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Examine Your Life Carefully . . . through Art

September 16, 2019 • Life for Leaders

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.

Ephesians 5:15-16

If we’re going to live wisely and fruitfully, we need to examine carefully how we live. That’s the counsel of Ephesians 5:15. And that’s what we’ve been considering in the last few Life for Leaders devotions.

man painting a wallI want to stay with this topic a little longer because I believe it’s crucial for us—especially because so many of us live busy, full lives that allow little time for careful examination of anything. Our daily routines are so rushed, so filled with activities and information, so weighed down by multitasking that we often don’t pay attention to how we’re living, at least not until something traumatic happens to us.

Today, I’d like to suggest another way to be encouraged in the life-examination process. I’m talking about art. I believe that art in its various forms can help us pay closer attention to how we’re living. Of course art serves many other purposes than this—ranging from self-expression to inspiring joy, social critique, and much more. But art can also help us see how we’re living from a fresh perspective.

Friends of mine are often inspired to think clearly and creatively about their lives by poetry. For example, several have been especially touched by the artistry of Christian Wiman, an American poet who currently teaches at Yale University. Wiman’s poetry explores the deeper meaning of life and faith in words both simple and profound. For example, the first stanza of  Wiman’s “Every Riven Thing” reads,

+++“God goes, belonging to every riven thing he’s made
+++sing his being simply by being
+++the thing it is:
+++stone and tree and sky,
+++man who sees and sings and wonders why.”
+++(From Hammer is the Prayer, p. 98)

Others are moved by visual art, by film, or by music. I find myself particularly inspired by novels. I think, for example, of Victor Hugo’s novel, Les Misérables, which has been made popular through musical and film versions. Every time I have read the book or seen a dramatized version of Les Misérables, I see myself from a different perspective. For example, I see the ways I can be like Javert: driven, inflexible, judgmental. I am profoundly inspired by the Bishop, who plays a relatively small role in the musical and film versions of the story, but figures much more prominently in the novel. The Bishop is a man of deep generosity and self-sacrifice, one whose life matches the gospel he preaches. In light of the Bishop, I see how often I live for my own advantage, rather than for the sake of others. I am drawn to live more graciously, more freely.

I expect you can think of ways art has helped you see yourself more clearly and live more intentionally. You might have been inspired by a song or moved by a painting. Perhaps your life has been shaped by a photograph or a play. No matter the specific kind of art, I believe it can be a gift from God that invites us to see ourselves, our neighbors, our world, and our God more clearly.

Something to Think About:

Can you think of a time when art of some kind has shown you yourself in a new light? If so, when was this and what happened?

Was this something God used for your growth?

What kinds of art do you respond to most readily?

Something to Do:

If you can remember a work of art that has touched your heart in the past, and if you are able, have a fresh encounter with that work of art sometime this week. Listen to the song. Or watch the movie. Or read the poem. Or gaze upon the painting. Or . . . .

Prayer:

Gracious God, thank you for all of your good gifts. Today I am especially thankful for the gift of art, for music and poetry, for film and drama, for pottery and architecture, for photography and paintings, and for all the artistic expressions that enrich our world. Thank you, Lord, for creating us so that we might appreciate art. Thank you for all of the artists who have made our lives more beautiful, more meaningful, more delectable.

Thank you also, Lord, for the way art helps us see ourselves more clearly. By your grace, may I allow art to touch and shape my soul as you speak to me. Give me ears to hear, eyes to see, and a heart ready to receive your wisdom. Amen.

Explore more at The High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project:
Creating Beauty at Work Is Everyone’s Job

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2 thoughts on “Examine Your Life Carefully . . . through Art

  1. I met Christian Wiman last February at the Writer’s Symposium by the Sea at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego (my alma mater and where I cut my eye-teeth as an adjunct). His poetry touched both my heart and my intellect at the same time yet in very different ways. I’ve rarely experienced poetry to this breadth and depth before. To watch some of the interviews of our very best writers and poets over the last 25 years, here’s the link to UCSD-TV which has recorded and archived the interviews on the art of writing, featuring writers such as Eugene Peterson, Ray Bradbury, Amy Tan, Anne Lamott, Donald Miller, Philip Yancey, Robert Pinsky, Billy Collins, and this February, Alice Walker: http://www.ucsd.tv/writers.

    Despite being a writer/poet, the work of art that most impacted my spiritual life was a huge painting in the Tate Gallery in London: “The Execution of Lady Jane Grey” by Paul Delaroche. I believe it’s now in the National Gallery in London. The painting is HUGE (97 by 117 inches); it took up most of an entire wall. I sat on a bench before it, staring at it for nearly half an hour. It was the interplay of light and dark, the preponderance of good and evil, so beyond life-sized, that held me more than the subject of the painting itself. The whiteness of Lady Jane’s dress and skin (impossible, given the cell she was held in the Tower), and the darkness–the black and brown and deep red of the executioner, and his immobile face, set in a “who cares?” expression reminded me of how insidious and huge evil can be. Yet while evil seems to “win” historically, Lady Jane’s strong faith took her beyond this world and into the next. It was fascinating to sit there with so many thoughts running through my head and the sympathy welling in my heart and eyes: light vs. dark, innocence vs. machinations, life vs. death, and so many more ideas and perceptions came to mind. My husband finally had to drag me from the room, but I still went back to the painting for a final look before we left the museum. This event occurred over thirty years ago, but it’s still etched so clearly in my memory.

    Thank you for this day’s devotional, and for all that you do in inspiring us to love and good works and depth of faith through Life for Leaders, Mark!

    Soli Deo Gloria,
    Susanne 🙂

    • Wow. Susanne, thanks for this thoughtful and wonderful comment. And for your encouragement. It means so much. I met Christian Wiman at a retreat at Laity Lodge. Besides being brilliant, he was a friendly, “ordinary guy” who was glad to hang out.

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