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. http://bethbooram.org/TheArtofFaith.html

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