As I write I can lift my head slightly, glance over the top of my laptop to see before me images of significance, invitation, and embrace. Over time they have contributed and added to my faith. As I began to read Visual Faith: Art, Theology and Worship in Dialogue by William A. Dyrness I stopped to consider why in my later years I now experience God amid high ceilings and altars more than I do in spaces with guitar stands and microphones with large screens to compliment the cross hanging at the front. What is it about the former places that bring dialogue into presence? What is it that allows me to focus and be present?
I thought about my friends Karen Luke Fildes and Karen Mains. The first an artist and musician, the second is an author and gifted with sight. They have traversed and mingled in this intersection of art, theology and worship. They have experienced the tensions, potholes and misdirection, yet they continue to faithfully press on. I wonder what they might say to me about this book? What, I wonder, would they say to me (period)? For starters I think they would embrace fully the observation concerning the biblical narrative, “What is visually lovely and true reflects who God is and, consequently, all that he does.” My observation is that we often focus on seeing the biblical glory through the lens of outcome drawing from the intended purpose. Yet ever so purposefully I found that I was seeing glory not from the end result but from within the act of creating. Dyrness reminded me (and reminds us) that we couldn’t separate creation and goodness without the risk of projecting our own feelings and desires upon God.
If there is inspiration to draw from this book it is found first of all in the author’s willingness to recognize the differing seasons of time and the contribution offered to an ongoing conversation. Dyrness does not seem to back away from the rough places in these needed conversations. As one preparing for ministry in the Presbyterian Church (PC-USA) with a foundation of Reformed theology I desire to hold God’s purposes as potentials within creation, where God is vested and present. Having experienced a legalistic framework I know my potential to ignore the challenging aspects. Incarnation, Trinity and creation do not exist apart from the other. “Art,” Dyrness asserts, “is that human activity that goes beyond the useful to embody in allusive color, shape, or sound the joy or pain of being human.” Throughout the book we are called to recognize both limitations and potential.
Herein I am drawn again to icons. Perspective, east and west provide different viewpoints. Emerging and conservative today present another. Understood, icons in Eastern Christianity were not something to be worshiped but an access to divine reality. In the West they provided the impetus and reason for devotion. If we can recall, and for many of us learn, what an icon presented and represented we might consider, what are the icons of today? What would we say is our present framework?
My husband and I spent the last few days at Cannon Beach. We have come to this place for many years. When my children were growing up we made an annual summer visit. On holiday our familiarity with this place allowed us to relax and shed our busy burdens much more quickly. We had no vacation agenda; there was no the hurry to do, except what we wanted to. Being there whilst reading Visual Faith I could not escape that I am a consumer. Jeffrey Hull, the artist, has become a friend, first through family acquaintance and then gradually touching base summer by summer as we would visit his gallery. We came home this time with new giclée prints. However for the first time I considered the significance of frame and matting. One frame and mat accented individual colors of the painting’s individual elements. While the gray frame with lighter mat drew you into the scene itself. In some way I wonder if a gap has been bridged. Referring to Paul Willis, “Symbolic creativity is actually able to bridge the gap between performance and consumption. Consumers become, as it were, secondary performers actively engaged in building their lives in terms of highly developed aesthetic standards.”
Karen the author paints with her words, illustrating the human condition and possibility of healing. Karen the artist reflects and interprets the beauty of clouds and need for sustainable water. Jeff translates the changing seasons and mood of the ocean, bringing serenity and while helping us to recognize the power and uncontrollable essence within creation.
The invitation of this book reminds me to pay attention to the framework and the mat of the gospel we present. Dyrness calls us to take the “gospel deeper into our singing, walking and working – into that deepest part of ourselves where our hopes and ambitions lie.”
 Karen Luke Fildes website: http://www.karenlukefildes.com/.
 Karen Mains website: http://karenmains.com/.
 William A. Dyrness, Visual Faith: Art, Theology, and Worship in Dialogue (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 75.
 Ibid., 98.
 Ibid., 99.
 Ibid., 41.
 Jeffrey Hull website: http://www.hullgallery.com/.
 Ibid., 129. Dyrness refers to Paul Willis, Common Culture: Symbolic Work at Play in the Everyday Cultures of the Young (Bolder, CO: Westview Press, 1990). 49.
 Ibid., 155.