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Center for Action and Contemplation

Icons and Images of God

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Art: Week 1

Icons and Images of God
Sunday, May 13, 2018

If God is creator, and we are made in God’s image or Imago Dei, then we are, in our essence, creators. We are, in our essence, artists. Therefore, when we open ourselves to the expression of creativity, we also open to the movement of the Divine within us. —Christine Valters Paintner and Betsey Beckman [1]

Our divine DNA carries the creative impulse of the Creator. In my dear friend James Finley’s words, the human longing for creative expression is part of our “God given godly nature.” Even if you don’t consider yourself creative or artistic, it is an inherent part of your being.

Author Ken Gire writes:

God stretched out the heavens, stippling the night with impressionistic stars. [God] set the sun to the rhythm of the day, the moon to the rhythm of the month. . . . [God] formed a likeness of [God’s own self] from a lump of clay and into it breathed life. [God] crafted a counterpart to complete the likeness, joining the two halves and placing them center stage in [God’s] creation where there was a temptation and a fall, a great loss and a great hiding. God searched for the hiding couple, reaching to pick them up, dust them off, draw them near. . . .

In doing all this, God gave us art, music, sculpture, drama, and literature . . . as footpaths to lead us out of our hiding places and as signposts to lead us along in our search for what was lost. . . .

We must learn to look with more than just our eyes and listen with more than just our ears. . . . We must be aware, at all times and in all places, because windows are everywhere, and at any time we may find one. . . .

What do we see in those windows? What do we see of who we are, or once were, or one day might become? What do we see of our neighbor living down the street or our neighbor living on the street? What do we see about God? [2]

Many have called icons windows for the soul. The word “icon” comes from the Greek for image or likeness. And, as I’ve shared, God’s image and likeness can be found everywhere. Icons—and other forms of art—are invitations to look beyond the brushstrokes, colors, and shapes to the deeper mystery and meaning. As we pause, look, and listen with our hearts, we are changed.

Over the next two weeks I’ll explore how art moves us out of our limited boxes of rationality and into a contemplative stance that can imagine new possibilities. In the words of essayist and novelist James Baldwin (1924-1987), “Every artist is involved with one single effort, really, which is somehow to dig down to where reality is. . . . Artists are the only people in society who can tell that society the truth about itself.” [3] I hope you’ll join me in considering the deeper questions of life and contemplate the image and likeness of God alive in the beauty of paint and poetry, music and movement.

[1] Christine Valters Paintner and Betsey Beckman, Awakening the Creative Spirit: Bringing the Arts to Spiritual Direction (Morehouse Publishing: 2010), 13.

[2] Ken Gire, Windows of the Soul: Experiencing God in New Ways (Zondervan: 1996)

[3] James Baldwin, “Words of a Native Son,” (1964). See Collected Essays (Library of America: 1998), 708.

Image credit: Composition VIII (detail), Wassily Kandinsky, 1923, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York City, New York.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: The power of imagination and art is at the level of soul, where we do not consciously know what is happening. Therefore, we cannot engineer it, do not need to understand it, nor can we fully stop its effects! —Richard Rohr
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