God can speak into our pain—and use our pain—in ways we could never imagine.
By Dr. Dianne B. Collard
I am not an artist, but in the dark days of pain and despair following the murder of our eldest son I found solace and peace within the art museums of Vienna, Austria, where my husband and I worked as missionaries in 1992. I experienced evidences of the Creator—his goodness, beauty, and truth—demonstrated through line, form, and color. I felt God’s love as I gazed on depictions of Christ’s redemption. I resonated with the pain expressed in paintings depicting war, plagues, and death. I reveled in the splashes of color and geometric designs of abstract and non-representational art. I will never be the same, for God spoke to me with “sensations too subtle for words,” as artist Robert Henri expressed.
From this profound encounter, I know art can reach into the deepest recesses of the human soul—at times and in ways that ordinary language cannot. I know that God can use beauty and creativity to speak to a suffering person and bring healing. And since that time, I have learned that He can also use someone who has been deeply touched by art to touch others. He can use my brokenness and pain to His glory.
My experience with art in Vienna was so foreign to my background that I was hesitant to share it with anyone. When I even mentioned it, I was told that it sounded unbiblical or “New Age”—something to be feared.
I knew that I’d had a significant, though unusual, encounter with God through the medium of visual art. Because of this, I was drawn toward artists of faith. I did extensive research on the biblical role of the artist and the power of a multi-sensory worship experience. I accepted my need of artists to lead me into the presence of God in ways I could not express for myself. I questioned the dearth of the arts, especially the visual arts, in our churches. Why was this ignored, denied, or feared? Why did the artists of faith that I met express feelings of rejection and alienation from the evangelical churches? (This concern ultimately led to my doctoral dissertation on the topic.)
Early in this journey, I attended the Hope 21 Conference in Budapest, Hungary, sponsored by the European Evangelical Alliance. Because of my growing passion for the arts and my concern for the artists, I asked to sit in on the Artists’ Track that met daily. Here I repeatedly heard their pain over their feelings of rejection by the church. My heart was broken.
On the final day of the conference, I asked to speak. I shared my story of healing and worship through the arts. “Please,” I concluded, “as a non-artist believer, I beg you: Do not stop engaging in your art. Don’t stop exercising your creative gifts. Especially don’t abandon the church—no matter how hard it might be. The world needs your gift, the church needs it, but most of all, I—a non-artist sister in Christ—desperately need it.”
There was silence in the room. I returned to my seat and internally wept.
Doubting a dream
In the years following this conference, my passion for the arts and the artists continued to grow. I received my doctoral degree in 2004, and we returned to live in the U.S. But no one seemed to care about all my work and fervor. I often asked God why He gave me this burden yet did nothing with it. It was as if my dream had died.
In 2006 I combined my roles as speaker, writer, and intercultural trainer and my passion for worship and the arts into a ministry organization called Montage International. The following year, Montage became a department of Artists in Christian Testimony International (A.C.T.). I am an Arts’ Advocate and trainer. Slowly God was making clear how He would combine all the disparate aspects of me into a tool for His Kingdom.
In 2008, when I arrived in Nashville, Tennessee, for A.C.T.’s Arts Alive Conference, I was assailed with doubts about my right to attend such a conference. After all, I’m not an artist. My self-doubt screamed, “You are only here because your son was murdered and you had an experience with God through art. You are only capitalizing on Tim’s death.” Horrible accusations that I thought were settled long ago returned. I silently struggled through the entire conference. Then came the last offering of the final evening—an expressive dance production by StillPoint Dance Theatre.
Before the final dance Sharon Perry, the choreographer began telling a story that she prefaced with the statement, “I’ve told this every time I’ve spoken to artists around the world to encourage them to keep going, even when it seems no one cares.” She then described a woman who had spoken on the last day of a conference in Budapest six years ago. To my amazement, she told my story and quoted my words exactly. She ended by saying that this anonymous woman’s plea had kept her serving God through her creative gifts and that it had ministered to scores of others as well.
A shock went through me. I recognized my testimony immediately, and others who knew me began to realize what was happening. I knew beyond any doubt that God was saying to me, “Dianne, this is my message and my ministry. I’m using it for my glory. Just be faithful and leave the results to me.” He had used my life story to encourage artists around the world when I thought the dream had died. Amazing.
If you are an artist, be encouraged to faithfully use the gifts God has given to you—within and beyond the church walls. Perhaps your dream has died and you believe that no one, not even God, cares about your gifts, your art, your ministry. I was in God’s “waiting room” for over six years, and yet God was at work in people’s lives through my testimony. Art can bless and heal someone so that she, in turn, can bless and heal others.