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Art as Soulā€™s Sanctuary: Meditations On Arts and Spirituality among Quakers and Beyond

By Jennifer Elam. Pendle Hill Pamphlets (number 452), 2018. 34 pages. $7/pamphlet.

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Jennifer Elam is a psychologist, Quaker, and artist/writer/dancer who discovered her practice at Pendle Hill, under the mentorship of longtime resident teacher Sally Palmer. Elam may not even call herself an artist because making and selling art is not her profession and she doesnā€™t focus on perfecting her craft. Instead she sees creativity as one way to access Spirit, another way to listen deeply, in addition to the open worship and silence we embrace in Quaker practice.

The first several pages start slowly, but then she delves into her own fascinating experience as a psychologist and someone who has come to incorporate artistic practices into her spiritual life. Then, and perhaps most relevant to Friendly readers, she explores the impact and process of this work with a variety of peopleā€”Pendle Hill resident students, women in prison, activists, those dealing with grief and loss, and childrenā€”as a healing practice for herself and as a doorway to compassion in connecting her own suffering to that of others. Color images of her artwork and that of others are shared throughout to illustrate her points.

Her view, and that of the Arts and Spirituality program at Pendle Hill, is that art is a spiritual practice, accessible to everyone, and that creativity comes from the Divine, as another language by which one can access, make sense of, and express holy truths: a preā€verbal way. By expressing mystical experience through creative avenues, one can share truths without them being labeled as pathological, as modern society often does. Also, expressing oneā€™s experience is a healing activity, accessible to all people, all languages, cultures, traditions, and experiences.

The call to action is for readers to embrace creative practice as an addition to their spiritual practice, an addition that can give hope in hard times, provide healing to those who are suffering, and ultimately connect us to Spirit when we need it most: a welcome message during these hard times.

Patricia Morrison attends South Mountain Meeting (NPYM) in Ashland, Ore. She works with artists, writers, musicians, and creative professionals to help them make a living, make a life, and make a difference (innerfireouterlight.com). She is working on a book about how to make work that is at the intersection of creativity and social good financially and otherwise sustainable.

Posted in: February 2019, February 2019 Books, Quaker Book Reviews

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