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The Healing Power of Creativity
Our Lord began wooing me with the beauty of art and His boundless gift of creativity when I was a very young girl. At the age of six, my grandmother began teaching me the art and skill of oil paints and together we created a painting of my favorite stuffed animal, a dog named Henry. This painting still hangs in my home today.
While attending the Theology of the Body Institute’s course, The Way of Beauty, a study of Saint John Paul the Great’s “Letter to Artists,” I realized just what a gift this first oil painting and the memories of time with my grandma were from my heavenly Father. You see, He knew that only a few months after encountering beauty, I would encounter evil.
That Christmas Eve, I was molested by my uncle, at my grandma’s house.
God nurtured the gift of healing art and my loving relationship with my grandmother ahead of time. He gave me these gifts of Light to take into the coming darkness.
Years later, I would again be drowning in darkness and God would remind me of His healing that can be experienced through the gift of creativity. As I was fighting for the divorce that would procure safety for my children and myself, I was also enduring frightening symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and debilitating pain from chronic pelvic floor dysfunction. My emotional suffering and my physical pain were intimately connected as both were the result of years of sexual abuse.
One particularly frightening symptom of the PTSD was I suddenly lost my words. I finally felt safe enough to begin telling my therapist the truth of what had been happening in our family, but I could not find words. I literally could not form sentences.
As a woman who had always used journal writing and poetry to express my thoughts and intense emotions, I was confused and afraid. And then my therapist explained that when our minds are stuck in the fight, flight, or freeze response due to trauma, the linguistic center of our brain shuts down. This knowledge eased my fears, but only increased my frustration and sense of powerlessness. Until we began EMDR therapy.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing is a type of psychotherapy used in the treatment of trauma and requires the recalling of distressing images. Somehow, this process opened up my mind’s visual, imaginative, and creative centers and I experienced an overwhelming need to express myself through art. I was drawn back to the artistic mediums I had enjoyed as a child.
At first, my rediscovered creativity was a means to purge the horrible memories and painful emotions that were surfacing in therapy. These visual, although often symbolic and abstract representations of my story, allowed my therapist and myself a unique view into my mind, heart, and soul.
I soon realized that in my creative expression I was not only telling the story of my past, but I was also dialoguing with Jesus, my Healer, in the present. I was astounded and comforted to recognize His presence and His healing power made visible in my art. God’s gift of creativity became the language in which I told my story and in which I prayed.
He was healing my whole person and deepening my relationship with Himself through artistic expression.
One Sunday during Mass, the physical pain and heartache seemed unbearable. I wept as I responded, “Lord, I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” I asked our Lord, “Why? Why won’t You just say the word and ease my pain? I know You can.”
Like a sudden flicker of light, an image of a paper heart cut into pieces and the words, “This is healing pain. Look for Me in the healing.” flashed in my mind.
Creating the picture of my broken heart healed by God’s Love was a prayerful and insightful process. The following is an excerpt from my art journal.
My heart was not just broken in two. It was shattered into many pieces.
It was quite a task to piece the paper heart back together, much more difficult than I had expected. There were moments when I got frustrated and thought it wasn’t worth it and I should throw the pieces out and use colored pencils.
But I didn’t give up.
As I kept putting the puzzle together I realized that this artistic process mirrors the healing of a shattered heart. Healing my broken heart is difficult, painful, frustrating, and requires much time and patience. So often I want to give up and feel it is hopeless but I receive so much love, support, and hope from the people who care about me and from God that I keep going.
The pieces of a shattered heart never fit back together perfectly. But the heart is actually larger, expanded by the cracks. It is in the cracks and empty spaces that God pours His love and grace.
A heart once broken is never the same. It becomes so much more beautiful, radiant, and loving as God’s healing hands piece it back together.
I felt more deeply Jesus’ compassion and love for me and had a greater understanding of the purpose of my healing journey. What I suffered as a little girl and during my marriage was not what God intended, but He is using my healing process to transform all that evil to good… all that darkness to light… all that sorrow to joy… all that heartbreak to love. He’s preparing me to be who He intended all along — a healer, too.
Hearing Jesus’ gentle voice telling me to look for Him in the healing reminds me that the abuse and the suffering it caused are over. It is behind me now. My focus needs to be straight ahead of me. My focus needs to be on the healing and transformation — on the good, on the light, on the joy. And on the love.
Today, my children and I are free from harm and safe in a home filled with God’s peace. I am responding to His call to share the gifts of healing, prayer, and the mindful awareness of His presence, by walking alongside other women on their healing journeys.
God speaks to each of us in the language He has written into our hearts. Learning to listen to His voice and letting our hearts speak to His through creative artistic expression is a joy-filled and life-giving dialogue. The beauty we co-create with our Lord is not a masterpiece to be hung in a gallery, but the masterpiece of our own broken hearts and lives becoming whole and radiant with His infinite colors and Light.