Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Wonder, Beauty, and the Arts in Youth Ministry

Where are mystery, awe, and wonder in our lives? Mystery, awe, and wonder not because someone manipulated our senses but because we stood back long and far enough to be struck by the beauty and wonderment of God and life. Can you remember such a moment?

I would like to think that we have a way of helping our high school students experience such moments. And yes, our senses are involved. God made each aspect of our being and it is true that sometimes these senses provide an entrance into awe and mystery. It seems that technology can be used to enhance these. However, sometimes technology is used to manipulate us into a pseudo-awareness that leaves us clutching the shadow rather than embracing the reality. This could be as simple as a praise song led by an accomplished band and singers with fancy lighting and cool images projected onto the screen. We all sing and have this deep sense of worshiping God. But are we? How much attention are we paying to the words that we sing? How deeply are we experiencing their meaning? How much more are we drawn to loving God in a way that expresses itself in our continually changed lives? Shadow or reality? Yet, with less focus on all that is around and more focus on the One whom we claim to adore the same moment could be a powerful time of transformation in which our heart, mind, and strength are in service to a Holy God.

A question I asked in last Wednesday’s blog, was, “How do we plan in such a way that we enable our young people to focus so that they can practice the presence of the Holy?” In that post I was looking at some of the challenges of multitasking for youth ministry. This is the question that led me to reflect on mystery, awe, and wonder. Part of the answer lies in allowing our young people to be creators with God rather than passive subjects of praise music and whatever experience we have planned for them. David White speaks of the separateness of youth and adult worlds, noting that, “our official version of ‘good’ adolescence actually relegates young people to passive roles as consumers and students” (White 2005, 18). Unfortunately, much of what we do in our ministries perpetuates this acquiescent behavior that registers little genuine excitement, awe, and change. White continues in his book, Practicing Discernment With Youth: A Transformative Youth Ministry Approach, to make the link between beauty and the gifts that young people bring (White 2005, 28). He makes the profound statement that “All of creation bears the mark of God’s beauty and . . . . Young people in their developmental stage and social location bear marks of God’s beauty and await the energizing of these for God’s reign” (White 2005, 29). This statement reminds us that we cannot extract young people from participating in God’s reign. They are God’s creation and love ready for God’s love to be brought alive and unfolded in and through them, just as they are at this point in their lives.

How then do we plan in such a way that we enable our young people to focus as creators with God so that they can practice the presence of the Holy? There are several ways but I will suggest one here: Evoking the mystery, awe, and beauty through the use of the arts.

God made us all with the ability to create through the arts: music, drama, mime, dance, poetry, prose, storytelling, pottery, painting, sketching, and so forth. They allow us to focus and approach God in a different way. How can we use these to enable young people to create and go deeper to make meaning for themselves of God, the world around them, their faith? How can we do this in such a way that honors each person’s gift and level? How can we employ the arts so that they are not entertainment but vehicles of understanding as well as doorways to deeper meaning that come from an engaged imagination experiencing the amazement of God and life?
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

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