Do you remember times as a child when you became lost in wonder? Minutes, even hours, passed as you immersed yourself in play, mesmerized, as you dabbled in the palettes of the colorful world around you.
My childhood memories of those magical moments include sitting in the tall grass on a hillside next to our yard and watching preying mantises preening. Or standing over gurgling creek water, listening to its sparkling sounds while watching for tadpoles or a school of minnows. I lost myself in a world that enchanted me. And in the process, I found myself.
These activities nurtured my soul and helped me live from a richer, deeper, uninhibited place of being—a place that I return to even now, though not as often or for as long as I would like.
In adulthood, we live much of life separated from our souls. We live out of our “externalized self”—the public “me” that I extend to others in order to win their approval, succeed in some way, or make life work. In the process, we lose a sense of our true self—the person God created us to be. That’s where art comes in.
Art has a way of repairing the split between the superficial self we have constructed and extend to the world, and the real, true self whom God created. When we meditate on or contemplate beautiful, provocative art, we lose ourselves once again, just like in childhood. To “see” the painting, we have to see it with the eyes of our soul. In the process, we become reacquainted with or engage our true self.
I observe this over and over again when I use art during presentations. Often the participants turn into a class of second graders, eagerly raising their hands, anxious to share what they “see.” I always marvel at the depth, insight, and intricacies of what others notice that I have missed. Individual art contemplation is great! Art contemplation in community is grand!!
For those who are reading or are familiar with my most recent book, Picturing the Face of Jesus, you know something of how I look at art as a means for spiritual transformation. This book includes eight color images of Jesus with guided reflections. When the reader takes in each image and becomes lost in the wordless message of Jesus’ face, he or she responds from that place of wonder again. And when that happens, I imagine Jesus saying, “Welcome home!”