beauty out of chaos

Beauty out of Chaos: The Art of Hospitality (Part 6)

CreativeWelcome to part 6 in this series in which some amazing artistic women are helping me explore the idea of creating being a sacred act. Our baseline is that the creation mandate is the beautification of raw materials and the inherent nature of art is a reflection of the work of the Creator. Though I know there are strict definitions of fine art, I have been liberal in my interpretation. Today we have the privilege of hearing from Kourtney Street, whose art is "Soul Hospitality." I first basked in the beauty of her creation 9 or 10 years ago, when my dry and weary soul stumbled to her little villa outside of Paris, craving something I had not identified. If there is a birthplace to my understanding of beauty coming out of chaos, it is in her dining room. She talks about holy ground, knowing the art that you've produced is sacred... does it by definition welcome the Holy? Mull this over with me today and enjoy Kourtney's offering of beauty to our world!

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1. Kourtney, first off, I'm so excited for you to share with us about your art of hospitality. Even though it's been years since we shared a meal, I have vivid memories of your home in France and how you brought to life my soul and senses in your attention to detail, extravagant food, and sacred space! Let's just start with hearing about your thoughts on creating a space like that, because I know it is intentional.

Beth, thank you for inviting me to share. How delightful that you’ve dubbed my hospitality an art form. Spending my first 23 years in Texas replete with hospitality, beauty, and good Mexican food laid a strong foundation. Our front door was constantly revolving, and my parents never hesitated to set extra places at the table on the spur of the moment. Holidays welcomed people with nowhere else to go, even during a Christmas season that was extremely financially lean. Mom infused beauty and meaning to occasions, no matter what was going on circumstantially. Dad helped with whatever Mom needed, and no task was off-limits for his heart of service. My art is truly part of my DNA.

2. This series is born out of my own exploration of bringing beauty out of chaos through art and how that is a reflection of our Creator. You have been all over the world and walked through some incredibly tough ministry challenges. Can you share a story of how you've seen the art of hospitality have that effect?

We lived in a small village outside of Paris for almost five years. We had one baby and then another son two years later. Rich, my husband, traveled in and out of the Middle East and Central Asia for at least a week each month. During those years, the number of overnight guests in our home frequently felt like we were running a bed and breakfast in addition to being missionaries. We hosted everyone from family members to global ministry leaders. There were also strangers. Lots of strangers. Friends of friends who would call and ask if they could stay with us. We rarely said no. Looking back, I know God provided people to bring life and learning to me in a season in which I otherwise would have crumbled in loneliness.

Christmas of 2004, we ended up with an unbelievable number of guests, even for us: a missionary family of four from Central Asia, their married son and his wife from the USA, a pair of college students who were traveling Europe—dating and sorting out their lives. A few other people came and went during those two weeks for just a night or two. There was always someone needing a ride, a meal or a shower. I was nursing a baby and caring for a toddler while cooking, cleaning, listening and praying. On the outside it might have looked chaotic. It probably was. But really it felt so life-giving. I imagined it was what the early church might have been like. Christmas without our families should have felt so empty, but we were so full. At one point, I looked at the faces around the room and knew that I was on holy ground. It was a privilege to sustain a home that could bless so many people with so many different needs.

3. I remember helping you prepare for a special event on a boat when we were in Istanbul. We still drink from the blue glasses we used for vases that night! Give us some tips on how you create a space that feels extravagant without the price tag and why that's important to you.

I loved that night, Beth, and I could not have pulled it off without your help. I remember that you drove me to a Turkish grocery store to grab last-minute things. I was so impressed by the beauty that you’d mined and cultivated in the midst of birthing babies and faithfully serving in ministry.

It was actually at a similar conference in Turkey where God solidified my desire to bring beauty to women no matter where I was in the world. One of my dear friends from Texas had given me a wooden tray for Christmas one year lined with fresh coffee beans on the bottom and three vanilla pillar candles in the middle. I went to an Ikea in France and created my own version for centerpieces for a women’s night at the conference. I loaded up the supplies in a suitcase with delicious chocolates and flew to Istanbul with Rich and our son.

