The setup is so simple: a few house lamps and a string of twinkling lights, a table for the cups of paint and old brushes, and a pile of scrap fabric in the corner, bits of wire, nails, popsicle sticks, Play-Doh, yarn, ink bottles, tulle, fragments of a broken mirror.
Students begin to trickle inside, quieted by the sound of Christmas hymns, and slowly the miracle of Christian worship takes places once again. The simplest of elements is transfigured into something more.
This is Exhale, a quarterly event on campus that offers SPU students and faculty the opportunity to worship through tactile arts.
Forgoing the familiar worship structure built on a series of congregational songs, Exhale provides instead an eclectic assortment of free art supplies, and attendees are invited to enter into conversation with God in a different way. Artful meditation is supported by a thoughtful atmosphere with live music by SPU's student string quartet.
For many students at the end of a rigorous first quarter, Exhale provided them with, well, just that!
"I was trying to decide if I should push back studying tonight or not, but then I thought, you know, I need this," said Mandy Hough, an SPU junior majoring in visual communications. "I thought, go, this is more important."
Exhale was originally scheduled during Autumn Quarter for November 23. But on account of a campus snow closure, the event had to be rescheduled for December 7 — during finals week!
Having the event during finals week wasn't the ideal plan, but it did provide an unforeseen blessing. Many students felt that it was a perfect way to close the quarter; it was a chance to the think about everything they'd been through in the past 11 weeks, and to thank the God who brought them through.
The later date also gave the string quartet — composed of SPU student violinists Chara Hokama and Melanie Wong, violist Meagan Peeples, and cellist Leanne Riddle — a chance to play Christmas hymns in addition to regular hymns, which the approximately 35 people who attended enjoyed.
In the past, Exhale has been organized independently by different students who were willing, but this year Lingua, SPU's student art and literary organization, took responsibility for putting it on. The hope is that backing it with an established organization on campus will ensure that it is put on for students at least once per quarter and every year, instead of sporadically.