In the early 1980’s, I frequently visited a friend in Washington, D.C. Most of those trips included time at the Smithsonian, and I grew to love the sculpture gardens at the Hirshhorn and one particular painting inside the museum—At the Window by Alfred Henry Maurer.
This piece of art drew me like a magnet. I found it mesmerizing and would sit in front of it for extended periods on each visit, writing in my journal the feelings this painting stirred. I came to think of it as my painting and renamed it Waiting at the window.
I spent hours discerning the message of this painting. Was the woman waiting for someone? Had something outside caught her attention? Was she watching someone walk away?
I didn’t know why it captured me as it did, but I never tired of seeing it, reflecting on it.
Then one day, I followed my usual path to my painting, only to find something else in its place. My painting was gone; my spirit sank. This piece of art had become an anchor for me, my starting place before I explored other parts of the museum. It was my touchstone—and then it was gone.
I went to the front desk to ask about the painting, and the staff person told me that it had probably been placed in storage. She was blasé. I was bereft. I fought back tears as I walked away.
Something in this painting had consoled me, and even after spending hours in its presence, I had not quite figured out its significance. Now it was gone.
When Sr. Wendy Beckett came on the scene in the 1990’s, talking about the connection between God and art, I remembered my time in front of At the Window. The details of the painting, the questions it evoked and the contemplation it inspired in me were all part of my spiritual journey.
The disappearance of the painting had interrupted a discernment process. I came to see that I was the woman waiting, peeking through the curtain. I was sitting in the dark, anticipating a message from God of the path I was to take.
Last night, during a new member reception and tour at the Detroit Institute of Arts, our docent pointed out a Henry Ossawa Tanner painting, Flight into Egypt, and I was transported to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and their Tanner painting, The Annunciation, a painting I have prayed with many times.
God uses many means—Scripture, songs, nature, people, events, art—to invite me into relationship, into meditation and into deeper truths. As I reflected this morning on the role art plays in my spiritual life, I can recall a number of pieces that have helped me discern God’s will and have opened me up to a deeper relationship with God.
I am grateful for the artists who share their talents, grateful that God uses art to reach out to me and grateful for the museums and churches that make art so accessible.