Seeing a beautiful sunset always makes me think of God, and nature’s aesthetic often awakens me to His calling. How many times has looking at the starry night helped you find your place in the cosmic expanse? Or when discouraged, have mountains reminded you of God’s strength and how you will not fear or be moved? As an art professor at Southern Adventist University (SAU), the main question I ask myself is: How do I help students to become sensitive to God’s art? How can I inspire students to have a worshipful response through art and how can they obtain new spiritual object lessons through a visual encounter with nature?
When searching God’s Word we quickly realize that God is an artist. The method in which He worked at creation is much like an artist stretching and preparing His canvas. He brings light to his workspace (Gen 1:3), then lays the foundations and prepares the expanse by stretching out the skies (Gen 1:6-11). He moves from general to specific, reserving the highlights for that final touch, mainly birds, animals and humans (Gen. 1:20-30). At the end of each creative phase, he steps back to make sure it is good (Gen. 1: 31). When God is done, he blesses the Sabbath much like an artist, finalizing His work with a signature (Gen. 2:1-3). By this, He makes it known to the Universe that this is His masterpiece.
Nature and the Sabbath are God’s invitation for us to enjoy His gallery space. Each Sabbath serves as an invitation to recognize his authorship and re-engage in a relationship. Worship happens through art when we thankfully reinterpret His works through visual expressions of praise. Making art can thus be the truest form of worship. It is a natural response because God has placed “eternity” in our hearts (Eccl 3:11; cf. Ps 8:1-2) and, as Dr. Habenicht explains, we receive early understanding as young children often think of God and nature together.
Mrs. White states, “The more free from artificial excitement and the more in harmony with nature the more favorable it is to physical and mental vigor and to spiritual strength.” She attributes much of David’s strong spiritual strength to his experience with nature. She states that: “Daily revelations of the character and majesty of his Creator, filled the young poet’s heart with adoration and rejoicing. In contemplation of God and His works, the faculties of David’s mind and heart were developing and strengthening for the work on his afterlife. He was daily coming into more intimate communion with God.” Perhaps David was a man after God’s heart because of the many times he engaged in worship, connecting his creative spirit with God’s, through poetry, music, and art. Recent studies in neuro-aesthetics confirm that observing the aesthetic in nature exercises your prefrontal cortex. This section of your brain is where we make judgments such as moral decisions and communicate with God.
Teachers should use art to increase observation skills and sensibilities towards nature, to increase children’s spirituality. This can be done through drawing and painting which comes from looking at the complexity and beauty all around. Object lessons can be encouraged as they re-interpret what they see with their own sense of aesthetic. When drawing from nature students should feel free to copy but not to be bound by exactness or “skill.” They should feel free to think in abstract ways allowing colors, shapes, and lines to speak. Each artistic approach is like a different voice, a prayer, or incense rising up at the altar in God’s temple.
The term Avant Guard describes the introduction of a new concept, just as nature was God’s first canvas to express His love for humanity. Aesthetics in nature, or God’s art, becomes an invitation to enter a relationship with Him. Nature and art are thus the counterparts of this relationship which can become the highest form of expressing worship of the Creator of all things. Appreciating and understanding art helps us appreciate what other human beings are trying to say, and thus to observe the essence of the commandment that we must “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27).
- Habenicht, Donna J. How to Help Your Child Really Love Jesus (Hagerstown: Review and Herald, 1994), p. 64.
- White, Ellen. Child Guidance (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 1954), p. 139.
- White, Ellen. Patriarchs and Prophets (Nampa, ID: 2005), pp. 641-642.
- Semir Zeki. Splendors and Miseries of the Brain, Love, Creativity and the Quest for Human Happiness (Oxford: Blackwell, 2008); Joseph P. Huston, et al. (ed.) Art, Aesthetics, and the Brain (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015; Neal Nedley, Frontal Lobe 3ABN Health for a Lifetime, https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=169&v=LehJkYsoyZY
- Restak, Richard. The New Brain: How the Modern Age is Rewiring Your Mind (New York: Rodale, 2003), 63. March 17, 2019