The night of the event, when the women walked into the room and saw the lighted candles and smelled the vanilla laced with coffee beans, they were visibly moved. They offered their hearts and words to each other in that makeshift beautiful space. Again, I was walking on holy ground. When the night was over, many asked if they could take the centerpieces back to their countries. And then one of the women said the words that I’ll never forget, “When the electricity goes out, we will have candles to burn.”

4. Tell us a little about your ministry now and some of your joys and struggles when it comes to your art.

This year marks our ninth back in America and my sixteenth with Cru. Our boys are almost 13, 10, and 8. Like my parents, ours is a revolving door. I am joyfully refining the practice of what I’ve dubbed “Soul Hospitality.” If you come to our home, there will inevitably be a huge pile of unfolded laundry on our couch, but you will hopefully leave with a full stomach and a soul that felt seen and heard.

My greatest struggle is wrapped around the health challenges of our kids. One has a life-threatening milk allergy and we also have Celiac Disease in addition to some other biggies. I ache for their lives to be as normal as possible despite an ongoing below the water line awareness of the dangers that eating can pose for them. It’s so interesting to live in the tension of one of our greatest joys also containing one of our greatest sorrows.

The good news is that our boys are showing a propensity for practicing hospitality. All three roll up their sleeves and can get our house ready for a gathering in record time. They are learning to ask good questions and are becoming increasingly inquisitive about people’s stories. When the fear of their futures starts creeping in, I am learning to offer it to the Lord and practicing trust that He has a plan for them that is good. Realistically, they are going to have to be excellent chefs and know how to cook well for themselves. Thankfully, we are heading in the right direction.

We recently took the boys on a ministry trip with us in Western Europe. We stayed in places where we could cook as there were not safe eating out options. It took a lot of planning, but we had two of the most meaningful weeks of our lives. And we visited that little house in France where God met you, too, Beth…

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Kourtney Street is a native Texan, turned global nomad thanks to Rich, her husband of 16 years. Kourtney and Rich joyfully serve on staff with Cru in Global Digital Strategies. Her days start with good coffee and are infused with life and laughter via her three sons. She reads voraciously, blogs sporadically, and loves with her whole heart. Find her at www.hearditonthestreet.com/kourtney.

Beauty Out of Chaos: The Art of Writing (Part 5)

Welcome to Part 5 of "Beauty Out of Chaos and the Sacredness of Art" where we have been exploring the imprint of God in us which leads to the creation of beauty out of nothing, out of chaos. I am reading Beauty Will Save the World by Brian Zahnd and happened upon this last night, "The artist doesn't give us a journalistic photograph of an event, but an artistic interpretation of an event. The great masters of sacred art were both artists and theologians; through their work they have given us an artistic interpretation that reveals the inherent, but hidden, beauty of the cross." As I read Shauna's words today, I am struck by the writer's artistic interpretation of pain and sorrow or hope and joy as a means of revealing the beauty of the cross. As a writer reflects on life, are they not naming the work of Christ and the presence of God? Shauna Gauthier is a kindred soul, seeking goodness and glory in others, focused intently on story, and mothering women, including, but not limited to 4 biological daughters. I appreciate the struggle of embracing the art and calling of writing in her life and her thoughts on process she shares today. May I ask you, in what ways were you called to create?

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I never really thought of myself as a writer, let alone an artist. Perhaps it's because when I was young, my writing was most familiar with the genre of survival. In the midst of the heartache of a broken home furnished primarily with the chaos of shame and abuse, I often retreated to the safety and sacredness of journaling. I had discovered a way to get the heaviness of those formative experiences onto those precious pages and pages, easing the burden of all I was being asked to carry through life.

