Art as Spiritual Practice and Self-care in the Caring Profession

I once belonged to the work force as a teacher in Brooklyn. Currently I am a religious brother, still doing work but now working to care for those who are in the workforce.  Looking back, I can say that honest work is one of the best expressions of our creative life especially if we understand what we bring in to the world.  As workers, we possess the ability to sustain society’s need for purpose and happiness especially when we choose to work in the caring profession, such as doctors, teachers, nurses, customer service and support associates, counselors, psychologists, social workers, operations managers, elected officials, classroom assistants, hospice care volunteers, rehab personnel, community developers, designers and engineers, organization systems analysts, etc.  Our power to create and sustain life-affirming work is a free gift and a healthy responsibility but only when we accept our limitations and learn to care for ourselves in order to care for others with integrity.

I want to propose art as a means to sustain this gift and responsibility.  Actually, I want to examine how art influences my quality of life and ministry by completing an art piece while I minister as a chaplain intern this summer.  I plan to document my progress for 10 weeks and see how art plays a role in my ability to keep myself healthy and focused in my work as an intern chaplain.  This will not be about patient visits  or office issues.  This experience will be about my intention to engage in art despite or in spite of my daily work schedule and see how doing so can help me grounded and centered.

Introduction to Materials

I will use a similar approach as I had done with Bl. Oscar Romero and St. Clare.  Fabric from old habits of OFM friars and Poor Clares.  I will use an enlarged copy of the photo of the Good Shepherd statue of Domitilla.

Old Habits

I attach great significance to old habits because they are old pieces of garb worn by men and women who have made vows of chastity, obedience and poverty to the Gospel believing that they are not perfect but indeed privileged to follow a path that gifts them opportunities to be fully alive at the service of others and God’s creation.

Navy Blue Brocade 

Just because I have never tried working with brocade fabric before, I thought it would be interesting to use a navy blue texture design background for a tapestry while blending it with a earth-toned, linoleum-style sewn image of Michael Angelo’s David as Shepherd.

Earth Orange as Base Fabric

Orange tone is a risky choice.  However, with navy blue, and earth-toned colors of brown and beige, orange fabric can provide contrasts to the other shades and stress the image more on the navy blue brocade background. Risks like this is hard to predict because it has to work with elements that may or may not run on their own but let’s see how it plays out.

Michael Angelo's

The Shepherd from the Catacomb of                                                             Domitilla

Using a sculpture and translating it to a lino-photo relief is also a first time.  I can imagine the challenges of getting accurate lines and curves because it is really not a photo of a human person but of a statue.  Yet I still think that infusing another way to bring it to life is possible because of the human profile that comes out of the relief of the its enlarged photo. Anyway, I envision that this lino-relief in orange and earth-tone fabric will make an effective contrast to the navy blue brocade background.  Will it turn out as I envision it?  Yet to be seen.

IMG_5536

Pins

There are many ways to hold pieces of fabric to its place.  Some people use appliqué and others use pins.  I use pins because it is simply my personal bias.  This was how I was taught by my brother tailor, Br. Christian Seno, OFM.  Because biases sometimes cannot be explained, I feel that I too cannot explain my bias for pins.  To me, because of the hassle that goes with using pins, crafting a tapestry seems more legit.  Totally senseless but I feel its part of the art of sewing the entire piece.  However, this process tests my patience and mindfulness.

Pens over Wax Pencils 

IMG_5537

Not all tedious strategies are legit and equal.  This is where I am more than willing to be smart than tedious.  Vanishing marking pens are a breakthrough in tailoring because the ink really vanishes so that you do not have to press hard unto the fabric and displace the position of the pattern.  Tracing a pattern unto a fabric has never been a breeze.  Especially if I am tracing a pattern on polyester, using a vanishing ink pen is effective because it does not disrupt the position of the pattern on the fabric.  It marks as it glides unto the fabric.  The downside is that there are no lighter inks after light blue.  If anyone knows where to get one let me know.

IMG_5501Cotton Filling 

Cotton filling gives volume and dimension to the figure on the tapestry.  This is a pain when sewing because it makes the layers of fabric thicker and sometimes challenging to maneuver in the sewing machine.  Careful folding while sewing demands mindfulness and focus.  One of the crucial steps ins making this project a spiritual practice.

These are all the important tools for now.  There are other materials that are common such as scissors, iron, and a measuring board.  I will probably show how I use them in the process.  So let us begin and find out if art as a form of spiritual practice and self-care is indeed viable.

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