The Relationship Between Spirituality and Artistic Expression 


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Cultivating the Capacity for Imagining By Christine Valters Paintner, Ph.D.

There are three dimensions of spirituality that I consider especially relevant to exploring its intersection with artistic expression. First, spirituality can be considered a search for meaning in life. The psychologist Viktor Frankl developed a school of therapy around this profound human need after being in a concentration camp and discovering that those who were able to create a sense of meaningfulness fared much better than those who did not. He described the search for meaning in one’s life as “the primary motivational force” in persons.  By cultivating a sense of meaning, spirituality can provide an orientation to our lives, a set of values to live by, a sense of direction, and a basis for hope.


Second, spirituality can help us to cultivate a relationship to mystery. In our search for meaning, we discover a hunger for something that is beyond the limits of our capacity to fully describe in language. We come to recognize there is a depth dimension to the world beyond surface appearances. This is the presence that great mystics have described as the God beyond all names. It also is an awareness of the presence of love in the world where there might only have been hate; hope where there might only have been despair; being where there might have been nothing. Spirituality facilitates an encounter with the presence of mystery in our lives and nurtures a relationship with it. Third, spirituality is about transformation and should challenge us to stretch and grow through commitment to a set of practices. In our search for meaning and relationship to mystery, spiritual traditions have advised particular ways of entering more deeply into this search through a set of practices or disciplines. Practices help us to cultivate a way of being intentional about our spirituality and help us shape our lives around the meaning and mystery we are discovering through this commitment.