I remember briefly entertaining the idea of embracing writing as a future career when I was a sophomore in high school, but that fleeting thought dissipated when my English teacher delivered the difficult blow of a B- on a creative writing piece I had worked so hard to craft. My fragile soul was no match for Ms. Meeker’s judgment, but I never entirely gave up the practice of writing. It was the faithful friend I carried with me everywhere I went in the years of adventure that followed.

Instead of becoming a writer, my vocational journey lead me down the path of youth ministry, on to international non-profit work and ultimately toward becoming a psychotherapist. I guess I never really ventured very far from the deep waters of chaos. It was the landscape I was most familiar with, but it was also where I was able to grow the capacity to see beauty underneath the brokenness, to glimpse the goodness distorted by sin, and to illuminate meaning in the midst of the complexities of life. Writing was the way in which I catalogued all that I came to see and understand along the way.

When I was in graduate school pursuing a degree in counseling psychology, I somehow found the courage to share my writing with an audience for the first time. It began as a joint blog endeavor meant to create a space to ponder lessons learned through the journey of graduate school, but it soon became far more than an online journal. My writing process began to shift. I was no longer simply journaling in the privacy of my own home where I could dump thoughts, fears, desires, and frustrations without the context of relationship. I wrestled with this new frame. It required a level of vulnerability and authenticity I wasn’t even yet able to offer directly in relationships, but it was in this process that I discovered how the writing and sharing of our stories can lead to healing.

Today I have come to understand that I do psychotherapy, but I am a writer. Early on, writing was a coping strategy and my saving grace, but in this stage of life it has matured and is serving an even greater purpose. I take some of the difficult and painful snap shots from this grand narrative we all live and move and exist within, and I run that gritty and messy material through the uniqueness of my own mind, sifting and sorting and searching for the beauty. It is always there. It is waiting to be discovered, extracted and molded into a gift of words for anyone willing to behold it. It is always there...in each and every one of our stories.

It still feels vulnerable and risky to share stories of trauma and healing, brokenness and beauty, death and life. But ultimately it is how I embody and embrace the Imago Dei.

The artist in each of us is uniquely designed to create in some way. For most, I presume our capacity to create was born out of some form of chaos. I’ll say it again, we are all meant to create.

bio-photo-300x288 Shauna Gauthier, MA is a writer currently blogging regularly at 3therapistswalkintoablog.com. She also works as a psychotherapist in her private practice located in Greenwood Village, Colorado. She most delights, however, in her role as mom to her four daughters and partner to her husband of 15 years.

Beauty Out of Chaos: The Art of Photography (Part 4)

Creative Welcome to the blog series, Beauty out of Chaos and the Sacredness of Art. If you're new, check out the last 3 weeks where I talked about mimicking God in creating, Connie Jakab shared about the art of movement, and Sandy Hopkins shared about the art of fiber. Today we are privileged to hear from Dorothy Greco about the art of photography. Dorothy is wildly talented in her writing and image making, seeking to "bring out and respond to inherent beauty."

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1. Dorothy, you say you feel equally at home speaking, writing, and hiding behind the lens. Obviously, each of those require a creative soul. Was there a time when you embraced your artistic self? Did you ever wrestle with accepting your eclectic interests (journalist, pastor, homeschooling mom, photographer?)

I definitely have an eclectic palette. From time to time I have wondered if would be wise for me to prune off some of the things I feel passionate about—but those thoughts generally pass. I actually find my interests expanding and deepening as I age. (I wish God had designed us to only need four hours of sleep each night.)

I started making photos with my Kodak Instamatic when I was about six years old. As an early teen, I knew I wanted to work as a photographer. The other passion that existed ever since I can remember has been my connection to nature. The trees, animals, oceans, rivers, etc. all pointed to the existence of something greater, more powerful, and infinitely more beautiful than anything else on the earth. Wedding these two loves give me great joy. That said, I still tend to talk about myself in terms of being creative rather than being an artist. I respond to what’s in front of me where a “true artist” creates something ex nihilo.

