The following is a transcript of the Raised Catholic podcast. To listen to the podcast, click here.
Today is episode 86: Contemplative Summer Week Eight – Contemplating Art
Hi friends, as I explained in detail before a break way back in episode 78, I’m taking this summer to focus on contemplation with a variety of methods and focuses, and each week this summer I’ll model a different kind of contemplative prayer for you. This week, we’re contemplating God by considering one of the greatest and most diverse gifts that God has given to us to express and enjoy, the gift of art.
Whether we know it or not, we are impacted and even inundated by visual art most everywhere we look today. In marketing, in architecture, the design of public and private spaces, fine art, photography, and even the art found in the typography in the things we read, it’s clear that art is not confined to the walls of museums but in fact, art is everywhere, and its power to communicate truth and ideas is multifaceted, going way back further into human history than you might think.
Archeologists have found cave paintings and sculptures which date back to over 38,000 BC and even older, and I don’t know about you, but that reality is hard to wrap my mind around. I’ll link to some of these ancient art pieces and many more resources for you in today’s show notes, but this long-held impulse of humanity both to create art and to contemplate it is a great place for us to start today.
As we’ve done in past contemplations this summer, we’ll ask the Holy Spirit to direct us toward an object of contemplation, we will intentionally give God our time and attention, and then we’ll sit with him, never judging the time we spend but just asking God to direct our encounter with him through art. As I model my own contemplation for you and hope you’ll choose some art of your own this week, let’s just remember that because we are unique and beloved children of God, that your experience will and should be totally different from mine.
Okay so, to be honest, deciding on one piece of art to contemplate this week was kind of impossible, so I didn’t. I have a couple of walls of art in my home which I’ve intentionally grouped in places that I can see from a couple of different spots in my living room. Often after everyone has gone to bed, I’ll light a candle and use these groupings as a starting point or focus for my prayer, so I thought that today I’d take you on a little tour of some of these pieces and reflect on how God uses them to speak to me. And I’ll link to photos of all of it for you in the show notes so that you can see them for yourself.
On one wall, I have three prints from artist Scott Erickson, and four photographs: one of each of my kids taken when they were babies, a black and white picture I took of the two of them at about age 6 and 4, and a professional one taken by my friend Cathy as my eldest was headed to college. In addition to these is a print of a 1882 painting by John Singer Sargent called ‘The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit’.
As I sat on one end of my couch to start my contemplation, my eye went to first to the pictures of my babies. No surprise there. I remembered those days with gratitude, and I asked God to help both my son and my daughter to experience life in a way that feels as joyful and cared for as they were when those photos were taken. I then looked at the two pictures of my kids together and prayed for them as siblings. I prayed for their partners and their friends, and that God would choose the people they’ll meet as they live their grown-up lives, every vocational door they’ll walk through, and just the entirety of them: mind, body, and spirit. My eye then shifted to the painting by Sargent and here I contemplated and lifted up to God the people from the family in which I was raised. Like the daughters in the painting, I am also one of four girls and there is so much to ponder here, the girls’ positions and how the light hits them, what they might be thinking or doing. Seeing the huge, wall-sized original at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston was a major spiritual experience for me all its own. As I contemplated it again this week, I was reminded about how God is with us at each stage, and how to him we are always seen and always known, perpetually in the light.
Well, as I looked to the prints by Erickson, I first saw a depiction of a church building being sifted in an hourglass – this reminded me that God is not church, but He is about transformation, and He can be trusted to be present in whatever the church is becoming in time. Next, I looked to a daisy print, where there’s one petal with a sliding doorway that opens to a staircase. It’s so cool. Here God reminded me that details are worth noticing and exploring and that He is, in fact, present in each one of them. There’s so much more to discover than what we see. The last print on this wall features a dark background and the subtle shape of a human heart – in the midst of that is a sailboat and a sky full of stars and a moon and a shooting star. Through this piece, God spoke to me of the reality that my whole life, with all of its ups and downs, exists within the confines of God’s heart. There are wonders and miracles and trials, and I don’t often know where I’m headed and sometimes it will feel scary, but the truth is that my life is fully encapsulated within God’s heart. There’s literally nowhere I can sail or travel or go in any way that is apart from his love.
Boats and all manner of water and sailing imagery is prevalent in Erickson’s work. These symbols represent our lives as the wind of the Holy Spirit blows where it will, yet we who are anchored in God are secured.
The last piece I contemplated from this spot on the couch is a print I got just a couple of weeks ago when I was with a friend on the Cape. We were browsing in an artisan’s area when a small painting of a red rowboat called out to me. I had had a very clear vision of a red boat a few years back; actually, many visions of this same boat over many weeks, and maybe one day I’ll tell you that whole story but suffice it to say that God knows the weight and meaning of a red boat to me. When I contemplate this painting, God speaks to me of the journey that each of us are on and reassures me that he’s with us each of us uniquely as we go. The light and shadow of this piece, along with the reflection of the boat in the water and the buoys that are attached to it speak to me of the reality that we are seen and provided for, no matter what.
Well, that was a bit of my experience with contemplating God through art this week, and, friend, I truly hope that you will have your own with whatever piece of art you choose. If you’d like to share your experience with me or if you need me for anything, you can always find me on Instagram @kerrycampbellwrites or on my blog at mylittleepiphanies.com. Thanks so much for rating, reviewing, subscribing and most importantly, sharing this podcast with a friend. That really makes a difference in growing this community, so thanks. If you’d like to support this podcast financially, there’s a way for you to do that in the show notes, along with links related to all of the things I touched on this week’s episode on art, so do check all of that out, but before we go, let’s pray together.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, amen.
God, in this time that is so challenging for so many of us, help us to remember that we have personal access to you, because of your unwavering and selfless love for us. Help each one listening in their experience of contemplation this week – may each one, with courage and with your grace walk through a good door toward a deeper understanding of you in this time. God, I thank you today for artists and I lift them up to you for continued inspiration as they bring their art to the world. I pray that as we contemplate you through art, that you’ll show us some part of yourself that we might not have known before, and that we will experience you anew in a way that you and the artist have made in love just for us.
In the name of Jesus we pray, amen.
Well thanks so much for listening today, friend, and I’ll see you next time.
As we explore a variety of methods of contemplative prayer this summer, week eight is all about art. As you choose a piece of art to contemplate this week, I pray that you will have a fruitful encounter with God who is crazy about you.
If you’d like to connect with me, find me on Instagram or on my blog. If you’d like to help support this podcast financially, there’s now a way to do just that, and thank you – visit me on my page at buymeacoffee.com! Thanks as always for sharing, subscribing, rating, and reviewing, as this helps our community to grow!
Here are some resources I hope will help you to engage with this week’s topic in a deeper way for yourself:
1. Documentary Series: Abstract: The Art of Design, on the role art plays in our everyday lives
2. Article: Top 10 Oldest Pieces of Art Every Discovered, by Ancient History Lists
3. Instagram Account: visual prayers by artist Scott Erickson
4. Wikipedia submission on The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit, by John Singer Sargent
5. Find a transcript of this week’s episode along with photos of the art I described on my blog, My Little Epiphanies