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SPRING FESTIVALS CULTIVATE THE ARTISTIC AND THE SPIRITUAL

Paint a landscape. Tell a story. Play a jazz riff.

Maybe you are doing it for reasons of your own -- to try something new, for fun, to entertain.

Or, maybe, that creativity is an expression of your spiritual self, as some religious leaders suggest.

The link between being artistic -- whether it's watercolor, poetry, dance -- and spiritual is a theme that churches are enthusiastically exploring. There are at least three local events this spring that link the two.

"I think the experience of beauty, as expressed through the arts, touches the soul in a way that theology or philosophy or all of our analysis of the transcendent can't reach," said the Rev. Jack Ledwon, pastor of St. Joseph University Roman Catholic Church, which is co-sponsoring its third annual such event.

"Sometimes, the arts become a primary opening up to the deeper realities of life, the presence of God," said Ledwon. "It can happen in many ways, in faith or outside. The arts can give us a bridge to people who are religious or those who don't regard themselves as religious."

Among the musicians invited to next weekend's event is Don Metz, a composer and guitarist. He will play "Funginii," a piece that comes from a video opera that he is collaborating on.

"It was weird that I got asked to do this," said Metz, the associate director of the Burchfield-Penney Art Center. "I'm not a religious person at all. I just find spirituality as personal as I find my music."

People touched by beauty

The Rev. Charles Lamb, assistant pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Youngstown, said he's not "exactly sure what's at work" as his church plans its second art/spirituality festival at the end of April.

It's a weekendlong event that welcomes anyone to view the work of 10 artists and sculptors, to hear live music, to witness liturgical dance and to participate in workshops. Among those offering workshops are: the Rev. Michael Tunney (portrait painting) and his Canisius College colleague the Rev. Ben Fiore (calligraphy).

"We are becoming more and more aware that people are touched not just by sitting and listening to sermons, but through beauty, music art, nature," said Lamb, "things that make us think about values and the divine and being in touch with God."

Music is the theme of next weekend's spirituality and arts event, co-sponsored by Westminster Presbyterian Church, St. Joe's and the UB Rare Book Collection.

"Music is emotion and gets to places of the human psyche and spirit that words and images can't reach," said the Rev. Thomas Yorty, Westminster pastor. "I think there's a very profound and core connection between music and spiritual life. And I mean that in all of its wonderful diversity and forms."

But how does that play out on a Sunday morning? That question and others will be fielded by the Rev. Thomas H. Troeger, professor of preaching and communications at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, who has written hymns texts and books on the topic.

Yorty admits that some worshippers associate certain types of ancient music as the only "proper" worship music, but he disagrees.

"In some ways it still works, and in some ways it doesn't," he said. "The sacred music that's typically been in churches for say the last 300 years was written in Europe in the 1700s and 1800s, and the text represents a far different worldview than we have now. When we use music from that era, what we are singing springs from the 18th century imagination, which is fine and good to be familiar with.

"But it's important for any worshipping congregation to use worship forms that the imagination has created in other historical periods - like our own."

"It's always helpful to think of history," said Troeger earlier this week in a phone interview. "The historical division between spirituality and art is not one that our forebears had. In fact, art was a direct expression of their spiritual beliefs, and it continued well past the Renaissance.

"There's that big name, J.S. Bach, who directly expressed his faith in his music. So, I would remind people that division isn't something that a vast majority of people experienced." Troeger said that today, as people try to resonate with contemporary culture, the artistic expressions that will be most enduring are those that remain most in touch with tradition.

A message of hope

At a Stella Niagara conference in May, Ron and Kay Gentile, retired Buffalo State College professors, will use songs they've written to explore therapy; peace-making and conflict resolution; body movements as reinforcement for positive emotions; and music as inspiration.

Kay Gentile said that 30 years ago music helped in her recovery from cancer, an experience that was reinforced when she participated at a music program for adolescents at Roswell Park Cancer Institute.

"My own experience when I had cancer and went through a severe depression was that my faith, along with certain types of music, helped me get past my fear of death," said Gentile, who listened to religious music, John Denver songs and classical music, particularly Beethoven.

"I listened to things that were hopeful," said Gentile. "Even though John Denver spoke of fear, he didn't leave you there. He acknowledged, "This is where I am, but I'm saying there's another place.'

"Before this experience, I thought of music as mainly entertaining," said Gentile, who is a singer. "Now, I know music can help us kind of get past ourselves and do things that are beyond just us."

Carol Wolf will be on the same program as the Gentiles, as a biblical storyteller. Retired from health care administration, Wolf said she's been pursuing creativity for many years.

"I always thought I wasn't very artistic, I'm not a painter or a musician," said Wolf, "but I've found storytelling and the drama of biblical stories. When I intentionally take time, as often as I can, to just get away and do something out of my comfort zone, I come away with a whole new perspective and energy.

"Doing the arts frees you to relax, to find a purpose," said Wolf, "rather than being on a merry-go-round of going to work, taking care of the family and wondering what is all this for."

THREE SPRING FESTIVALS

The second annual Festival of Faith and Arts will be held at First Presbyterian Church of Youngstown, 100 Church St., Youngstown, beginning at 7 p.m. April 29 with a reception; there will be events during the day on April 30 and it will conclude at the 10:45 p.m. worship service on May 1.

Included in the festival will be a display of visual arts, and a performance of music at 7 p.m. April 30; demonstrations of liturgical dance; and workshops on portraits, calligraphy and watercolor. All events are free and open to the public. For information, call the church at 745-7067.

Westminster Presbyterian Church, St. Joseph University Roman Catholic Church and University at Buffalo Poetry and Rare Book Collection are sponsoring the third annual Spirituality and the Arts Weekend next weekend. The program's theme is "Worship Trends and Practices: Keeping Faith With Our Traditions While Speaking to the 21st Century."

Events include:

A keynote address by the Rev. Thomas Troeger, dean of preaching at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, at 7 p.m. Friday at St. Joseph Church, 3269 Main St. Following his talk, there will be an opportunity to discuss issues that shape communal worship. Cost is $7, $5 (students).

From 8:30 a.m. to noon next Saturday at Allen Hall, University at Buffalo Main Street Campus, Troeger will speak again. His talk will be followed by brief musical performances of rap, opera, chamber music and jazz accompanied by a panel discussion with a music critic, an art director, an actress/singer and a theologian. The program will explore the theme, "Music: How Spiritual and Universal a Language?" Cost is $7, $5 (students).

On April 17, Troeger will speak on the artistic voice in the practice of faith and mission at 9:30 a.m. in the Case Library at Westminster, followed by the 11 a.m. worship service, where he will preach.

Spirituality and the Arts, a conference for religious educators and others wishing to explore ways of knowing God, will be held at the Center for Renewal at Stella Niagara, 4421 Lower River Road, Lewiston.

The program, which begins at 8 a.m. May 21, includes:

Barbara Bruce, author of "Your Spiritual Brain" and "7 Ways to Teach the Bible to Adults . . . and Children," will speak on "How Do You Know God?"

"The Therapeutic and Spiritual Powers of Music" by Ron and Kay Gentile;

"Storytelling and Spirituality" by Carol Wolf;

"The Visual Arts" by Sister Karen Allen.

There is a fee of $20; call 754-7376 to register.

e-mail: pvoell@buffnews.com