Anja Renkes (TBP ’22) is a talented artist who has earned both her BA and MA in theology. Her paintings shimmer with God’s beauty. But Anja was struggling to see her own beauty and suffered from anxiety and fear. Coming to Rome with TBP, she says, “I learned that true humility is sharing myself courageously with joy. Who am I to not love myself as God
loves me?...” Anja took part in the first post-pandemic Truth & Beauty Project Young Adult Immersion in Rome in the Summer of 2022. Her work is featured in our January 2024 issue of The Scoop.
Q: Let’s talk about art and theology, and how you found the confidence to exhibit in Ireland.
A: That story starts in college, when I became fascinated by Irish holy wells–humble, local sites of Catholic pilgrimage and popular piety nestled in the Irish landscape. My paintings explore the beauty of creation alongside the beauty of prayer and the human, God-given capacity to be in dialogue with God.
I learned that true humility is sharing myself courageously with joy.
Q: It sounds like all that took a lot of confidence on your part!
A: Actually, I think it’s not uncommon for artists to be plagued with self-doubt, a seed planted by the enemy of our vocations. I know I have struggled deeply with that. In particular I had trouble with public speaking and letting myself be seen. I had suffered from a prolonged and serious illness after that research trip that really shook me to my core.
Q: So how did you manage to travel back to Ireland and exhibit your work? A: The Notre Dame Dublin Global Gateway offered me the opportunity to exhibit these works in August 2023. It was exciting but totally daunting. If I had not experienced the graces of God’s encouragement and affirmation in Rome with John and Ashley the summer before, it would have been terrifying. This process of learning to allow God to affirm me and make me new, transforming my life to become what it is truly meant to be, was hugely impacted by John and Ashley’s influence on my understanding of what constitutes true humility. Thanks be to God.
There was a clear moment of conversion for me during the Mass we enjoyed in the Clementine Chapel under St Peter’s Basilica in the Crypt of St Peter. The Gospel included Matthew 14: 22-33, in which Peter was called to “step out of the boat.” During the Mass, I was free of anxiety and felt completely safe to be as I was and to receive my God with joy in the Eucharist. It was as if Jesus gently took my hands and called me to step out of the boat of false humility. I needed to be healed of reluctance to receive deeply and fully the gifts of my human life. He showed me clearly how my self-love and understanding of myself was twisted and marred by self-rejection and fearful lies.
Walking away from St Peter’s right after Mass, I shared my experience with John, reflecting on what the Lord had just spoken to my heart. He helped me understand even more deeply how the words of the Sacred Scripture we had just received affirmed through resonance with the interior movements of the Holy Spirit I was experiencing. We talked about a new posture to actively cultivate—that of true humility. This became for me expectation of and attentiveness to God’s providential care and goodness, a readiness to receive deeply and fully as many gifts, graces, and joys as humanly possible in this life, trusting in His bleeding heart for me when the suffering comes as well. John’s presence to me and his help in reflecting on the words the Lord was speaking was one of these abundant, pure gifts of God.
Q: That’s beautiful. I can see how growing in that sense of receptivity, trust, and a healthy understanding of humility would play into your ability to embrace the challenges of exhibiting your artwork in Ireland. We are so proud of you! Can you tell us the biggest highlight of your Dublin exhibition?
A: The greatest victory of the week was the brief talk I offered to the staff at the Global Gateway upon my arrival, prior to the exhibition, to give them a sense of what and how to share about the paintings. I shared the most concisely, clearly, and joyfully than I had ever done, and by the grace of God, found a true resonance of my gifts and God’s love that has shaped my vocational path and desire for my daily work to date.
It stands out in my memory as a humorous turning of tables. Here I was, extremely jet-lagged, having never given remarks publicly spoken that I was proud of. And after my 15-minute offering, one of the professors I most admire at the Gateway told me that I was a natural teacher and should know how wonderful my remarks were. If that is not a profound act of God, that I learned by His grace to collaborate with, I don’t know what is.
...by the grace of God, [I] found a true resonance of my gifts and God's love that has shaped my vocational path and desire for my daily work to date.
Q: Wonderful. And what is next for you, Anja?
A: Since August, I have continued to grow tremendously as the Lord has created new seasons of trusting and growing my awareness of His providence and intimate care for us. My fiancé Nick proposed on December 16th, the day before Gaudete Sunday in Advent. We are thrilled to prepare for our marriage on August 11th and request your prayer for our deepening in love for Jesus and one another.
For the next two years I will be studying with George Kordis in a remote Byzantine iconography certificate program while discerning apprenticeship with American iconographer Nicholas Markell in Stillwater, Minnesota. I am really looking forward to writing on my website blog as I continue studying as an artist and learning to love how God loved.
To view more of Anja's portfolio and follow her writing, kindly visit www.fiatfineart.com.