Walking in nature and reflecting on scripture are familiar to many Christians for whom pilgrimage is a way of leaving the noise of the city behind, a witness to the wonder of creation.

Over eight weeks, local artist Janet Freckleton and Faith and Creativity lead Bronagh Daly will be walking and sketching, spotting the beauty of nature in and around Water Lane, Holbeck using the guidance of a book called ‘Earth Colour’ and reflecting on Proverbs 8, ‘Wisdom Calls’.  Bronagh reflects on their learning form the wisdom of nature in Holbeck.

Our short sketch walks are a reminder that even in our lunchtime, there is awe and wonder right here in the city centre. It just takes a few footsteps to encounter the swans and ducks on the River Aire, the lichen on the walls, the warmth of the sunshine on your back and the abundance of wildlife right here in the city.

During our walks we reflect on ‘Wisdom Calls’ and the healing gifts of creation as an antidote to the bombardment of consumerism, beauty advertising and marketing slogans that we see all around us in the city. Inspired by Proverbs, we are standing as two women of faith at the edge of the city and shouting aloud, nature is better than consumerism.

Inspired by the Wild City Retreats led in 2014 by Pippa Woodhams, we are taking time to discover those ‘blink and you miss them’ moments of encounter is a real gift in a fast-paced city like Leeds. In this our first session, we made quick sketches of the movement of the water, held tight between two large walls. We noticed that when we stood still and focused on nature in such an unlikely urban location, we began to notice God’s beauty, so bountiful amidst the sound of traffic, building work, and buzz of pedestrians chatting nearby. The area we sketched was heavily built up with factories and high-rise apartment developments; hardly anyone we saw was taking time to notice the beautiful beck, once famed for its healing sulphur waters, that flows beneath these city streets. Focusing on the fast-flowing beck, we talked about the spiritual metaphors, and the reminder of our baptismal promises led us towards a discussion about marginalisation, self-doubt and, ultimately, hope.

Janet reflected, “This is my city, I grew up here, but I have never been to this part of the city before. There is so much beauty. As we stood at the edge of the city, focused on our sketch of the fast-flowing ‘Hol beck’, two women approached us asking, ‘What are these waters?’ Our focus sparked curiosity and we shared the vision of our faith and creativity adventure.”

The second session focused our creative skills on ‘draw what you hear’, a much harder challenge than last week. We doodled, listened, and were amazed at the many different bird sounds we could hear amidst the bangs and clangs of the city at work. Tuning in to the sounds of nature helped us to talk about how important it is to take time to notice the forgotten precious gifts the city has to share, we talked about stereotypes and self-belief. Janet spotted blossom very similar to those in her ‘Micromovements’ exhibition and we reflected on how even the smallest blossom had the potential to inspire the many visitors who came to see her exhibitions last year.

We took our time to listen with intent, and noticed a real sense of calm, we felt connected and rooted in place. Children on a geography field trip asked us to help in their survey about crime, living standards and access to local services. We both agreed that our answers were impacted by our appreciation of the nature and getting to know the local area a little bit better. Under the bridge, where the water was concealed from sight and bird song ceased, we had a real sense of standing at a crossroads, on the edge of the city where the luxury apartments stopped and derelict buildings began.

We returned to the office, reflecting on the gifts that wisdom had revealed through taking time out and listening to nature. We were invited to judge this place and instead we delved into scripture, spirituality, mindfulness, and a culture of encounter.

The aim of these sketch walks is to generate images and words of wisdom to be utilised in an upcoming series of ‘Creative Catalyst’ retreats to help Christians, churches and faith organisations share the good news of the gospels through engaging in fine arts.

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Further reading
Earth Colour by Emma Burleigh
Twitter @EmmaBurleigh
Proverbs 8 ‘Wisdom’s Call’