had a rhythm of its own and that it could not be hurried. Not unlike life itself!! I am always, it seems, being reminded about faith – to trust the niggles and intuitions I receive, to try to be patient, to believe that while the whole path is not revealed, that is exactly as it should be. One slow step at a time.
Much like the journey of the Meewasin community. They have chosen to “trust their own possibility and potential”. They have chosen to be true to themselves, and in doing so, they lost some members. They have taken a huge leap of faith in selling their building. They are discovering, slow step by slow step, what church can be, what the possibilities are. There is no map, no certainty, no set of instructions. This risk-taking is firmly grounded in shared values and faith in action. Meewasin’s journey reminds me of the artist’s path – filled with vulnerability, occasional despair and doubt, and also with surprises, joy, unexpected turns and deep well-being.
Their journey, their courage, has lent me encouragement. I love the roots of this word en-courage-ment as written below:
From Middle French encoragement, from Old French encoragier + -ment, from en- (“make, put in”) + corage (“courage”), from Vulgar Latin *coraticum, from cor (“heart, daring”) + -ier, suffixed with -ment.
En- courage-ment – to give heart, to hearten
II.Moving Art into the World
During the Sunday worship portion of the weekend, people were invited to spend some time looking at the art around the room. As well as pieces by those who had created collages the previous day, and some of my own work, there was an array of art pieces from different homes around the room. People were encouraged to spend time with the art and and especially to look deeply at a piece if it called them. There were also quotes people could choose to spend time with. While we spent time with the art, the morning light and beautiful music filled the room. After 15 or 20 minutes, we were invited to share our experience with two others. We then came together as a whole group and people were invited up to the microphone if they wished to share with the whole group. Some of those who shared found themselves unable to speak when they first came up to the mike – the art had touched some deep place in them and they were taken by surprise. It was amazing and stirring to hear what various pieces of art, sometimes combined with the quotes, opened up in people.
As an artist, I am always looking for new ways to move my art out into the world. I know that there are many ways beyond sales and shows and galleries. What is most thrilling for me is when people really look at my art. As someone who sells at markets, I am familiar with the “quick glance” and the “glazed once over”. I understand that my style of art does not speak to everyone. Every so often, someone stops, puts their bags down and gives their entire attention to the art. I don’t care if they buy, I don’t care if they talk to me. I am delighted that they have seen something that pulls them away from the everyday, even for just a moment. That encounter is what I most long for.
This is why I loved this way of sharing offered by the Meewasin. I am grateful to them for stretching the bounds of my imagination when it comes to sharing art with others.
To learn more about Meewasin Valley United Church, visit http://www.meewasinvalleyunited.com