Women, the world and the Church need your creativity

‘Hello Beauty’ retreat aims to inspire women to encounter God in creating

Therese Aaker

Creating a culture of hope can start with the smallest of seeds: creativity.

This was the message “Hello Beauty” — a retreat aimed to inspire women to encounter God through beauty in the act of the creative process —¬ planted in attendees.

“[My hope is that it] opens their eyes to the potential transformative power of beauty, even in small ways,” said Tara Wright, co-founder of Scatter and Sow, the platform hosting the retreat. “No matter how you’re practicing the creative process, it can help you commune with God. If we cultivate beauty…and help others see it, the implications are creating a culture of hope.”

“Beauty is a key to the mystery and a call to transcendence,” wrote St. John Paull II in his “Letter to Artists.” “It is an invitation to savor life and dream of the future.”

Beauty, then, can inspire hope and call man to his greatest desire: Christ.

The themes of beauty and the call to be creative in John Paul’s Letter were the main inspiration of the retreat. And while he writes that all of man is called to be creative, women have a role in beauty in a particularly unique way, according to Wright and fellow co-founder Erin Day.

The natural intuition and receptivity of a woman’s soul is a key component of beauty. Artists, who especially possess an intuition for the beautiful, are more open to receive an experience of beauty. So, while not all women are artists, women have a special relationship to beauty in a similar way.

Women paint with watercolors during the Hello Beauty retreat May 5-7. The retreat was inspired by Saint John Paul II’s “Letter to Artists” and sought to bring the participants into deeper communion with God through creativity. (Photo by Therese Aaker | Denver Catholic)

“Every genuine artistic intuition goes beyond what the senses perceive and, reaching beneath reality’s surface, strives to interpret its hidden mystery,” John Paul wrote.

“I think the main thing of the retreat is being receptive, which is a trait of the feminine genius,” Day said. “Beauty allows us to really receive Christ into the depth of our hearts. That way they can learn to be receptive at the retreat and in their daily lives.”

One of the key ways to experience beauty is through the creative process, Wright and Day said. Because God himself was creator, the act of creativity is a special way to be close to him.

“It gives our creativity purpose. It’s not just creativity to be creative, it’s that it’s a communion with God,” Wright said, pointing out this theme from the Letter. “It will be a starting point for women to draw closer to Christ. As creative people, it has the potential to draw the world [toward God].”

But this isn’t just a calling for women who see themselves as artists — anyone can be creative and enter into this communion with God through creativity, said Day.

John Paul wrote, “Not all are called to be artists in the specific sense of the term. Yet, as Genesis has it, all men and women are entrusted with the task of crafting their own life: in a certain sense, they are to make it a work of art, a masterpiece.”

“[St. John Paul II] was inviting anybody, not just artists, to be creative…he highlights this ‘beauty that saves.’ We get this glimpse of what we’re trying to get to [which is God], but we do this as a tangible way on this earth,” Day said.

The retreat’s workshops, which included flower design, brush lettering, stained glass and rosary making, were all aimed to provide a place for women to enter into that encounter and rest in beauty. While the activities themselves might not be classified as “art,” they are creative — solidifying the point of John Paul that while not all are artists, anyone can create.

Beauty is a key to the mystery and a call to transcendence. It is an invitation to savor life and dream of the future.”

“As we were trying to bring authentic beauty to the workshops, we wanted women who have a personal testimony of how women live this out,” Day said. “We wanted a mix, so it’s not, ‘You always have to make religious art to be a Catholic artist,’ and also seeing those things in light of and in context of the retreat.”

“As women, the desire to craft and create isn’t just a shallow waste of time,” Day added.

Wright was one of the speakers for the retreat, and in her talk, “Resting in Beauty,” she emphasized that we can find rest in God as we create, especially through moments where we meet resistance: the point of creating where the craftsman or artist realizes, “This was not what I was hoping for,” and wants to give up. It’s another point in the creative process where we can encounter God.

“When you meet that resistance point, that’s where you meet God. You meet yourself and become aware of your flaws…and if I keep going, I’m able to see how God fills that smallness,” Wright said.

God “filling that smallness” in the creative process is still a part of encountering beauty — it is still the transcendent experience of, as John Paul says in his Letter, “a momentary glimpse of the abyss of light which has its original wellspring in God.”

For more information on Scatter and Sow’s events, visit scatterandsow.squarespace.com.

COMING UP: A beautiful origin: FOCUS initiative seeks to evangelize through beauty

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A new initiative within the Fellowship of Catholic University Students is bringing beauty to the forefront of evangelization.

Dubbed simply as “A Beauty Initiative within FOCUS,” this initiative seeks to encourage the collective talents of FOCUS missionaries, especially those who are artists, and utilize them as a means of evangelization. Serving as the starting point for the initiative is Origin, an album of beautiful worship music performed by the FOCUS worship team.

