TESTAMENT // Thursday, Sept 28  1:10-2:20pm (Rm 201)

The Most Reluctant Christian Artist: Madeleine L’Engle and Artmaking as Spiritual Practice
Joy Steem

Though some lament that we live in a post-Christian era, we certainly do not live in a post-spiritual one. Indeed, spiritual questing in its variety of forms abound: the human longing for spiritual fulfilment is very much a part of our culture. Yet despite the attention many spiritual practices garner, the intrinsically spiritual characteristics in the creation of art are less frequently addressed. More than simply enriching a spiritual life, the creation of art could be described as a spiritual act because it requires a posture of faith. Dorothy Sayers, friend of the Inklings and frequently referenced source in discussions of art and faith, asserts that in creating we are most like our Maker. Others too suggest that our creative impulse is derived from the “making nature” of our Father; however, what if more than mere mimicry of the Maker, the creation of art was viewed through the lens of being a spiritual act itself, and requiring the same spiritual stance as a life of faith?

Enter Madeleine L’Engle. While C.S. Lewis may have been the most reluctant convert, L’Engle may have been the most reluctant Christian artist. Ironic to L’Engle’s discomfort with joining the terms “Christian” and “artist,” the qualities she describes of the artist are highly reminiscent of the qualities inherent in a life of faith. As such, L’Engle’s depiction of the attitude of the artist merits further exploration in discussions of the intersection between artistry and practices of faith. Attributes true of both the artist and a spiritual vision can be distilled into an ontological perspective expressed in four characteristics: the necessity of receptivity, serving something larger than oneself, expectation of encounter, and participation in the tangible realities of our present world. In other words, artmaking doesn’t merely aid in spiritual practice, it is a spiritual practice.


Since obtaining her MA in Engl. Lit (Queens), Joy Steem has resided in a tiny but luminous cedar cabin in the forests of B.C. where she enjoys engaging the flourishing intersections of spirituality and culture. Her work has appeared in White Gulls & Wild Birds: Essays on C.S. Lewis, Inklings and Friends & Thomas Merton (ed. Ron Dart, St. Macrina Press), Mythlore, Converge Magazine, Clarion Journal of Spirituality and Justice, Altarwork, and Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics. She is a regular contributor to Relief Journal: Art and Faith Unbound and Off the Page: a Ministry of Our Daily Bread.