We're used to worship looking like a guitar being strummed, a keyboard being played, a drum kit being struck, maybe even a harp being plucked or a horn being blown. Worship looks like arms high in the air, faces turned heavenward, eyes closed.
But sometimes worship looks like paint, carefully applied to a canvas.
At the COURAGE conference this year, we were delighted to welcome Kate Green to join with us in some of our worship times to use her art to worship and to help us to worship.
We caught up with Kate over lunch one day to ask her more about her work.
RM: I heard you described in one session today as a ‘prophetic artist’ – is that how you think of yourself?
KG: When I’m talking in a Christian context, yes – a prophetic artist or a worship artist, but I’m also trying to do more in secular contexts, so there I’d describe myself as a ‘song painter’. I’ll explain that I use colours and shapes as a language, a vocabulary to express how I’m feeling or what is important to me.
I believe that through painting I bring something of heaven down to earth. Sometimes I know what that is, sometimes I don’t. It’s like when you bring a prophetic word – you often understand some of it, but you go with faith and step out.
RM: I notice you had an idea of the themes for each of your pieces ahead of time – you had prepared the canvases with a base colour and written a brief description of what you were hoping to express. What is the relationship between preparation and spontaneity/response?
KG: It’s a dialogue back and forward. For this conference I knew I had four sessions, so I went for a walk one day and said ‘OK, God, four paintings: what shall we do?’ I felt him say ‘Let’s start with colours’, so we chose the colours. I felt the first one needed to be dark blue, the next one needed to be red, the next needed to be bright pink, and the last one needed to be white. Then I went through each one and asked God what they were about.
For example, I started with the blue one, and got the verse ‘As the deer pants for the water so my soul longs after you' (Psalm 42) – it was a sense of our souls longing in such a deep way for God, and God longing for us, and that coming together. I felt like it needed to be lots of ‘pouring’ – lots of water-based colours, so I prepared for that, and called it ‘Deep Calls to Deep’.
Then when I’m painting live in a worship setting I often have a sense that it is something of a prophetic act – I’ll hear God saying, ‘I want you to pour paint at this moment’, and I feel that it is connected with what he is doing. So as I painted the blue one in the session on Thursday I felt like he was pouring out a desire to draw closer to him, and we were pouring ourselves out in worship to him.
RM: So you clearly put a lot of thought and work into these paintings, and in particular into what you think God is trying to say through them. But I’ve heard people coming up to you and telling you what they see in them. How does that dimension work – particularly if people are not understanding them in the way you intended?
KG: It is something I initially struggled with. If God has given me one meaning and people come and say they have seen something else. But actually it is not my painting; it’s God’s painting. It’s an act of worship. If people hear God’s voice or see something in it that God speaks to them through, then that’s amazing, and it’s not up to me to say, ‘it only means this or that.’
I feel like I’m hearing really clearly from God, so I’m just taking the step of faith that it is doing something. I don’t really understand it all, but I’m trusting that I am supposed to do it, so I’m doing it.
RM: For other people who might find this helps them express their worship, but maybe don't have the opportunity or the confidence to have a big easel with a canvas in church on a Sunday, what do you suggest? How can others start to worship in this way?
KG: We start anything from where we’re at, don’t we? I started just feeling I needed to express my worship visually in my quiet times, so I got pieces of paper out and did that. Then I felt that I needed to do this in church, so I asked whether they would mind if I put sugar paper on the cupboard doors off to one side, and I promised I wouldn’t make a mess, and got permission to do that. Then I went to [the worship event] David’s Tent where they have a prophetic art team, and read a book about worship through creativity, and it all grew from there.
I feel very blessed that my church (City Church, Cambridge) has encouraged me almost before I felt ready, but there are lots of things online that people can get involved in and find encouragement and ideas, and a lot of good books. Your attitude needs to be that it’s just you and God, you’re just painting a picture for your daddy – you shouldn’t be worried about what it’s going to look like, or what people are going to think of you.
It’s a vulnerable thing being creative, but it’s been very good for my dependency on God and leaning in. I love it, and it’s when I get started that it all fades away, because it’s what I’m made to do.
Kate is available to churches for workshops, talks, live art, exhibitions of her work etc. Whether you need a single session or a whole week's residency, she has options to suit. Visit her website, www.flourishandfly.co.uk to learn more.
To buy prints of Kate's paintings from the conference, and see other examples of her work, visit her Etsy page.