What if prayer was more than a word spoken and worship more than lyrics woven together by a melody?
That’s the question artist Scott Erickson, known on Instagram simply as “Scott the Painter,” has ventured to answer over the years, particularly with his recent book, “Prayer: Forty Days of Practice,” which he co-authored with writer Justin McRoberts.
Through his book and via Instagram, Erickson invites struggling and strong believers — those looking for fresh ways to connect with the same God — to explore how we can communicate with and hear from the Lord through art.
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The traditional mechanics of prayer and worship just weren’t working anymore for Erickson, a full-time artist who gained notoriety about three years ago, when he decided to start posting his work on Instagram.
No longer confident in what had become comfortable, he recycled the mundane in favor of something new: Erickson began connecting with the same Ancient of Days in perhaps the most timeless way, through art.
So often, we confuse the mechanics, Erickson said, with the “essence” of prayer. Looking for different methods to communicate his faith and to express his innermost joys and sorrows, he began to use social media for what he calls “spiritual formation through image contemplation.”
“We say, ‘I’ve gotta pray this way and that way,’” he said. “But the mechanics are there to get you to the essence. When the mechanics stop working, move on. Find mechanics that work — that’s not the point.”
Erickson’s comments are juxtaposed with a culture painted by declining faith. Over the years, church attendance has consistently slipped and almost half of millennials describe themselves as religiously unaffiliated, wandering about, unmoored by any deep faith.
That problem is only made worse by the fact that, for many, the traditional mechanisms of prayer and worship — hands folded, eyes closed, hands raised, music playing — just aren’t getting the job done. It’s like a car running and ready to go — God is actively and intimately moving in our lives — but, for whatever reason, the keys just aren’t unlocking the doors for us to get inside.
“What people are trying to hold onto is their love of the mechanics,” Erickson said, adding he doesn’t want to do away with those practices but instead wants to incorporate others alongside them.
As an artist, one of Erickson’s mechanics for prayer is imagery — a tool he said more people in the Christian community should be open to embracing.
The West Coast native said his art coupled in his new book with McRoberts’ poetic, one-sentence prayers are just “excavation tools” to help the lost finally tap into what God is already doing in their lives.
“Imagery is just really another language to get to that, because you can have words land in you but you can also see something that also really lands in you and helps you get to that,” he said, noting so few in evangelical circles see how art and imagery can be spiritually formative.
Catholic and Orthodox traditions, Erickson explained, have continued to use art as a teacher in their spaces, but following the Reformation, Protestants began to make “space for a teacher but we stopped making spaces as a teacher.”
“We just don’t really understand how imagery can be a teacher for us in forming us,” he said. “Justin and I wanted to partner those two things together, because then it causes a different conversation.”
McRoberts and Erickson are stepping into what is for some people a very real spiritual vacancy. Erickson said he’s received emails from people who told him, “I had all but given up on my faith, but your stuff has helped me find something new.”
For more information about Erickson or to order his book, “Prayer: Forty Days of Practice,” click here.