Visual Art in Church – Dining with Jesus

Featuring Thomas Clark Posted on February 9, 2009

I consider myself a “foodie.” If I’m in conversation with someone, friend or new acquaintance, the subject of food invariably enters in. If my family and I are watching TV it is usually on the Food Network. There is something so enticing about a great meal at a restaurant or home. Is it the sumptuous taste, the smell of garlic and onions simmering, the sight of a beautifully prepared plate displayed before you, the ambience of the room with the candles flickering, great music in the background, or is it the great conversation with friends or great service by a knowledgeable waiter or waitress? I believe it’s all these and more, because all contribute to an experience that often times approaches a spiritual experience.

I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that Jesus’ first miracle, at a wedding banquet, and last meal with His disciples involved a dining experience. He even used food and wine as symbols for remembering Him, because there is something wonderfully innate and transcendent about a meal with loved ones. This is why, I believe, people always congregate in the kitchen at parties– it is familiar, comfortable, unpretentious and aromatic and reminds them of cherished memories of dinner with family and friends.  

Outside of the food analogy, I believe we need to experience and utilize all of our senses in daily life. God has blessed us with an array of senses that make our daily life rich and full. I believe all of the senses are important to developing our sixth sense, a spiritual relationship with God through the Holy Spirit. Can you imagine living through a day experiencing only two or three senses? Imagine feeling the wind against your skin, but not being able to see it blow the autumn leaves across a meadow and hear the rustling of the leaves, or smelling a great meal but not being able to taste it? See, there I go again, I couldn’t help myself.

Okay, here’s my thought– church should be like a wonderful dining experience. Have you ever been to a restaurant and had a wonderful meal, but the service was pretentious and impersonal? How about a restaurant that was beautifully designed and with great service, but the food was sub-par? Let’s say that at your church the food is the teaching, the service is the staff and volunteers and the ambience is the worship, staging and design and feel of the building. I believe that most churches excel at one or two but are lacking in the third.  In my opinion, it is generally the ambience.  I find that many churches are interested in the full dining experience, but feel the food and service are more important.

I believe that God, as revealed in Exodus 25-30, thinks differently.  When giving instructions for the offerings and building of the temple, He goes into great detail to create a multi-sensory experience. He itemizes artfully detailed items and experiences that fully engage the sense of sight, smell and touch that seem to encourage the people to physically and spiritually participate.

My experience in using art in the church.  Be it live performance art or stage and environmental design, is that some people engage God more from a visual or ambient standpoint which better enhances their worship and fellowship experience. Now, I realize that many churches utilize video to add dimension to their services, which I heartily support, but I believe in a time when connecting with someone is more cyber than sensory. The use of art, in the halls and on the stage, is an important course of the meal.

After a recent church service, I was exiting the stage carrying a canvas when I noticed an older woman motioning me to come to the edge of the platform. She was visibly emotional and told me she was legally blind, but was so excited to see art used in the church. She wanted to get close to the painting to see, with her limited ability, the shadowed forms and touch the brush strokes. She pulled from her purse a wrinkled picture of a beautiful seascape she had painted when she had better sight and it struck me that even a person who could barely see shapes was so inspired by art being a part of worship.

Though some of us remember a meal for different reasons, we all have a better experience when all facets of the meal are approached with excellence in mind. Let’s think of the church as our home where Jesus is coming over for dinner. Would we prepare the meal then just wait for Him to show up or would we be like we normally are when someone we love is joining us for dinner: lighting candles, setting the table with a beautiful arrangement of flowers and our best dinnerware? When the wonderfully prepared meal is served is it thrown on the plate or displayed in a creative and pleasing way that enhances its wonderful flavor? I think not…but that’s just food for thought.

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