May 21, 2018
As a child, Melissa Martin MDiv/MACEF '18 was shaped by the intersection of the church and the arts. Participating in the community of her local congregation and following in the footsteps of her artistic family, these two spheres mutually enriched one another and Martin herself. “Watching my mother and grandmother express their faith through creativity helped me realize that art is a really effective way of communicating,” she says. “It gets your soul involved and helps you to encounter God and the world in a new way.”
Martin was first drawn to Princeton Theological Seminary because of its commitment to holistic formation. “I feel like I’m starving when I can’t incorporate art into what I’m doing or how I’m thinking,” she explains. “So I took as many courses as I could that created space for me to see how artistic expression and faith are connected.” From an independent study on iconography with Dr. Gordon Graham to a pastoral care-oriented reading of Olive Kitteridge with President Craig Barnes, Martin has explored the breadth of the Seminary’s diverse course offerings rooted in the arts.
So, too, has Martin explored and deepened her passion for artistic expression in the church through her four-year tenure with the Princeton Theological Seminary Lenten Devotional. In fact, it was her desire to combine faith and the arts that led her to this work: “My first year at PTS, I was looking for a way to get involved with the Seminary community and to use my creative gifts and background in editing and design.” When Jan Ammon, minister of Miller Chapel, offered her the opportunity to get involved in creating a new Lenten Devotional for the Seminary community, Martin says it was a perfect fit.
“Spiritual formation happens through more than just words. It happens through being influenced by the things that we see—especially art—and how we engage them.”
Each year, in keeping with their goal to merge Lenten spiritual practices with the visual arts, the Devotional team encourages students, faculty, staff, and families to contribute original devotions and works of art. During her first year of work with the devotional, Martin primarily focused her energies on layout and design. She was asked to stay on the following year as a co-coordinator, and has served in this capacity for three consecutive years.
Under Martin’s leadership, the Lenten Devotional team has explored various spiritual and artistic dimensions of Lent, from its intense tactility to its paradoxical beauty. The team has even developed “Forty Days: A Lenten Journey,” a companion app. “We realized that people don’t always take the physical devotional around with them,” Martin explains. “And we also realized that people are always going to have their phones on them, so an app was the perfect solution.”
This year’s Lenten Devotional invites readers to delve deeper into the black and white of the Lenten narrative through coloring. “Our goal was to move beyond getting people involved as contributors and encourage them to interact with the devotional guide itself,” she explains. “Spiritual formation happens through more than just words. It happens through being influenced by the things that we see—especially art—and how we engage them.
Audrey Webber MDiv '19 played a critical role in making this vision possible, carefully crafting her intricate illustrations as devotional submissions poured in. A gifted artist with particular passions for line drawing and parish ministry, Webber was glad to be brought on board. “It was a dream to have this opportunity to combine my two loves of church life and art,” she says. “Coloring invites us to experience God and scripture in a different way that many of us haven’t tried before. We hope that people will be invited to see the Spirit at work through their hands and through their eyes in a manner that’s different than how we experience God in traditional worship.”
Martin adds that Lent is the perfect liturgical space to engage in such an artistic spiritual practice, which is undoubtedly a new one for many. “Especially during a time like Lent, when we’re giving things up and realizing our humanity, it’s important to engage in spiritual practices like coloring that push us a little bit outside our comfort zone and into a space where we can be more contemplative.”
As she prepares for a career in parish ministry after graduation, Martin says that the Lenten Devotional has helped her hone her sense of vocation and develop her own framework for ministry. “This work has confirmed my love for leading a community in worship and has allowed me space to dream,” she reflects. “I love dreaming up an idea and working with gifted, talented people to create something beautiful. It has taught me how to work with people, make their gifts shine, and celebrate them for who God made them to be.”