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Theological artist adds visual texture to worship

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Photo of a woman working on a piece of art

The Rev. Shawna Bowman, a theological artist, creates a beautiful piece of art during Sunday's Opening Worship. —Photo by Vicki Fogel Mykles.

The opening worship service at the 219th General Assembly (2010) was a liturgical tapestry woven together with music, banners, lights, dance, rain sticks, streamers, words, prayers, puppets and art.


Yes, art! For millennia, artists have interpreted the Christian story. From the early secret symbol paintings of Italian catacombs to da Vinci to Picasso to unidentified artists in Ethiopia, Peru, Polynesia and the Americas, members of every culture touched by the Christian story have interpreted the meaning of their faith through a variety of art forms.

So it should be to no one’s surprise that theological artist and Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) minister Shawna Bowman was invited to add a graphic interpretation to worship. She brought theology to life against the backdrop of a large sheet of black paper by weaving together oil-stick colors of azure, carnelian, and ochre. Her bold contemporary style at once evokes the strong strokes of van Gogh and the vibrant colors of Marc Chagall.

 This former art teacher uses visual art as a theological interpretive tool. “It is also very meditative and allows one to bring all parts of oneself to worship,” she says.

Bowman prepared by reading through the liturgy and texts from Isaiah and John. She then searched through her own experiences of the church for additional inspiration. Partly influenced by the powerful African American spiritual “God’s Gonna Trouble the Waters,” she created a tremulous swirl of color that invites viewers to consider their own encounters with the Divine.

“This is an affirmation that God is with us,” she says, “and a challenge for us to notice that the mountains are moving. God always moves; our task is to pay attention and act. Will we choose to be nurtured by the living waters at the bottom of the mountain?”

Bowman has produced a variety of works for the Lakeview and Wicker Park Presbyterian Churches in Chicago. A 10-piece series on Exodus is currently on display in several Chicago area churches.

 Bowman, a recent McCormick Theological Seminary graduate, is completing a Clinical Pastoral Education program at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago where she uses art therapy is a part of her ministry.