Allyson Arendsee, a second year student in the MA in Theology & Culture program, wrestles with the idea of home and the communal role of the prophet. In upcoming weeks, we will invite students from the MA in Counseling Psychology and the Master of Divinity programs to also reflect on how their artistic pursuits shape their experience at The Seattle School.
I am a visual artist. I am a Christian. I care deeply about transformative art for the purposes of liturgy. My desire is for home and connection, and I have always been willing to fight tirelessly for it. As I seek a space or community that aligns with these desires, I’ve spent most of my life trying to translate myself rather than expose myself.
It began when I was working in New York for International Arts Movement, and I went to a conference called Encounter 11. Artists, theologians, entrepreneurs, writers, and thinkers gathered to share ideas and encourage one another in their craft. It was the first time I remember feeling like I had found my “tribe.” It was the first time I felt welcomed into the grand conversation that I wanted to be a part of. It was such a glorious feeling of coming home that when I left New York and moved back to California, I felt a deep sense of longing to experience that feeling again. This led to enrolling in seminary in Southern California and spending a semester in a place where I felt missed. My desire for resonance in that community was unmet. That was a place to be informed, and I wanted to be transformed. I was being fostered as a budding biblical scholar, and I wanted to be transformed into a provocateur, an artist, and a theologian of change.
Finding The Seattle School and reading the description of the MA in Theology & Culture’s Theology, Imagination, & the Arts track sparked a sense of hope that I still might find my place. This might be the place where I could be welcomed, held well in my gifts, and encouraged to grow fervently as a theologian and a visual artist. So I ran confidently and boldly into the arms of The Seattle School, ready to be embraced—ready for a homecoming.
The sense of home hasn’t quite happened, but I have found something else. As I began reflecting on the life of the prophet, my sense of “placelessness” actually began to feel comforting. I used to think that the “prophetic imagination” was all about calling new ideas into existence for the growth of a community toward a deeper, richer understanding of truth and meaning. I still believe that, but the psychological focus of this community has forced me to consider the mental effect of being transformed into a prophetic voice. The prophet is lonely; she speaks to inform and transform, but because of her dedication to speaking truth, she is often alienated by those who do not understand. So many things I was exposed to in my classes about the artist’s role in the church made me feel inspired, motivated, and unique in my giftedness. I was beyond grateful for that, but I was still left with questions. How am I supposed to do this? Must I go alone?
As I began to think about the prophetic imagination being created in me, I was thankful for this restless heart of mine, prone to wander from place to place. The Seattle School has taken on a new shape for me; I find myself being equipped, not coddled, pushed into my darkness, not protected from it. I am being transformed in a way that urges me to move inward for a sense of home or articulation, rather than waiting for the arrival of outward resonance. Pursuing a degree in this place, I am finding home in the wilderness, and I am being given tools to go to new depths of my own darkness. I am learning to be informed—not just by the horizontal trajectory of my story as it goes behind and before me, but by my prophetic imagination as it engages the vertical narrative of something cosmic, heavenly, and wild, with depth and excessive greatness above and below me. I am learning about my infinite capacity for love, beauty, and goodness in my finite, limited body—even without the sense of arrival or home that I once expected.