A Space Made Holy By Our Hands
It was the Fall of 2012, and I has just moved into my first adult housing situation. The place was quite possibly one gal shy of being considered a brothel, but shacking up with some best friends and sprinkling in some new ones was a welcome salve for the life season I was about to hurl myself into. I learned my first big lesson the minute I unpacked my belongings: there are two kinds of people -- those that decorate, and those that don’t. My quick reflex to hang wall art before unearthing the dinner plates was a tell-tale sign that I was a decorator. Someone with an inherent need to feel at home, to create a space with equal parts soul and function.
Big lesson number two: I was not alone. A fellow decorator in the house had marked the common living areas as her territory. The aesthetic was the miniature antique glass bottles routine, displaying teeny-tiny flower bunches that sat atop of a curated stack of dusty books, accompanied by a tealight candle. (We were plagued by tealight candles.) The other roommate took more of a utilitarian approach over her domain. If wasn’t useful, it didn’t belong. She was a minimalist before we all started taking aerial shots of our Chemex.
One heated conversation with Tea Lights and Marie Kondo over a Tuesday afternoon prize-winning World Market haul has always stuck with me. Tea Lights, my fellow decorating comrade, argued this: there is so much value in surrounding ourselves with beauty. She just spat it out, like she had known it all her life.
And just like that, all my creative tendencies were affirmed and grounded into something that mattered. My tendency for slapping magazine collages on school planners since 2003 was at last given justification. My compulsion to make every living space reminiscent of A Beautiful Mind with clippings and scotch tape plaguing the white wall real estate was recognized, permissible -- maybe even useful. It was the license I needed to continue surrounding myself with what I had written off as “the nonessential.” Through that off-the-cuff comment, I saw those habits as a draw towards beauty; a gift God had given to show us who He is and an invitation to encounter that.
I began to accept that perhaps beauty is, in fact, indispensable. Creating beauty can be an act of inviting the sacred into our space -- reminding ourselves that our Creator is one of abundance, of both necessities and niceties, of blessings poured out beyond our immediate human needs. By communing with beauty, we can admit that we have an urgency to connect through something deeper, be it a harmony, a portrait, a color palette, and yes, a collection of home decor. Art communicates a story to our souls, not our brain. And in that moment of encounter, we know we are on holy ground; standing in a thin place where heaven mingles with earth, giving us a glimpse of that which our words cannot recount.
In our cultural tribe of Creatives with a capital “C”, we have to admit one thing: we’re not the actual Creators. If there’s nothing new under the sun, we are all simply in the business of bringing to life that which is already exists in the abundance of creation. God’s let us in on His work as we put into visceral form what’s always been His. And that’s good news, because it means that the well in which we draw from is deep. So deep that we’ll never have to depend on our own ability to cultivate or experience that which we believe is beautiful.
The first time I started a blog, it didn’t take long for me to prioritize the actual design of the blog page above the content. Hours of productive writing opportunities were successfully wasted as I scrolled layout templates and color schemes until I inevitably settled on a new digital identity ... only to repeat the process 48 hours later. The magazine clipping compulsion had found an online playground, where the act of creating could be done over, and over, and over again with unlimited opportunities to make something beautiful. Almost a decade later, and I’m still hanging out in that digital playground. A willingness to make something ugly for the sake of learning what’s beautiful, a resume of magazine clipping arrangements, and hours clocked tweaking blog templates have somehow made up for my lack of formal experience with the "two-thirds rule" and classical color theory.
What's more, the act of returning back to the design world daily is now a sacred practice. It’s an opening myself up to being a vessel in which creativity can move and breathe and flesh itself out. And if I’m not willing to be that, I am holding out on what God can offer the world, through me. Without it, I miss out on that experience of making something beautiful and knowing that both the process and the result came from a deeper place than my own head.
Compiling visual inspiration, curating a color palette, playing with letter form and shape -- it’s a litany, it's devotion. The act of adding and deleting, arranging and creating, is worship. As I sit down to work, I become a space where God breathes his beauty into a concrete form that we can interact with on this side of heaven. And through it I learn more about myself -- I learn my need for trust, vulnerability, expectancy, and His creativity. The practice is both refining and empowering, a grounding balance that keeps me coming back.
The irony of inevitable shifts in style and fickle trends, paired with the claim that everything beautiful is sacred, is not lost on me. The vehicle in which the sacred shows up is not the point. The point is that it shows up every time, and that we’re willing to encounter it. That we can look at something as trivial as colors grouped together, or an entire display at Anthropologie and agree that there’s something powerful in those things that just draws us in.
Beauty, in whatever form you see it, draws us deeper into connection with the divine. It’s an affirmation that God reaches into our world and shows off His creativity in and through us. When we are able to experience a glimpse of that, we’re undoubtedly standing on holy ground.