Before taking painting lessons I didn’t realize what little attention I paid the beauty and mystery in surroundings, in particular the sky, the landscape and the water. After taking lessons, I learned techniques like the use of various brushes to get a desired effect on the canvas, how to mix colors and how to position things on the canvas to draw the eye to it. A whole new world of beauty and wonder opened to me. The painting lessons populated my imagination to notice and wonder about the genius of God, the master artist. I have always had a fascination with colors, but now I have a new interest in the sky, trees and plants, the ocean and lake waters. The sunsets hold my attention for the splendor of their colors and light. I recognize the effect that light and shadow create on a landscape. I notice how sun light has a beautiful effect on some leaves; bringing out the glossiness in some, the gleam from others. I see now how shadow is necessary to show contrast and depth. I realized how negative space enhances the beauty of a composition by highlighting what is most important. I want to capture their rich colors, light, shadow and majesty onto my canvas. Painting lessons have awakened me to a new way of seeing my familiar surroundings.
Just as in painting, there are techniques to help us develop a discriminating eye to more fully appreciate beauty in the Christian life. There are spiritual disciplines that awaken us to God and the mystery of his beauty and goodness in our familiar and ordinary lives. But, unless we are trained in new ways of sensing and seeing, there is so much we miss. It is very easy to go through a day and not even notice that God is speaking through the seemingly familiar and ordinary. Jean Pierre Caussade, a seventeenth century spiritual director, says that God is active in every moment of our lives. “Everything proclaims him to you, everything reveals him to you, everything brings him to you” yet, unless we are intentionally seeking to see and learn we will hardly notice. Unless we regularly position ourselves through spiritual disciples like Bible study, fasting, prayer, solitude, silence to experience God’s transforming love, our experience with him will be more like this: He is proclaiming, but everything pulls me from him. He is coming to me, but everything takes me from him. He is by my side, but I am unaware. He is over me, but I feel vulnerable and exposed. He is around me, but I feel alone. He is in me, but I feel empty. God’s desire is to be with us anywhere, everywhere, and in all things. A prayer called “Here” is a helpful way to experience an awakening so that we notice, attend and wonder with God.
You can say it in any moment of your day to become more aware of him right there with you. I adapted it from Brian D. McLaren’s book Naked Spirituality; A Life with God in 12 Simple Words. It goes like this:
- Say “Here I am Lord. Here you are Lord. Here we are together.” (It is helpful to say the “Here” statements in rhythm with your breathing. Take a deep breathe say the first “Here” statement, exhale. Breathe in again and say the next “Here” statement, exhale again. Do the same with the final statement). Then pause.
- Say “Who am I, Lord? Who are you, Lord? Who are we together?” (After each who question, wait and notice any word, thought or image that may come to mind). Pause
- Say “Open.” Imagine yourself opening the deepest part of you to God. Then imagine him opening his arms to you.
Carmen Fleming is an Odyssey in Christ spiritual director and along with her participation on the retreat and seminar staff, she serves on the OIC Board as secretary.