Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Sticking Power of Imagery

One of our young adult children recently experienced a very traumatic event. She witnessed the terrible death of a co-worker. Though the cause was natural, the violent, bloody image persists in her mind. She felt the blow through her entire body and soul, but the lingering impact has been her inability to erase the disturbing images from her consciousness.

Provocative images can be burned into our minds and remain with us for a lifetime. Some are positive and blissful—like the smells, sights and sounds of our grandmother’s kitchen as she baked our favorite pie. Others are nightmarish images, like my daughter’s, and haunt the mind as an unwelcome ghost.

Imagery is anything that you perceive through one or more of your senses. It’s not only visual in nature, but those evoked through sounds, smells, touching or tasting. I can’t eat a snicker doodle without an image of my grandmother or smell peonies without being reminded of her.

Images are the language of the right brain and have tremendous sticking power. “Every experience we have and the emotions that accompany it are perceived by the body and the right brain as imagistic sensations.” (Visual Journaling, Barbara Ganim and Susan Fox.) That’s why art contemplation can help us recover from trauma by accessing and healing the painful memory through absorbing an image of the loving nature of God.

Let me give you an example of what I mean. To the right of this post is a painting of Jesus by Etienne Parrocel, called Christ and the Samaritan Woman. This image is contained in my book, Picturing the Face of Jesus.

  • In an attitude of prayer, take a few minutes and study this image. Notice what stands out and where your eyes are drawn.

  • Try to feel what it is Jesus is feeling. Imagine him looking at you and expressing this emotion to you.

  • Receive his love for you. Let his love fill your heart.

  • Now close your eyes and remember the image in your mind’s eye. Feel Jesus’ emotion. Let him speak to you. What is it Jesus is saying?

  • As often as you can, call to the mind this image during your day and the days to come. Invite the Spirit to speak to you through it.

    If you would like to learn more about how art and faith work together, register for my upcoming workshop, The Art of Faith, on October 3, 2009 in Indianapolis.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

How Your Right Brain Nurtures Your Spirit

It isn’t for want of spiritual resources that many Christians find themselves starving. It is for want of spiritual experiences with God: real, moving, transforming engagements. The trouble is, that’s not how we approach Christian nurture. Most of our spiritual food comes by way of sermons, books, and Bible studies that speak to the mind but often miss the heart, the place of divine encounter.

Words are the primary form of communication in each of these mediums--the language of the left brain. The left brain uses words to understand and digest experiences. But the left brain cannot experience—God or anything else. The left brain can only interpret our experiences but the right brain does the experiencing.

That’s why right brain activities like art contemplation, imagining prayer and sensory exercises are so valuable as spiritual practices. They open up the right side of our brain to help us perceive and experience God. They access our soul and awaken our spirit to the presence of God. Our right brain positions the heart for divine encounter.

Consider the following statements:
We act on what we believe.
We believe only what is real to us.
What is real becomes real through experience.

Does this make sense to you? Does it also explain why information about God doesn’t transform us? We don’t act on what is not real to us.

Why not give your right brain a try? Let me provide a suggested exercise:

  • Sit quietly in a comfortable posture and take in several deep breaths; seek to quiet your mind as you listen to your breathing and relax your body.
  • Continue to take in several deep breaths, only this time, imagine the color of the air you are exhaling.
  • After you envision the color, ask God to reveal what this color reflects about your inner life—a joy you cherish, a sadness you carry, or a worry you harbor.
  • Invite God into your experience of this emotion.
  • Afterwards, write in a journal about your experience, using the color of your breath.

P.S. If this post intrigues you, then check out a workshop I am offering called The Art of Faith: Awakening Your Senses to the Wonder of God

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Art of Faith Workshop: Awakening Your Senses to the Wonder of God

The Art of Faith Workshop
October 3, 2009

Has your faith flat-lined? Are you bored with church? Do you feel weary of words? Or would you just like to have a deeper experience with God? If so, The Art of Faith Workshop is designed with you in mind.

Using a creative blend of artistic elements, contemplative exercises and interactive activities, The Art of Faith workshop will breathe fresh life into your soul and awaken all your senses to the wonder of God!

Brent Bill and I will co-lead this workshop with the intention to help more of you experience more of God!

For additional information and to register:

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Ruminating on "Doubt" and the roles people play in organizations

Epic stories are powerful because they mirror profound insights about life through their characters and plot. A week or so ago, I watched the movie, Doubt—probably not an epic story—but one that spoke prophetically to me. Doubt illuminated the common roles people play within institutions, especially religious ones, and the undercurrents that influence many organizations.

Set in the confines of a Catholic school and church, Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a priest; Meryl Streep plays a nun and principal of the school; and Amy Adams plays a nun and teacher in the school. The movie gets it’s title from the undertones of doubt laced throughout the movie—doubts related to the characters, their motives and actions, and what has really happened.

As I have reflected on the story, it names four characters in every organization of which I have been a part.

The Reformer
Hoffman’s character is a priest, but one of a new order. Through his honest, penetrating sermons and his kind, relational leadership, he is trying to reform the school and parish and lead it into a new era of life-giving ministry and increased potential.

The Guardian
Streep embodies the character of a rigid, controlling principal who squelches reform in favor of maintaining the status quo. Her character is the “watch dog” of the institution--one who confronts and exposes any who break the rules, commit indiscretions, or tolerate nonconformity.

The Idealist
Amy Adams plays a young school-teaching nun who, in the beginning, has an innocent love of life and learning which she hopes will spill over into her classroom. Unfortunately, she unwittingly becomes seduced by the wind of doubt, struggles to know and keep her own heart and stand up for what she truly believes.

The Wind
Finally, a fourth “character” in the movie, oddly enough, is portrayed by an erratic and blustery wind, suggesting a sinister, disruptive force, invisibly at work, yet sowing the seeds of doubt. Call it the spiritual forces of darkness or quantum physics, I have never worked in an environment where I didn’t notice, at times, an underlying current of negativity that often contaminated even the most innocent by-standers.

These characters created the cast for a perfect storm of doubt, projection, negative transference and harmful dysfunction. What can we glean from this movie/story? Here are some questions to consider:

  • Which role are you playing in your organization right now?
  • Of which role do you have the most conflict?
  • How are you being seduced by an undercurrent of negativity in your organization?
  • In what way has it influenced you to project doubt onto others?
  • Is your doubt really founded or is it projection or negative transference?
  • How can you help reform your organization while maintaining it's core values?