I often date alone. Just me. And when I date myself, my favorite place to go is the art museum. It’s unanimous among the one of us, no vote is necessary and this is where I found myself last Saturday. After dressing to impress (myself) and having a tasty Chick-fil-A lunch with my sister and her family (who showed up unexpectedly outside my left window on the highway), I parted ways and headed into the city solo. I just needed to be alone in a crowd for a while, to hear my heart and listen for the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit. My soul needed to soak in something beautiful, and the art museum brings all of these components together in a very rapturous way.
The paintings are my favorite. Statues take a very close second, but I could look at paintings for hours and never get bored. I’m not a big fan of abstracts, though. It’s the portraits, landscapes and still-lifes. The mimicry of reality. It’s amazing to me how an artist can capture and detail so much of a moment, when so many moments pass me by unnoticed. This wonder inspired me to pull out my notebook and I began to consider the artist.
The artist’s eyes see things for what they really are. Captures things often overlooked in the bustle of living. The artist notices detail in the background and gives as much attention to painting the background as he or she gives to the focal point. Speaking of focal point: the artist knows how to create one. Though painting a moment of life, there’s still this subtle creativity pointing the observer’s attention to what the artist is intentionally conveying. Emotions, for instance. Or the intricacies of lace, depicting the frailty of wealth. How variations of light touch a surface, and how brokenness can be beautiful. The vastness of space, depths of emptiness, the many multi-facets of life happening all in the same moment. The artist sees it all, and delicately lays it plain before the observer.
Psalms 139 paints God as an artist. “For you created my inmost being, you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139: 13-16).
The Lord himself tells Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart…” (Jeremiah 1:5).
The artist conceptualizes every aspect of the finished product before he or she begins. God did that. He thought about you and I. Who we would become. What we might do in life. Our interests. Our faults. How brokenness might affect us. What we might consider lovely or distasteful. How light and darkness will change us. What facet of life we might choose to focus on; the things that are important to us. Then He spent time passionately crafting us from simple clay into complex beings whose sole purpose is to glorify Him. And somehow, we do. We glorify Him by allowing Him to create a focal point in our life. We glorify Him in the way we handle variations of light and darkness. We glorify Him despite what is going on in the background of the moments He stitches together. “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago” (Ephesians 2:10).
The Greek word for “masterpiece” is poema. Now He’s speaking my language! For Van Gogh and Monet, theirs was the painting. Beethoven and Mozart created musical masterpieces. Fitzgerald and Doyle crafted stories. God created all of them! And if they are capable of so much, so are we, for we are formed of the same dust in the same hands!
I also considered how intimately the artist must know His work as it materializes from a mere thought to a finished work. As sharers in His work, shouldn’t we also know His works very intimately? How, you ask? By speaking always of it with the Master. By seeking His wisdom in understanding those around us. In asking God to unveil our eyes so we can see things as He does. In order to reach others as Jesus did, we must understand their backgrounds, the darkness they have known, the way light changed their surfaces and how brokenness affected their hearts and minds. We can only know these things through the intimate revelation God gives. Intimacy is not trivial. It’s born over time. Therefore, if we want to be effective for Christ, we must give Him our time and attention. Not thinking of ourselves and how we might benefit at His feet, but looking adoringly at our Lord as we wait for Him to touch us, speak to us and send us in His power to touch the world around us.
Carl Gustav Carus, a German painter and close friend of Goethe, left a piece of wisdom for us to ponder many years later. As I reflect on my relationship with the Lord, I would like to offer it as the formula for this intimacy. “You lose yourself in boundless space … your ego vanishes; you are nothing, God is all.” This boundless space he is referring to is our times in the desert of life. Like Jesus, led by the Spirit into the wilderness, we are brought out away from everything that might hinder our attentions from receiving and left there to wrestle with God. Honore de Balzac once wrote that the desert “is God without mankind.” There, in that unhindered place, we get to know God so intimately. We get to know the discomfort of being alone with Him. If you have never been uncomfortable under the Spirit, I doubt that you have ever been alone with God. It’s so necessary, though, if you want to know His will and remain closely in step with Him. Don’t run away from those moments of lonely dependence on God for companionship. So many of us want to fill that void with another when in reality, that can be times of sweet communion with the Holy Spirit you might otherwise never know. Bask in the presence of God there in the secret place. Then you can do the good works God prepared for you beforehand with all the wisdom and knowledge you need to succeed as God intended, and bring great glory to His name. As His masterpiece.