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Judi Engel
Associate Judi Engel

“You are God’s Work of Art”

By Judi Engel
Adrian Dominican Associate

Each year, the Dominican Youth Movement USA sponsors two preaching conferences for young people: college/university students and high school students. Both are directed toward introducing young people to Dominican life and traditions, including the Dominican Charism of preaching.

The purpose statement for the high school conference is to “empower students to discover and deepen the preacher within themselves through prayer, study, community, and interaction with members of the Dominican family.” 

Over several very full days in the high school preaching conference, workshops are presented under broad titles such as Gathering in the Dominican Tradition, Prayer in the Dominican Tradition, and Preaching in the Dominican Tradition. The students are divided into groups of 12 to 15, called “Home Groups,” which meet each day after the sessions for reflection, discussion, and prayer.

Under the heading of Preaching, various workshops and presentations cover areas such as Preaching the Signs of the Times (social justice) and Preaching through the Arts. As an artist and a Dominican, I have always seen my work in the visual arts as my personal “language” for preaching. So when I saw the call for presenters in the arts, I volunteered. 

Part of discovering “the preacher within” is the realization of just how much we are loved, how much our God truly delights in us as “the work of God’s hands,” so I chose the quotation, “You are God’s Word of Art” (Eph 2:10, Jerusalem Bible) as the theme and clay as the medium.

Over the course of the day, I worked with three groups. I began each session by introducing myself as a Dominican Associate and artist. I added a bit about how and why I believe the arts – all of them – are compelling languages for preaching.

What the young people didn’t anticipate was that I would ask them to follow me in a guided process, working with their eyes closed! I gave them a focus and then led them through the initial steps in the process before leaving them to work in silence, eyes closed the whole time. As students seemed to be finished, I spoke quietly with them, letting them add finishing touches (eyes open) and clean up their workplace.

When everyone was finished, I invited them to say anything they wished about the experience and asked why they had worked with their eyes closed. My reason was that they had to trust the process, and they couldn’t see what anyone else was doing and start comparing their work. 

Associate Judi Engel stands watching four seated students creating clay art with their eyes closed

 

Then we gathered in a circle as they held their work in their hands. I asked them to exchange their pieces with the person on their right, then quietly pray for a few moments for that other person whose work of art they were holding and who, like themselves, was God’s work of art.

To conclude, I asked them to recall the creation story in Genesis and how God, after each step in creation, said, “That’s good!” I reminded them that each of them is “God’s work of art” and that they are incredibly loved, a source of delight to God just as their clay piece – or any other accomplishment – is a source of delight.

As teenagers, they were naturally often shy in their sharing, but they clearly were engaged. I hope that each one will remember that they are a beautiful and beloved creation, a “work of art,” and that this helps them discover, strengthen, nourish, and trust “the preacher within.”
 

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