Why I Believe Art is an Important Part of Our Spiritual Formation.

The Sistine Madonna, by Raphael, 11513-14, Oil on canvas, 270x201cm, Gemaldegalerie , Dresden, Image courtesy Web Gallery of Art. The Sistine Madonna, by Raphael, 11513-14, Oil on canvas, 270x201cm, Gemaldegalerie , Dresden, Image courtesy Web Gallery of Art.

Rafael Angels

<a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sistine_Madonna” John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” NIV

As I traveled through the area this summer trying to convince Christians of their need for the arts, I was struck by this phrase or title used by many of “Spiritual Formation” and I wondered what was meant by this exactly. Henri Nouwen,  in his book called Spiritual Directions, defines it thus: “Spiritual Formation is the ever increasing capacity to live a spiritual life from the heart.”

So how do we go about this? What are the tools we can use to cultivate our heart for God? I believe spending time reflecting on God’s love and gifts to us is an important part of what creates in us a desire to please and honor our Father. This is why it can be so powerful to spend time in nature. To stand beside the beauty of the ocean and let the power and grandeur of God’s creation fill your soul, can in turn fill your spirit with gratitude. But to gaze upon a scene in nature and to say this is all I need, is to limit your view of God and his great plan for mankind. The Christian heart must at some point spend time in deep reflection on the various scenes of the life of Christ, his teachings certainly, but also his actions. To view a work of art that focuses on the various stages of the life of Christ is to focus on Christ coming…Christ being born….Christ making himself known to the world. And when you see these scenes deeply with your heart, you see God coming to be where we are…giving us his best….making himself to become one of us…. so that we can become like him.

The Sistine Madonna is probably one of the most famous paintings viewed in the Western Christian tradition. The two charming angels wistfully gazing up at the Madonna scene have been used in many marketing campaigns and so should be very familiar. But look now deeply at this scene.

The Madonna is standing on a bed of clouds ascending from a heavenly space. She is surrounded by a crowd of witnesses….angels…the unborn…I wonder. The two Saints are guiding our attention to gaze upon the scene as the two angles leaning on the balustrade are looking on in quiet adoration. Legend has it that Raphael captured the expressions for these two charming angels from the children of the model posing for the Madonna as they patiently waited for their mother. This humanistic depiction of adoration for Jesus is what touches the heart and gives this painting universal appeal.

Imagine yourself now as one of these angels wistfully gazing at the gift of the baby Jesus to the world. Become child like in your adoration. As we spend time doing this we grow in our level of commitment to point others to Christ. As our desire for him grows, we begin to patiently endeavor to confidently and boldly,like the Virgin Mary,
….bare Christ into the world.

Dear Lord, lover of my soul, thank you for the gift of your son Jesus. We praise your glorious name and we honor you with our lives. Amen

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Reblogged this on God Thru the Arts and commented:

    I keep coming back to this painting we new understanding. As Christians it is so important to remind ourselves daily of the blessing of the Incarnation. I first must gaze before I can point others and before I can imitate I must see and be gratful:) Have a Blessed week!


  2. Thank-you Jennifer for this terrific piece. I love the ‘wonder’ about the unborn being an endless supply of angels. Nothing would redeem all of those innocent who went to the wall before they were even born quite like becoming children of his… to be ‘born and raised’ by and for the Father of us all. I also wonder… is the Good Lord nourished by his own artistry and creations in similar ways that we are by ours? And would that be yet another way we are in his image? That wouldn’t come as too big a surprise would it? May God truly help and enable us to “bare” Christ to the world. Blessings!


    1. Thank you dear Brother…you are the wind beneath my wings today:)


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