Feeling With Images

By: Phil Yoder

The other month, when meeting with my spiritual director, I was struggling to articulate my feelings around God (and God’s absence). She pulled out a collection of pastels and asked me to draw them. Draw them? When it comes to the arts, I generally consider myself a musician. There was that 10th grade drawling class, but I never stuck with it like music, which came more naturally for me. I grew up in a house that had little artwork, beyond a few of our elementary school creations, and in a church that only a few visuals beyond a simple wooden cross up front -whose presence was a congregational controversy.

I took the pad of paper and pastels and began to visually imagine what I was feeling my relationship with God was like, and tried to draw the nameless feeling. As it was abstractly forming on the paper in front of me, I couldn’t help but cry as I placed odd colors and shapes together.

Must I reiterate, I am not a talented visual artist. But I think that having so little idea of how to draw “correctly” allowed myself to smoothly place on to the paper my raw feelings. Now, when I look at that odd drawing, it helps to name whatever that unnamed feeling and experience God is for me at that moment. It tells me something about God and me. Unfortunately, it would be pretty meaningless to anyone else.

However, a good visual artist can capture those feelings and experiences in a way that connects to the feelings and experiences of others. It can name things sometimes words cannot capture. As a person who too often leads with his brain instead of his heart, visual art has been a force that has helped me make that journey from head to heart.

In the new hymnal, there are songs with wonderful theology that might help us wrap our heads around God. But there are now also images that have been placed in the hymnal too, that can be used to help us experience our faith through a different medium. On Sunday, October 31, we are going to explore some of these images that were selected for Voice’s Together, along with songs and scripture, as an introduction to how we might be able to use the hymnal’s visual art in worship in the future.