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2. Can you describe what you're looking for when you photograph your subjects? How do you uncover and tell stories through images? I also love your eye for nature. Tell us about the internal workings of your soul for those shots. 

There’s two components to any type of photography: the relational and the technical. When I photograph a person, I am aiming to bring out and respond to their inherent beauty. Nine times out of ten, when I meet someone I’m going to photograph, the first words out of his/her mouth are, “I hate having my photograph taken!” I get the forced vulnerability that’s part of the process but I do wince when I hear this. Folks tend to judge themselves harshly (especially women) and any self-hatred will pop up when someone points a camera in your face. My hope is that in the process of making these images, I will help them see themselves through a different filter—one that’s more gracious, and dare I say, more accurate.

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Though it might seem like a stretch to talk about a relationship with an object (be it a flower, landscape, or animal), the impulse to photograph anything rises up in me because of how I relate to, or respond to it. Making images of nature connects me to myself and to God in a profound and mysterious fashion. I really get lost in time and become part of something that’s larger than the sum of it’s parts. For me, it’s definitely worship.

The other component of photography is the technical. I’m always searching for and following the light. As I’m shooting, I am continually asking myself questions such as, How can I use my gear to make the highest quality image of my subject? Or What’s the best perspective for the shot?

3. You have quite the resume! I'm curious about your work with youth experiencing homelessness in Hollywood. How did that come about, what was the process like, and can you share a story that was particularly meaningful to you?

I have been working in journalism since 1985—almost 30 years now. I have had the privilege of traveling all over and meeting heads of state, famous artists and athletes, as well as the poorest of the poor, the marginalized, and those who are often unseen. The Hollywood project started as a series of photographs I had taken while working for a magazine based in Los Angeles. An art director saw them and connected me to a church that was working with these kids. Over the course of two years, I spent about four months with them.

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Though the kids appear dangerous and anti-social, they actually had a very tight community where they all looked out for and cared for one another. Once they decided that they could trust me, I became part of their family. Most of them lived in a squat under the Hollywood Blvd/101 Freeway overpass. I actually stayed with them for a few nights—the longest and most miserable nights of my life! Many of them experienced broken family relationships and saw running away as the best option. Dave, the teenager in the photograph with the huge scar, had been shot by his father. He died a few years after this photograph was taken from hepatitis.

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4. I'm exploring this idea of beauty coming from chaos or existing despite chaos, particularly in the artist's world. I wonder at the spiritual implications and how we're imitating God the Creator. Have you experienced this firsthand and can you reflect on this idea?

One of the most common lines I hear when folks see my work is, “I wish I was creative!” To which I always respond, “You are!” If we are created in God’s image and He is creative, then we are too. Part of the problem is that folks define creativity too narrowly. They limit creativity to painting, or writing music, or playing an instrument. When we stop and think about it, all day, every day, all of us are being creative. How does one put together a meal, decide how to arrange the living room, or resolve conflicts that arise in parenting or on the job? When we use our gifts and abilities to solve problems and reveal a perspective or understanding to others, we are creating.

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I hope when we get to heaven, we get to see a time lapse of how God created the universe. The idea of all of this beauty, all of this astounding creation—from the human eye to the Hawaiian Islands to watermelons—all starting out as nothing brings me to my knees. Even now as I’m writing I can’t help but weep as the wonder of it all. It’s almost too much to bear.

Not only do I think we all are creative, but I believe that He invites and calls us to create with Him, alongside of Him, and experience His goodness in the process.

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Dorothy is a storyteller, equally at home behind the lens, speaking, or writing. Her photography clients have included National Geographic, The Boston Globe, LA Times, The New York Times, and more. Her writing has been published in Relevant Magazine, Christianity Today (Her.meneutics, Gifted for Leadership, main site, and Today’s Christian Woman), and more. She is a member of Redbud Writer's Guild. You can find her at www.dorothygreco.com.