When I was in seminary, while doing my Clinical Education one summer, I was introduced to the healing power of art. One whole day we spent creating art as we prayed, talking about how people could use art as a way to heal from trauma and as a way to connect with God. I was hooked. My primary paper in a class on prayer centered around how we pray using music and painting. I led youth and adults in a devotion that required them to paint images. Even as immersed in this thinking as I was, I never imagined that art would become for me the primary way I connect with my own self and with God. A little over a year ago, while in the midst of an intense week of Emotional Intelligence training, all I could think about was being in the Monet gallery at the Art Institute (I had just been there the previous October). It actually became a way for me to experience and process my learning. Monet’s haystacks became a symbol to breathe, to allow space for emotions, to connect on a deeper level with those around me. Thus began an ongoing engagement with art in a way that I had never imagined. There is one piece in particular that haunts me in a good and surprising way. Jackson Pollock’s Greyed Rainbow at first glance looks like a mess. It is one of his famous abstract paintings. You know, the kind that you look at and wonder how it is possible that this is hanging in a museum. Except, well, it is compelling in a way that other abstract paintings aren’t. Here is the description from the Art Institute gallery:
“In the late 1940s, Jackson Pollock developed a revolutionary form of Abstract Expressionism by dripping, pouring and splashing paint onto large-scale canvases. Emphasizing the expressive power of the artist’s gestures, materials and tools, Pollock often applied paint with sticks, trowels and palette knives instead of brushes. With no apparent beginning or end, top or bottom, his works imply an extension of his art beyond the edges of the canvas. Among the last great purely abstract paintings Pollock made before his untimely death and a quintessential example of action painting, Greyed Rainbow is predominantly black, white, gray and silver; in the bottom third of the canvas, however, the artist thinly concealed orange, yellow, green, blue and violet. The title presumably refers to these grayed sections of hidden color.”
See, it is that color that compels me each and every time. I consider life, the apparent randomness of it, the pain and suffering that occurs, the hate and prejudice that never seems to go away, the needless hunger and poverty and all I see is a mess of gray and white and black on a canvas. It all is overwhelming and hopeless. Until you look closer, until you see the hints of color at the bottom, shining through. Here is the hope, here is where there is grounding for me. Because shining through the mess of life, the despair, the hopelessness, the fear, the fill in the blank with your own descriptor, is the hope of something better. The color defies the chaos, overcomes it. Once you realize it is there, it is hard not to see it.
Here is the connection then that I make to my God as I prayed through my reactions to this particular painting that compels me to visit it each time I am at the Art Institute: life is chaotic and barely in our control, even when we do everything right and there is no way to get through it without pain. That is the truth of it. Always. However, God sent Jesus. Not to make everything squeaky clean and miraculously make sense, but to assure us of his love. To be light to the world of darkness. To shine through the chaos and remind us that we are loved and never alone. It might seem like most of us have it together, that we don’t struggle: it is an easy image to project, but we know that we each carry our own darkness, our own struggle with us. God through Christ reminds us that he is present with us in those moments even if we can’t see the light in the midst of the darkness. There is the hope. The hope that we cling to: that there is light, always.
Next month: I will talk about what it means then for us as a community to be light: for each other and for the world. Until then, explore some art, consider where God is in the emotions it evokes, pray about that and see what happens. You might be surprised.