I was raised in the small town of Sandwich, Illinois. It is a real place, trust me. In Sandwich there is not an abundance of things to do (unless it is fair season, the Sandwich Fair is one of the coolest things one can encounter, but strangely it did not include a lot of sandwiches like one would imagine). So, as a kid, one of the things that I took interest in was mind challenges and optical illusions. One of the most famous optical illusions is the rabbit-duck illusion (shown above). In many ways the illusion is comical way to see the way our brains perceive things, but perhaps this illustration can help us illuminate some ideas about the rest of the world around us. In actuality the image is not more duck than it is rabbit (or vice-a-versa), rather the illusion is about experiencing the piece and being able to see two different points of view. I see the truths of this piece echoed in both arts and faith and in many ways as the Holy Spirit moves through art in ways that go beyond words.
Imagine what the Spirit could say to some of the people in our churches if we took time during our services to interact with a piece of art. Sure this may be done through the singing of songs but perhaps we can continue to see the Spirit through art forms like dance, painting, film, photography, poetry, projection mapping, pottery etc. Imagine what our services would look like if we treated them as a work of art dedicated in entirety to God. Consider what our sacred spaces might be like if we dedicated every space to reflect on God and the Church that we are called to be. Imagine what our world would look like if we took some time to see both the duck and the rabbit.
Experiences and Understanding
Helping us make sense of the complicated world that we live in, logic is a valuable thing. Logic has helped us make discoveries in the world around us that many people could not have dreamed about. However logic is not god, and God is not subject to our logic (1 Cor. 13:12). Karl Barth wrote many books on how he logically perceived God, yet, he would also say, God is the Wholly Other, the Great Mystery. Growing up in the Pentecostal tradition, there have been several moments I can point back to as encounters with God, and it is in these experiences that I felt closest to God. There are some experiences that I have had that are easier to explain but others that are unlike anything else, they are in this “wholly other” category. The more that I look at scripture the more I see it as a catalog of experiences with God as well as the inspired Word of God that guides us. Isn’t this the idea that we present when we lead people to Christ? We encourage people to invite Jesus into their lives so that they can experience love and grace for themselves.
An echo of this exists in the art community, when we encounter works of art we are moved and reminded of other things in our lives. When we hear a symphony we feel the tension of the strings or the whimsy of the melody. When we watch films we are able to relate to characters experiences and empathize with them. When we look at paintings we are able to identify symbols and colors that allude to something unknown. Somehow through viewing a piece of art we are able to experience this feeling of otherness that is difficult to describe and even more difficult to understand. Art lowers our defenses and allows us to see the world in a fresh lens.
These ideas are not just theories or ideas that we should think about but also things that we can implement into our lives and churches. Last year I was first introduced to the idea of Curating Worship (through a book called The Art of Curating Worship by Mark Pierson), a way to go about planning worship services that operates under the idea that the entire service is an act of worship. As such, each component should be treated as a piece of art (many times actually implementing works of art). This may sound like a ploy to add more smoke machines and strobe lights on Sunday mornings but in reality the art of curating worship challenges a person to focus on one question: What does God want to say to the congregation this week? Every song, sermon, and scripture verse should then be focused around this one answer. It may be as easy as “Christ came to save everyone” or as complex as “This is how we describe the Trinity”. A worship curator can then take each component and creatively place them together so as to interact with the congregation in a unique way.
Curating worship causes one to think about ways to encourage people to talk to each other, or reflect on a passage of scripture, or even pray for the needs of the community. Previously, I have passed out a Lego to each person and then encouraged them to build something with the people around them (this fosters relationships and encourages creativity). For times of reflection it can be as simple as displaying an image of a painting and having people write down how the Spirit speaks to them (this allows for a sense of intimacy with God and also helps introverts to not feel pressured or rushed). Another idea is passing out newspapers and having people cut out headlines to pray for as a congregation (this allows for a sense of community and prayer within a congregation). Curating takes a good amount of thought and work so don’t be discouraged if not everything comes together right away. Art is a process as much as it is a product. Sometimes we may need to focus on not just being the Church but also becoming it. Art helps us do that by connecting us to God in unique and unexpected ways.
Reflection through Example.
Often I find that when talking about art and faith and how they connect to worship, an example is always helpful. Below you will find an instrumental track by the band Random Forest, verses found in John, and a poem by Walt Whitman. I suggest that you press play on the song, sit and listen for a minute, and then read the passage. After a minute more, read through the poem. Then, take the remaining time on the track to reflect, think, and pray. Grab a piece of paper and write down how you feel, what you feel God saying to you in the moment, how you are being challenged. Try to take the entire time of the song to reflect. Some may even want to listen two or three times.
Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”
When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer
by Walt Whitman
When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.
If you feel inclined, we would love for you to even comment on how your reflection went.