Formation Fridays: Seeing as God Sees through Visual Art
What is it about a strikingly beautiful photograph, sculpture, or painting that speaks to the human soul? One that captures the attention and emotion of body, mind, and soul. One that leaves you speechless, stumbling for words to describe what is being seen and experienced, in a single moment.
There is a Greek word, ekstasis, that refers to this experience as being up-out of oneself. This is what happens when we experience beauty as moving our very state of being, causing a shift in perspective, from seeing what is seen to seeing the unseen. This is what the people experienced as they saw that the lame man from the gate had been completely healed after approaching Peter and John. They were filled with “wonder and amazement”. (Acts 3:10) They were in awe.
When I gaze and reflect on a great masterpiece, like Rembrandt’s The Return of the Prodigal Son (pictured), or a beautifully captured photo of a rocky, calm coastline at sunset, some of those “up-out of oneself” emotions begin to rise in me, some recognized, and some I am unable to verbalize.
Wonder and joy (grace recognized) are two emotions I often experience in those moments. As I gaze on Rembrandt’s painting, for instance, I begin to notice the embrace of the Father with both gentle, yet strong hands; the son’s one barefoot and one fallen apart shoe; and the distance of the older brother. I begin to experience myself from all viewpoints of this event and begin to notice the grace the Father has for me in all my humanity.
Not all works of art or iconic photographs affect an immediate feeling of well-being. Yet, even these may cause the heart to feel and experience what is not right in the world, allowing one to acknowledge our world’s greatest need for Christ’s love and grace. As Meister Eckhart said, “The eye with which I see God is the same as that with which God sees me. My eye and the eye of God are one eye, one vision, one knowledge, and one love. My eye and the eye of God are one.”
Art that connects to the human spirit does not have to be “spiritual”. Yet, it is spiritual as it connects to our true selves. Madeleine L’Engle (author of A Wrinkle in Time) reminds us, “There is nothing so secular that it cannot be sacred, and that is one of the deepest messages of the Incarnation.”
I invite you to take a moment this week, to pause and reflect on a work of art. Ask yourself, where is God in what I am looking at? How does shifting my point of view change both what I see and how I see it? What is this showing me about my life with God?
With wonder and joy,