The idea for Origin and the beauty initiative as a whole was planted at last year’s SEEK conference in Nashville. Shaun Garrison and Leah Sedlacek are among a group of musicians that lead worship for the conference each year, but they said last year in particular was especially powerful. They were a part of a great line up of musicians, not only in terms of musical ability, but also in prayerfulness and in the ability to trust and rely on one another. 

The FOCUS worship team released an album of worship music called Origin at the beginning of the year. The project is a piece of a greater beauty initiative within FOCUS that seeks to encourage artists to find ways to awaken their gifts within the context of the Catholic Church, as well as use beauty as a method of evangelization. (Photo provided)

The FOCUS worship team released an album of worship music called Origin at the beginning of the year. The project is a piece of a greater beauty initiative within FOCUS that seeks to encourage artists to find ways to awaken their gifts within the context of the Catholic Church, as well as use beauty as a method of evangelization. (Photo provided)

Sedlacek recalled taking out her in-ear monitors during their performance of “Be Thou My Vision” and being taken aback by the unity of worshipping voices. It was so beautiful, she said, that she was moved to tears.

“I just started crying. It was so beautiful, this intimacy of singing to Our Lord together,” she said. “I think there I felt the power of the Holy Spirit bonding the band together that was then helping people to be bonded together as the body of Christ to worship.”

“The Holy Spirit was just moving through the music in a way that none of us had experienced,” Garrison said. “All of us were amazed in that moment to be a part of it, but also saddened to think that the reality is we’re only together for seven days a year.”

Garrison and Sedlacek felt as though the Lord was stirring something in them to do more. They drafted a proposal for the beauty initiative, the first step of which was organizing a retreat with the FOCUS worship team and creating an album of music.

Garrison and Sedlacek, along with the rest of the worship team and a few kindhearted volunteers, retreated to a cabin in Buena Vista for five days and held the recording sessions for what would become Origin. The album consists of reinterpretations of old hymns, some modern worship songs as well as a couple of original songs written by some of the musicians involved.

Beauty is something that washes over a person and creeps into the cracks that need God’s presence. It’s a very soft way of evangelization, which then brings [people] to a point where they can open their heart and hear the truth.”

The late-night recording sessions and intense creative output made for an exhausting experience, they said, but one that was unforgettable. All of the musicians felt as though it was a dream come true, being holed up in a cabin for five days and creating music together, and the higher purpose of the project motivated and led them to create something special.

“It was for the Lord, it was for something greater, and I think that was an intangible thing that was present,” Sedlacek said.

Garrison and Sedlacek explained that the ultimate goal for Origin and everything else that falls within this beauty initiative in the future is two-fold: to reach people using beauty as a means of evangelization, and also to encourage other artists to awaken their unique gifts and talents and discover how they fit within the context of the Catholic Church.

“Evangelization is not a method; it’s not something you do. It’s who you are,” Garrison said. “Every single person has a unique calling. The main goal of any of this is not music, it’s to become saints. Music just happens to be the language with which we’re speaking of God’s goodness.”

Though it began with an album of worship music, the beauty initiative within FOCUS is not limited solely to musicians; it’s for any person who seeks to reach people and change hearts by means of beautiful things.

“You can’t help but be moved by beautiful things. They can make you pause and bring you into those deeper questions,” Sedlacek said. “Beauty is something that washes over a person and creeps into the cracks that need God’s presence. It’s a very soft way of evangelization, which then brings [people] to a point where they can open their heart and hear the truth.”

Origin is available for purchase digitally on iTunesAmazon or Bandcamp, or on CD at shopfocus.org

Origin musician line-up: Shaun Garrison - guitar, vocals Jessy Kaufman - vocals, bgv Leah Sedlacek - violin, bgv JohnMarc Skoch - guitar, vocals, bgv Sonny Fortunato - keyboard Kenny Kohlhaas - guitar, vocals Sarah Kroger - vocals, bgv James Rosenbloom - cello, banjo, mandolin Edwin Trahan - bass guitar Tom Veitch - drums, percussion Produced and engineered by Shawn Williams

Origin musician line-up:
Shaun Garrison – guitar, vocals
Jessy Kaufman – vocals, bgv
Leah Sedlacek – violin, bgv
JohnMarc Skoch – guitar, vocals, bgv
Sonny Fortunato – keyboard
Kenny Kohlhaas – guitar, vocals
Sarah Kroger – vocals, bgv
James Rosenbloom – cello, banjo, mandolin
Edwin Trahan – bass guitar
Tom Veitch – drums, percussion
Produced and engineered by Shawn Williams

FOCUS Origin

Watch a video about how Origin came to be: http://focus.org/origin

To learn more about the mission of FOCUS, visit http://focus.org