I’m the kind of hardcore art buff who could spend hours gazing at the same painting. The one people sidestep past because I’m lost in thought, still standing in front of the same frame, forgetting that time even exists.
When I visit museums, it’s not easy to contain my enthusiasm for each work of art. Perhaps to the chagrin of other patrons unassumingly passing through the galleries, silently beholding the masterpieces before them, I’m always more than happy to comment on what I love. “Look at the gesture in this one!” I exclaimed to my mom as we admired a painting of a garden at an exhibit we attended. “It’s just beautiful!” I gushed (and don’t even get me started about the other artistic elements — if I launched into analyses of the color palette, use of line and lighting, we’d be there well after closing time!).
For me, a life of the spirit means pursuing a creative life, to see the beauty in all things, because to do so is to see God in all things. My passion for art breathed life into my soul from the very beginning, when I was a child creating my own story books with computer paper and staples, fairytales I wrote and illustrated with my trusty colored pencils and markers.
To be part of creating and responding to art has always been a way for me to encounter God, himself a creator who makes everything new. Studying art history formally as my undergraduate minor, I only became more convinced of art as a vessel through which God has worked through time, inspiring the hands of artists to reach our hearts in turn. I’m passionate about art for the same reason I’m passionate about my faith; it paints color into every corner of existence, stretching out to warm even the darkest places, singing away the shadows.
Of all the reasons that I’m passionate about art, perhaps what I treasure most is its depth, which comes from the spirit of each piece. It amazes me that every time I look at a painting, even one that I’ve seen for years, I can still spot new details that provide another angle into the painting’s meaning. Standing back, holding a painting from a distance, I can get a sense of its full effect, the overall scene. It’s only when I peer more closely, zooming into smaller passages, that I note many different stages of activity set within, all essential parts of the whole that add to its richness.
One such painting is the much-beloved “Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas” (1967) by Norman Rockwell. It’s quintessential, quaint small-town America; downtown in the Berkshires at Christmas, mom-and-pop stores illuminated cozily from within as the sunset fades, traces of pink-like woolen scarves still wrapped through the sky around the bare tree branches that skirt the edges of the frame. Meanwhile, if you take your magnifying glass to the foreground, you’ll spy shoppers happily toting bags of Christmas gifts, fresh-cut pine trees being lugged home, and children playfully sliding on patches of ice on the street.
From a distance, sure, the landscape seems to be the subject – it’s mountains and buildings we primarily see. But where is the real story? It’s the people who give this Christmas scene its spirit, engaging in the traditions that make us so nostalgic about childhood joy that we strive to carry forth into adulthood, keeping the magic alive.
I’ve found something similar is true of Eucharistic Adoration. A cradle Catholic, I was raised living out the rich traditions of the faith. Having always had these traditions in my life, however, meant that, if I didn’t keep my eyes open to the perpetual newness of each sacramental experience, the fresh reliving of each part of salvation history, I could lose sight of all its brightness, taking it for granted. I could let myself think that I already had found the truth, and didn’t have to keep looking, or waiting for the whisperings of God to continue stirring my spirit.
Yet, Adoration reminds me otherwise, challenging me to walk further in my journey with Christ, to listen with my innermost spirit to hear him in what seems at first to be the silence of the chapel. The exterior details fade away, and I begin to see the core of what is, a divine love that beats in all things, carrying life through the veins of each being. When I go to Adoration, praying and honoring the gift of the Eucharist that our Lord has given us, I feel closer to Jesus. Looking upon the exposed Sacred Host, like the moon radiating its bright glow in the monstrance, I further see the resplendent purity of God’s love. It reminds me of seeing a painting that is so familiar, that comforts me, speaking to where I have been, what I have known, like “Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas,” so redolent of home, reaching back out to me, drawing me back to my roots, wherever I may go.
The more time we spend with Jesus in thoughtful contemplation, opening our eyes, ears, and hearts to him, the more we can see and understand him, much like how when we look closer at paintings, we can better comprehend what the painting’s messages are. We can then truly grow to appreciate the skill and thought behind each creative work. In participating in Eucharistic Adoration, there is the opportunity to more deeply appreciate Jesus’ sacrifice made out of immense love for us. We can observe the masterful artistry of God’s plan in being perfectly developed to redeem us from our sins. Through the Incarnation, Jesus’ taking on flesh, a human nature like our own, we could tangibly see the exquisite goodness of God, increasing in love for him.
Today we still can, in using the precious time we have to simply be with our Lord, away from the busyness of the world, nestled in the eternal holiness of Adoration, where Jesus teaches us the art of living well, of loving our neighbors well: by being still, being present, and reaching out our hearts, listening and seeing with them as fully as we can. There’s no better season than Advent, when we wait, preparing eagerly, like children keeping vigil on Christmas Eve, for Christ’s coming into the world, to look up from our to-do lists, and appreciate what Christ has already done for us, winning salvation for us from his selfless love.
We can choose to open the doors to the inn, letting Christ enter our hectic lives to redeem us, by simply being with him. Jesus is always there, waiting for us to open our hearts to the gift of his love, to be shared with all around us, much like how resplendent art offers many blessings, sharing beauty and hope with us. We experience a pocket of stillness where time seems to cease existing, and all that matters is God’s all-encompassing love.