The constructive, healing, and expressive qualities of play can be experienced through artistic ventures. This is one principle behind the Quakers in the Arts program offered for the past five years at the annual gathering of Intermountain Yearly Meeting (IMYM) at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico. The program has evolved spontaneously, almost like an improvisational game, thanks to the efforts of several Yearly Meeting attenders and the encouraging responses of participants after each session.
Traditionally, the first three days of IMYM have been set aside each year as “Early Days” – an unprogrammed time for attendees to explore, relax, contemplate Nature in the beautiful high desert, and give themselves over to work of the Spirit as they wish – before the more formal sessions and business meetings of IMYM begin. Early Days can be seen as “free time” or even “play time.” Not that this is a frivolous or unfocused period, but rather the open time offers Quakers a chance to try some different approaches to inspired, exploratory, and self-revelatory activities. The workshops and small group activities that are offered during Early Days encourage Friends to get out of their heads and into a more playful, intuitive place. Individuals who have never painted in watercolor might take up a brush, or a Friend’s inner poet might be awakened. The Quakers in the Arts program has been characterized by participants as “stimulating, fun, challenging, light-hearted, daring, and often procures the unexpected.” The early organizers of the program created it to offer Friends this very kind of growth and creativity.
One of this year’s workshop leaders commented, “Friends say we have an ‘experimental religion’– to be true to that, we need to continue re-committing ourselves to a spirit of playfulness and innovation, to freeing ourselves from our tendency to self-righteousness –The Arts can help!” The Quaker Way is about communicating directly with the Spirit while also communicating our spiritual experiences with other Friends and with Humanity. Moments of artistic vision and artistic expression are important forms of such communication.
The program’s ad hoc group of organizers and supporters is growing. Its offerings become more diverse each year, ranging from painting to improvisational theater. During this year’s Early Days, seven distinct workshops were presented, including: a collaborative contra music jam session, a writing workshop on the power of words and managing the self-critic, explorative sessions on textile arts design and decorative techniques, exploring one’s inner world through an introduction to SoulCollage, a multi-facetted session on Japanese Arts and the leadings of Nature, and an innovative look at photography and our willingness to discern what is right in front of us using our eye and our camera as tools for spiritual practice. We look forward to many more inspiring and playful sessions in the years to come. ~~~
Bettina Raphael is a member of Santa Fe Monthly Meeting (IMYM). She serves on the Coordinating Committee of IMYM’s Quakers in the Arts Program.