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Brush with the Spirit

Feeding creativity and spirituality may help to solve our problems

By Carolyn Pogue

Danah Cox is a Renaissance man. Gifted artist, minister, storyteller, chef and computer wizard. And he's in the throes of starting a new thing at St. Andrews Centre in south Calgary. The centre is a new incarnation of St. Andrew's United Church and strives to be open to religious as well as "spiritual, but not religious" people.

I visited Danah at the centre this summer. First, he offered me his handmade, gourmet appetizers. Then, he offered a story.

It all began in New Orleans. Although he had been "born in and bred in the church," he had dismissed all that and, for decades, was a declared atheist. He became an artist and a waiter at Antoinnes, an upscale French restaurant in New Orleans. He married and became a parent. In typical fashion, time and energy for art evaporated. He sailed along until suddenly, his relationship ended. He panicked.

Surprisingly, Danah's art became the vehicle for his salvation — in many ways. Initially, he felt the desire to return to portraiture. Looking for models, he started painting in a residence for impoverished seniors. "Artists do this sometimes when they can't afford to hire models but need the practice." Usually, one paints and then gives the painting to the model. And that's where the transformation began. Studying and drawing the lifelines of the elderly, and feeling drawn into their eyes opened something in Danah's heart. He began looking for "something larger" in his life. Art carried him toward it.

Artist and minister Danah Cox. Photo by Carolyn Pogue
Artist and minister Danah Cox. Photo by Carolyn Pogue

After he found himself taking a course in pastoral care, he was nudged to study hospital chaplaincy. He eventually attended a seminary, became ordained in the United Church of Christ and married a second time. Seven years ago, Danah and his new family moved to Calgary. He now serves Calgary’s Campbell-Stone United Church part-time.

Danah has combined all of his arts, energetic storytelling and technological know-how to offer three unique programs at the centre. He believes that although our bodies and minds develop as we age, our creative spirit is often left to wither. A film on the St. Andrew's website offers encouragement to anyone needing a nudge to tap into their creative spirit. Danah’s passion is to help people awaken their spirituality. "Freeing the spiritual self frees the whole self," he says. "Creativity helps us leap out of the deadened consciousness.” 

At the moment, he has three delicious offerings: "Palates: Feeding the Body, Mind and Spirit," begins with a gourmet dinner at a table for six and moves to a theme for discussion before exploring that theme through art. "Open Studio" begins with lunch and allows artists at any stage of development to work or seek help from Danah on a project of their own. And finally, "Pause and Effect" provides concrete ways to improve creative skills while reflecting on why that is so important. (Remember that Einstein said, "Imagination is more important than knowledge.")

I believe that we have the skills and information we need to solve many of our personal and even global problems. Perhaps, what is lacking is creativity. Programs like Brush with the Spirit, however can help us to practice thinking outside of our little boxes. And at St. Andrew's, that taste of New Orleans is a decided bonus.

Author's photo
Carolyn Pogue is a Calgary author and longtime Observer contributor. For more information on Carolyn Pogue, visit www.carolynpogue.ca..
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