Restoring the place of creation and creativity as tools in mission | Katrina Moss [ANVIL vol 34 issue 3]

Portrait photo of Katrina Moss
Katrina Moss is the founder of the national Chaiya Art Awards. They have a top prize of £10,000 and celebrate inspiring art that explores the depth and mystery of God. Although the competition has its roots in Christianity, these awards are about engaging with people of all faiths, those who have no belief in God and everyone in between.

God is a god of awe and wonder, who reveals himself in a myriad of ways, but his first demonstration was through the creation of the world:

God’s splendour is a tale that is told; his testament is written in the stars. Space itself speaks his story every day through the marvels of the heavens. His truth is on tour in the starry vault of the sky, showing his skill in creation’s craftsmanship. [1]

For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature. [2]

So we see that creation itself testifies to God’s power, his divine nature and his creativity.

In this visual age we live in, with the huge popularity of YouTube, Facebook and Instagram, people constantly crave visual stimulation, slavishly accessing their phones and tablets. However, it is all too rare to see creation and creativity being used by the church as a tool in mission.

Yet the first person in the Bible God chooses to fill with his Spirit is not a leader, a teacher, a preacher or a priest, but a skilled creative: Bezalel, the chief artisan of the Tabernacle, who was in charge of building the Ark of the Covenant, the place where the presence – the glory of God – would reside.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “See I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills – to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts.” [3]

One of my passions is finding ways to communicate God’s heart in creative ways to those who don’t know him. I think we totally underestimate his desire and ability to speak to us in unusual, original and surprising ways.

We all hear from God in many different ways. The two projects I feel that have produced the most Kingdom fruit have come in a single download each time and involve God using creation and creativity as mission tools to communicate his heart.

Visitors at a gallery
Figure 1: People engaging in the exhibition of works shortlisted for the Chaiya Art Awards

God often speaks at unexpected times

The first one came in April 2009 when my husband and I were travelling home from a weekend church conference. We had made a detour to TK Maxx, and a misunderstanding resulted in an unpleasant row. Instead of escalating the argument, I started talking to God and he began to give me the idea for a new evangelistic tool. My husband probably thought I was sulking in silence, but I was actually concentrating, listening attentively to what I felt God was saying to me.

After writing down the original idea, which became the Ruach Blessing Cards, [4] I then spent the next 12 months talking to different church leaders, praying, listening, designing and redesigning the 84 different cards. For me, the idea and making it into reality is often the most enjoyable part. I love the research part, planning how things should take shape and thinking outside of the box. I then made one set of the Ruach Cards for my own use. After seeing some interest from a few Christians with a heart to reach spiritual seekers, I then decided to take the plunge and get them printed. My first order was for 100 sets of cards. I also started running a day’s training course on how to use them, giving biblical foundations and ensuring people were using the cards in the right way, with the right motivation to communicate God’s love for the people they would be reaching. The initial course was a success and was the first of many.

Fast forward nearly 10 years: there are three additional trainers, and many Christians across the UK have been trained in their use. This very visual and prophetic evangelistic tool has now reached hundreds of spiritual seekers with God’s heart for them at psychic fairs, music festivals and church outreach events in the UK and overseas.

I have felt challenged and humbled on many occasions that the people I trained have been more engaged than I have with God’s heart while using the cards, and I think this is part of the role of a pioneer – to bring to birth and ground the process, but allow God to use others to develop the vision and carry it forward.

How the church can encourage innovation

I believe God is looking for people with a willing heart, an availability and a readiness to step out. Knowing how God speaks to you and knowing that he wants to use the passions, skills and gifts he has given to you is key in judging whether this is a “God idea”. It’s hard to imagine a God who takes such a personal interest in every detail of our lives, wires us the way we are – who would then expect us to walk in a completely different set of skills than those he has blessed us with.

One of the ways the church can encourage innovation is by helping their people go deeper in their understanding of God’s true nature and helping them to uncover his heart for them. Then they can begin to grasp that he has a specific plan and purpose for their life, which he has tailor-made for them and only they can fulfil. I found serving others in the areas I was excited by – creativity, prophecy and evangelism – released growth in me in those areas over many years.

Hand crafted pottery vessels
Figure 2: Detail of the winner of the Chaiya Art Awards: “A Thousand Bottles of Tears” by Deborah Tompsett.

Working it out with others and with God

The second idea came in the summer of 2016 while my sister and I were helping my mother, who had terminal cancer. I was praying for what to do with the next season in my life and the day my mother died, I woke up with a vision I felt was from God: to start a national art competition with a £10,000 top prize, to bring art and spirituality based on Christian themes back into the mainstream arena. Some of the world’s greatest painters – including Rembrandt, Caravaggio, Vermeer, Delacroix, Gauguin, Bosch, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo – were inspired to recreate Bible stories and biblical themes in their work. The aims of the awards were to engage with today’s artists, spark their imagination to explore the mystery of God and to create work that carried the splendour and presence of God. The awards provided opportunities for the public to encounter thoughtprovoking and Holy Spirit-inspired creativity, by making it intriguing and accessible to all – those from the Christian faith, those from other faiths or those with no faith at all.

