Spirituality and/in art.

I grew up in a tradition that took a lack of idols extremely seriously. We had no pictures of Jesus surrounding our sanctuary, nor stained glass, nor any imagery besides a cross behind the baptistery. However, I still formed images and mental pictures of God and Jesus, as in Sunday school we read picture books of various Bible stories. I vividly remember seeing images of both God and Jesus depicted as middle-aged white men with dark hair and beards (although God sometimes was older with whiter hair and a longer beard).

Even without explicit images in church services, I formed an understanding of God/Christ as white, probably American, because we prayed and did the pledge of allegiance every morning in my Christian school; God communicated in English, was angry a lot of times, and knew everything about my life and thoughts. God was scary and yet, somehow, I had to love him or else I’d be punished. What kind of person would encourage others to stay in a relationship like this?

I learned to associate the (mental) imagery of God with which I grew up with violence, anger, judgment, punishment, fear, shame, etc. It was made easier to make this association as I began working in a church and had multitudes of white men discrediting my ministerial abilities because I’m a woman.

I decided I had to leave God behind. And so I did. I sought to not think of God in the same way so I decided I would not think about God at all. (I am getting to the art piece, I promise!)

I was listening to a podcast one day and I heard about the imagery of the Black Madonna. Initially, in my white-cloaked Christianity, I was shocked by the idea. But I was also studying research that found that the images one believes in/prays to impacts how one sees themselves and changes the life one lives. My image of God caused me to live in consistent anxiety, and I still carry much of my religious trauma today even after deconstructing. However, I began to pray to God using varying mental imagery. I looked up the Black Madonna and pictured God as a woman, as a woman of color, as a woman rearing children, as a woman working, as a trans person, as a queer icon, etc. And my life began to change. (One wonderful book that captures various global images of God is She Who Cannot Be Shamed, Tamed or Contained by Christena Cleveland.)

Art has the profound ability to depict one’s mental and emotional state and identify with the minds and emotions of others. Our class speaker talked about how the happenings in the world appeared in her art in ways that surpassed her brain’s ability to conceptualize them. Her art reflected her inner being, and vice versa.

Art and spirituality have connected profoundly throughout my life, as the art and depictions of God deeply impacted my understanding of self and the world. I had not considered the impact that art had had on me before our class, and I have become more aware of the ways in which God and Christ are shown in our world today.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *