An Artful Journey Through Lent

Discover the Lenten sketchbooks of Paul Soupiset and have a prayer focus for each day.

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Posted in , Feb 17, 2015

Drawing by Paul Soupiset

Paul Soupiset is an artist, designer and illustrator who studied journalism but has since spent the last two decades as a graphic designer and creative director.

He describes himself as a “spiritual mutt”–raised in the United Methodist Church, a product of Southern Baptist youth groups, evangelical summer camps and conservative Christian formation at university.

He found liturgy and his vocational calling as an artist in his twenties; he fell in love with the contemplative tradition and monastic–and neo-monastic–spirituality along the way in his thirties.

About 10 years ago, he spent time leading worship in the Evangelical Free Church tradition and helped plant a faith community, and today is part of a small, contemplative, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship community in San Antonio, Texas.

I first discovered his work online a few Lenten seasons ago, when I came across one of his delightful Lenten sketchbooks at paulsoupiset.com.

Drawing detail by Paul Soupiset

One way to pray this Lenten Season (which starts tomorrow with Ash Wednesday) is to let Paul lead you on an artful journey through Lent and suggest a prayer focus for the day.

Paul kindly agreed to share a little about his life and his Lenten sketchbook and his own spiritual journey in this Q&A with me:

BH: When and why did you first come up with the idea of sketching something new every day in Lent?

PS: I believe 2007 was the first year I sketched every day for Lent. That particular year I was looking for some kind of spiritual discipline and an additive, expansive one at that.

I wasn’t looking to subtract something from my life that year–giving up chocolate or coffee wasn’t on my radar. Instead, I wanted to build in a time to slow down, stop, breathe.

So, on my lunch break on Ash Wednesday that year, I opened a new journal, packed up my pens and watercolors and headed a few blocks from my design studio to San Antonio’s historic San Fernando cathedral where an Ash Wednesday service was going on in Spanish.

I lined up with the rest of the parishioners and after receiving the imposition of ashes, I headed out to the plaza, sat down and drew my first Lenten sketch and glued a scrap of paper onto the sketch from the order of worship that said “Remember human that you are dust.”

Most years since then I’ve kept up the discipline, and more often than not, I’ve shared the art online with friends and strangers. It’s become confessional, healing, and very meaningful (see Paul’s 2007 Lenten sketchbook here).

BH: Do you ever pray while creating? If so, can you describe what that's like?

PS: Absolutely. And in several different ways, I guess. My art-making is filled with imagery, symbols, concepts and shapes that are anchored in the Christian faith, and in that sense the very act of creating is prayer–kataphatic prayer–which is just a fancy way of saying identifiable, namable and explicit.

So in one sense, that grappling, that give-and-take, the decisions around the content of my art–it is all very much a prayer.

I’ve learned this from monastic artists like Christine Valters Paintner, the very act of making time to create is very much a prayer–from the ordering of one’s materials, preparing the water, the brushes, the paper to silencing, centering and preparing oneself for drawing or sketching or painting.

I might start a sketch with an invocation or a prayer of gratitude or a “Glory be to the Father and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit…”  But there’s also a more apophatic prayer that doesn’t deal with words at all.

It happens when my false self gets about as lost as it’s going to, and I am about as close to that unassailable place where I’m simply resting in the presence of God as I’m gonna get. For me, it’s when I’m lost in the act of creating.

What do you hope or expect Lent to look like for you this year?

This year I’m hoping for a bit of closure, or maybe clarity. I have been looking back on a particularly rough 12 months, a year of transition–I left the studio where I’d worked for 18 years and lost some friendships in the process, and went on a fascinating journey of pain and healing.

So I’m going to be experiencing the anniversary of some of the roughest days from that period smack dab in the middle of Lent. I’m hoping the sketch-journaling will both help me through it and also help me make sense of it. I want to stay as open as possible for God to speak to me through the process.

What's the best way for a reader of this blog to learn more about you, your art and your faith?

Simply by visiting my website where I post updates sporadically.

Another way to get to know what’s under the hood is by diving into my poetry. Peregrine is a collection of poems, prayers and fragments from this past year; I’m currently working on its sequel.

 

Do you identify with how Paul experiences prayer? Do his sketches suggest to you any new (or old) ways to pray? Do any specific sketches speak to you or open a new door to prayer?  

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