By Hillary Asbury –
My family is a musical family. My grandfather played an instrument in school. My uncle was in the marching band, and so was my stepdad. My mom plays piano and was a member of the jazz band. My cousins play piano, sing, and write music. Even my best friend is an opera singer.
I have sung in church choirs since I was very little, and I was in band all throughout school. When my grandpa took me to buy my very own flute, it was like some unspoken family rite of passage. It was a big deal. I could tell it was a big deal, and I could tell my family was proud to be raising another musician. I thought: this is who I am. I am a musician from a family of musicians. I was proud too.
When it came down to it, though, I didn’t enjoy the music very much. I wasn’t very good, and I had to practice a lot to keep up with my classmates. I didn’t want to practice a lot. I didn’t like practicing. I made the same mistakes over and over again. I felt like I couldn’t control my fingers, couldn’t control my breath, couldn’t control the metronome in my head. I was constantly frustrated with what felt like an uphill battle to succeed at something that seemed to come naturally to everyone else around me. That was who I was, though. I was a musician from a family of musicians, and I was proud to be one.
So, when I started taking art classes, I think it confused me. It came naturally to me. I was good at it. I liked practicing and loved seeing the results of my practice. I was passionate about my work and could get lost in it for hours. The thought of being a liturgical artist never really occurred to me, though, until I was commissioned by my home church to do a piece for our sanctuary.
What’s wild is that there had been signs all along; my path was constantly being redirected in the liturgical direction, but I was rebellious. I wanted to create hard hitting social commentary paintings. I wanted to poke at norms, challenge society, make people uncomfortable. I wanted to do performance art and protest pieces. I wanted to make a name for myself in the art world, find my work on the walls of galleries and museums. I thought, “This is who I am: I am an artist!”
I didn’t see myself as a liturgical artist, as someone who would (or could) spread the comfort of the Gospel. I wasn’t as interested in seeing my work up on the walls of churches. Maybe deep down I was afraid. Maybe I felt unworthy and so tried to turn away again and again. Even when I did come around, I thought I could do both: keep one foot in the secular art world and one foot in the liturgical world. But I couldn’t.
The funny thing is when I finally came to the realization that this was the direction my work was going to go, I tried to force the world to label me “Liturgical Artist.” I had little success pursuing my career, so I applied to a fellowship and was rejected. I applied to grad school and was rejected. I was devastated, and one day I turned up in my pastor’s office and asked, “If this is what I’m supposed to do with my life, why is the answer always no?” I hope I never forget what he said to me after that. “Why are you waiting for the world to give you permission?” he asked. “Why don’t you just get out there and be the liturgical artist you want to be?” I thought the world could tell me who I was supposed to be. I thought a certificate or degree would make me worthy of the work I was doing. I forgot that I was called to that work by an almighty God and that I didn’t need validation beyond that. What’s more, I had forgotten who I was, that I had already been named: given the only label that truly matters. This is who I am. I am a child of God.