teaches us to focus, to press beyond surface impressions,
and to look, listen, smell, touch and taste with care,
thought and patience.
2. The arts help us train in longing
“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants
for you, my God.”– Psalm 42: 10
In his letter to the Romans, Paul reveals the “whole
creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” Not only that, he
tells us, “but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of
the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our
adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies”
(Romans 8: 22–23).
We live in a world that bombards us with the message that we are entitled to comfort and must do
everything in our power to avoid discomfort. For many
of us, the holy longing for God’s Kingdom that should
characterize our existence has been anesthetized into
a chronically distracted complacence.
The arts can be an important ally in recovering some
of God’s vision for the world – and in helping us experience the gap between what the world is now and
what it can and will be.
Why do truly breathtaking things bring tears to our
eyes? Why does intense beauty actually hurt a little?
Exquisite art reacquaints us with our incompleteness
and awakens the hunger for more.
Sometimes for there to be genuine hope we must
despair of “business as usual.” In Pursuing Christ, Creating
Art: Exploring Life at the Intersection of Faith and Creativity
(WestBow Press, 2011), Gary Molander makes just this
sort of case.
Art not only communicates truth. It also creates
emotional uprisings. In this way, art opens, then
resolves nothing. It gives people the chance to sit,
to contemplate, and to experience a wider variety
I mean, rather than causing us to leave church
with a smile, what if God’s will is for us to sit in
our own personal pond of holy agitation the whole
morning and actually experience the ache of
seeing no way out?
Paintings displayed at the right location.
Sculptures that people are forced to walk past,
even to touch.
A beautifully designed table during the Eucharist.
Images on the screen, with an underscore of
Stories told beautifully.
Smells of smoke, or roses, or bread.
Music that drops dead with dynamic, and never
Lighting that helps people focus on the beauty
found in the moment.
So what if art can provide an opening, not only
a closing? What if, every week your church had the
ability to drop a beautiful piece of art into the
worship experience, and to just let it sit there?
Using art like this isn’t the opposite of using art to
It’s actually the beautiful sister many of us have
Only God can awaken our hunger for Him and for
His Kingdom. But apprenticing ourselves to great art
is one of the spiritual disciplines we can use to co-operate with Him in the stirring of our spirits.
3. The arts help us train for the renewing of our minds
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” – Romans 12: 2
Musician and theologian Jeremy Begbie argues in
Resounding Truth: Christian Wisdom in the World of Music
(Baker Academic, 2007) that a defining characteristic
of all art is that it is metaphorical – whatever the
medium, art always pulls together at least two elements
that are normally apart.
This metaphorical nature of art matters in our
spiritual formation because metaphors are the lenses
through which we view the world, and they shape the
way we understand it. If you always look at the night
sky through a piece of glass with straight lines streaked
on it, you’re going to mistakenly think the stars all
line up in neatly gapped rows.
Throughout His earthly ministry Jesus was constantly trying to give people new, healthier metaphors for
God – loving Father, shepherd of the lost sheep, extravagant host, keeper of the sparrows. Today our
metaphors continue to need remediation. Once again,
the arts can help.
For example, ever since Newton gave us the metaphor of the world as machine, we’ve tended to see the
universe increasingly mechanistically. But art can give
us new vistas for understanding. The world is in some
ways like a machine, yes. But it can also be like a
Baryshnikov leap, a Van Gogh sunflower, a Bach fugue
or a U2 anthem.
Furthermore, the fact art works metaphorically
means it always generates a surplus of meaning –
which helps us train for the renewing of our minds in
us with our