The theme for these Advent/Christmas/Epiphany visuals is “All Is Calm, All Is Bright.” It was inspired by the two hundredth anniversary (in 2018) of the composition of the well-loved Christmas carol “Silent Night! Holy Night” Mohr, LUYH 85, GtG 122, PsH 344. The visual elements incorporated into the sanctuary during the season carried great meaning and significance.
Several years ago, I hung an exhibit of art by John August Swanson in the Leep Gallery at Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services in Grand Rapids, Michigan. During the exhibit, I talked to Rev. Karl Van Harn, the director of pastoral services at Pine Rest, about how he was using Swanson’s art as part of his pastoral ministry.
The Art Pieces
During this season of Advent we celebrate God’s extraordinary gift of his son, Jesus, who became the bridge between heaven and earth, a redeeming bridge between God and us. Through the incarnation of Christ, this spark of God’s glory, the Word, became flesh and dwelt among us. This is one of the core treasures of the Christian church, shared by believers of all faiths and denominations.
There is much to learn about art and its relationship to the Christian faith by studying the art of Sandra Bowden and reflecting on her own journey as a Christian artist.
Bowden has spent a lifetime creating art inspired by her explorations into the origins of our Judeo-Christian religious traditions. For more than forty years she has been on a journey of discovery deep into the mysteries of the Christian faith. Through her art she explores how image, text, and language can be used to bring ancient wisdom of the past into the present moment, making history alive and relevant.
Twenty years ago I adopted my daughter from Russia. While I was there I had the opportunity to visit several Russian churches with their golden onion-shaped domes and altars covered in icons. Icons are paintings of biblical characters, and the artists over the centuries were careful to keep the style and form of each character as consistent as possible. I asked our tour guide a question that betrayed my ignorance. “Why icons?” She quickly reminded me that most of the peasants in those days were illiterate, and the icons were there to help them “read” the Bible.
To the artist John August Swanson, art is a journey into the wonder of life. His art explores the ongoing narrative of God and God’s people through visual stories filled with hope, faith, and love. Swanson’s art guides us to see the sacredness of our ordinary lives and reflects the unique beauty of our everyday experiences. They become visual parables of the daily lives we share.
Not many people see everything around them, and few are acute observers of their environment. In fact, most of us see just enough to prevent us from falling. That kind of seeing is a safety device. Real seeing requires the use of your mind’s eye and making connections with a world that is beyond the physical. You could call it “seeing with your soul.”