Words by Malik Dieleman

When I began my photography studies in Toronto at OCAD University, I didn’t speak of my faith with most of my peers. I didn’t like the idea of being attached to the negative stereotypes that come with the “Christian” label. Even when the topic came up, I avoided sharing my opinions. I assumed people would see me as hateful, ignorant, and hypocritical. After all, the contemporary art world has not had the greatest relationship with religion. Why would it be any different for me?

During my third year, however, I started creating projects inspired by my faith and by Scripture. I had wanted to do this for so long, but never found the courage. For every project, students had to present the process and inspiration that led to the final product. With this structure, I couldn’t avoid sharing my beliefs with my professors and classmates. What an awesome platform I had been neglecting!

Once I was open about my faith, I felt so relieved. It was like I learned a new language—a language of honesty. Why did I hide it for so long? One classmate came up to me after one of these presentations and said something like, “I haven’t seen many young religious people. It’s cool that you shared that.”

“Once I was open about my faith, I felt so relieved. It was like I learned a new language—a language of honesty.”

I’ve learned that artists, not just me, like authenticity and transparency. By trying to “protect my image” I was being more of a hypocrite, as if believing in the gospel wasn’t a life-changing decision worth sharing. Why should I ever be afraid? It’s as if I had all the armour for spiritual battle (as described in Ephesians 6), but I wasn’t fighting at all. As a good friend told me: “We forget that we are on the offensive, not the defensive.”

Take note of the situations where you are timid about your faith, and ask God to help you be authentic, transparent, and vulnerable. Remember the armour you have and the skills you have to contribute to the Kingdom. God can use us wherever we are at.

An artist’s statement

Devotion can be defined as: 

1. An act of prayer or private worship 

2. Dedicating something to a cause, enterprise, or activity 

I have found photography can act as a medium for these two definitions of devotion, building a bridge between my faith and my art practices. 

This series, Devotions, is at once a representation of my faith and an enactment of it. It invites people to explore my worldview and to reflect aspects of God’s character. God speaks to us in a variety of ways. In my experience, I hear Him more clearly when I make time, with a listening ear and a humble spirit, to pray, read, sing, write, and look for an image to capture what I am experiencing. Being in nature helps me focus while simultaneously reminding me of God’s handiwork.

For this series, I came up with a list of words, each revealing an aspect (albeit merely a glimpse) of who God is and what He is like. I then found natural landscapes to represent each word. These words are objects present in the scene, written with sand, stones, and branches. The text is blended with the environment, reflecting the connection between nature and the revelation of God. 

Ideas for Leaders: Using nature and photography to explore biblical truth

Have your group choose some of their favourite Bible verses and head out into a natural setting. Encourage them to think of a time when these verses impacted them. Ask them to take pictures that reflect the feeling/mood they get when reading their verses. The group can share the images they took and describe what they mean to them. The images can be then used as a background for the verses, which can be placed overtop digitally.

Challenge your group to get inspiration from Scripture. The Bible is full of natural imagery—from mountains to streams, from birds to lions, from fields to gardens. Ask your group to think about ways they can represent these passages in photographs. Some suggested readings:

  • The story of creation (Genesis 1 and 2)
  • Some of Jesus’s parables in the Gospels (the budding fig tree, the sower, the mustard seed, the lost sheep, etc.). 
  • Some of the Psalms (8, 24, 33, 65, 104)

Organize a time for your group to spend meditating on Scripture/praying in a natural setting. Have them focus on listening for God and observing their surroundings. What stands out? Where do they see God in this space? It will help to have a notebook to write/draw reflections or any visuals that may come to mind. Ask them to snap a picture of something that stands out.