After waiting for confirmation from God that this was an idea from him and discussing it with wise counsel, artists and art organisers, I realised that to launch a new national art initiative, to put on an exhibition in a mainstream London gallery with an accompanying coffee table-style book in an 18-month time frame, was a very tall order. It would need respected art judges, a curator, a venue, a publisher, sponsorship and a team to help implement publicity, administration, etc. However, I always think you should aim for excellence and aim high.

It was not something I could make happen on my own, like the Ruach Cards. I knew I had to rely on God for all aspects, but I felt very confident that he had given me the vision, the relevant skills, passion and enthusiasm, and that he would provide everything I needed, if I worked together with him.

And that for me is key: truly working in partnership with God. In the past I have taken on a project and then sought to use my God-given skills to make it happen – not excluding God, but not really involving him in the process to the extent that I think he wants or is beneficial. It is so easy when I am tired and/or stressed to take back the yoke and try to do it in my own strength, which can often result in high levels of stress, worry, anxiety, fear and even depression.

Sculpture: a black bin bag encapsulates a cross legged human form
Figure 3: Winner of the Chaiya Arts Public Vote Award: “Left Out” by Maxwell Rushton.

God lives in community with Jesus and the Holy Spirit and he wants us to live and work out our faith in relationship with others. As an innovator of projects, I find it challenging to find the balance between having the vision and yet staying open to the input of others, being confident in your God-given wisdom and not slipping into pride. I am often too focused on the end result and yet I know God is much more interested in my process on the journey, how I treat others and how I interact with him. This includes how you talk with people who don’t share your perspectives, passions and calling, without resorting to being defensive.

To make an idea come to reality, you have to fight on a number of fronts. Usually with a pioneering innovation it hasn’t been done before, so there are no road maps or people to follow. You have to deal with a lot of scepticism and negativity (often from surprising sources). A good friend of mine says “know your tribe”. Find those people who understand you and your areas of passion. We all need wise counsel, and you need to seek it out from people you not only respect, but people who will also challenge your ideas and cause you to go back and seek God to gain greater depth and insight. I have felt absolutely blessed by the encouragement of others with faith and without who have generously given me their time and their advice. The outcome has been far richer as a result of their input.

Hard work, patience and perseverance

I launched the Chaiya Art Awards [5] in October 2017 on Movement Day at Westminster Central Hall with the theme “Where is God in our 21st Century World?”. The competition deadline for artists was 31 January 2018. By December we had 87 entries, but in the next four weeks it shot up to 453! Then followed a frantic two months of judging, choosing the 43 exhibition pieces, working on the book, designing and preparing the exhibition, the private view with the BBC filming and then opening to the public. I have never read an account of anyone who achieved anything significant for God that said it came without trials or hard work. God’s timing on provision never seems to quite match up with my anticipated timetable and yet he is never late. To pull together such a major new initiative in the short time frame was staggering, and that it was achieved was due to the kindness and encouragement of others, continual prayer support and the help of the team and my husband.

Reading Grayson Perry’s recent account of putting together the Royal Academy Summer Show this year, with the huge team and resources at their disposal, made me realise afresh what a miracle of provision God had accomplished.

I don’t know whether the Chaiya Art Awards achieved all our aims, and maybe in years to come we will see the fruit of the seeds sown. However, we ended up with a fantastic exhibition of painting, sculpture, textiles, photography and video, bursting with richness and diversity, vulnerability and exploration, colour and fragility, treasure and beauty. Over 10 days we had over 2,700 visitors to the exhibition. God blessed this project in numerous ways, including sponsorship from The Jerusalem Trust and the Bible Society, who also funded the Bezalel Award! Bezalel – Holy Spirit-anointed and empowered craftsman – should remind us all of the importance and value that God places on creation, creativity and beauty when displaying his majesty and splendour.

It is mostly music that epitomises the arts in church. Yet the arts are so much more – painting, sculpture, textiles, video, ceramics, craft, dance, drama, poetry, etc. So many people in churches are gifted in these areas but have no outlet where they can explore or express their spirituality through their God-given talents. Contrast this to when Bezalel was building the Ark of the Covenant – people had to be asked to stop helping him and his fellow craftsmen! [6] I hope that the Chaiya Art Awards will continue to evolve and flourish, and that it will inspire churches to support those with creative gifts and to provide encouragement to develop their skills and provide spaces for them to worship God with their gifts.

As Degas said, “Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.”

[1] Ps. 19:1 (The Passion Translation).
[2] Rom. 1:20 (New Living Translation).
[3] Exod. 31:1–5 (New International Version).
[4] For more information of the Ruach Blessing cards, visit www.ruachcards.co.uk.
[5] You can read more about the awards and see the winning exhibits, alongside thought-provoking word pictures and quotes in the accompanying book Where is God in Our 21st Century World (Watford: Instant Apostle, 2018), available from www.chaiyaartawards.co.uk or online via Instant Apostle.
[6] Exod. 36:1–7.

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