“Where thou art, that is home.” —Emily Dickinson
Last week, we completed part 5 of our spiritual journey through art. We have now taken survey of the landscape of our spiritual journeys, mapped where we’ve come from and where we’re going, taken inventory of what’s in our spiritual luggage, contemplated who our traveling companions are, and claimed our spiritual territory. In case you missed them, here are links to the the intro, part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4. and part 5. This week, in our last installment of this series, we envision the flags that fly over our individual spiritual lands.
Our culture is flooded with symbols. We see them in product branding, corporate logos, bumper stickers, advertising, flags, and religious icons. Consider the following examples:
The Olympic flag: five interlocked colored rings to represent the five areas of the world joined together in the Olympic games.
The American flag: George Washington is said to have declared, “We take the stars from Heaven, the red from our mother country, separating it by white stripes, thus showing that we have separated from her, and the white stripes shall go down to posterity representing Liberty.” For some, the red and white stripes represent, respectively, the blood of freedom and purity.
The flag of the United Nations: a map of the world surrounded by olive branches symbolizing peace.
Coats of arms: In European traditions, the symbolism in tinctures (colors), divisions of field, ordinaries, and charges (crosses, lions, bears, fish, dragons, etc.) are used to create coats of arms to represent family clans, or sometimes individuals.
The one above is the coat of arms of South Australia.
Family crests: The circular Japanese “kamon” or family crests often include symbols of flowers, trees, birds, or lucky symbols. The one above is the family crest of the Miura clan, my ancestral Samurai family linked to Emperor Kanmu, the 50th imperial ruler of Japan. Miura means “three bays,” and the crest seems to indicate three bodies of water.
The Christian flag, which includes the most universal symbol for Christianity, the cross, red for the blood of Christ, white for purity and forgiveness (“My sins have been washed white as snow.” Isaiah 1:18), and blue to represent heaven, truth, or baptism.
The Seventh-day Adventist logo: “The choice of the Church's logo reflects the core values that Seventh-day Adventists are committed to. The foundation is the Bible, the Word of God, shown open since its message must necessarily be read and put into practice. Central to that Biblical message is the Cross, and is also central in the logo. Above the Cross and the open Bible is the burning flame of the Holy Spirit, the messenger of Truth.”
The bread and wine of the communion service symbolizing the broken body of Christ and his blood
The tearing of the temple veil at Christ’s crucifixion
The prophetic symbols of Daniel and Revelation
A spiritual flag represents your faith, your spiritual values. If you were to fly a flag over your symbolic spiritual territory (the territory you claimed in last week’s activity), what would it look like? Joshua challenged the Israelites: “Choose this day whom you will serve,” and then declared, “As for me and my household, we will follow the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15) This was Joshua’s “verbal flag,” his public statement of his faith.
1. Consider the symbols, colors and shapes of flags and family crests and their significance in your spiritual journey. For example: What colors represent your spiritual territory? What do those colors symbolize? Courage? Faith? Grace? Compassion? What shapes and symbols on your flag represent your spiritual values? When others see your flag, what do you want them to understand?
2. Make a flag that represents your spiritual territory.
This is my “flag. I drew it (left-handed again) in the circular shape of a Japanese family crest, which is also the shape of the earth with its surface of water. The colors—greens, pinks, and golds—represent creativity, growth, and light for me. Emblems include a stalk of bamboo, a symbol of strength, endurance, and growth; and a white flower that represents the centrality, purity, and multifaceted simplicity-complexity of grace, which also evokes the idea of faith in a creative, compassionate God. This exercise, for me, was the most challenging of all six we’ve attempted. I found it difficult to distill into simple symbols an expression of my spirituality, but having attempted to do so, I’m all the more convinced that it’s important to be able to own one’s spirituality. “Choose this day whom you will serve,” Joshua challenged. Making the choice is the first step; understanding and being able to express what that choice means is the next—and complex and significant leg of the journey.
This is the final installment of our spiritual journey through art, but hopefully not the end of your artistic exploration. The gate has been left open. I hope that you’ll return often to consider how art can impact your spirituality, and I hope that you’ll carry what you’ve learned through art into the rest of your life.
To close this series, I want to share with you the artwork sent to me by artist, teacher, and mentor Nancy Johnson, whose comments you may have seen from time to time on this blog. (She also happens to be my dear mother-in-law with whom I share a love of creative endeavors.) Nancy created two drawings in response to the first exercise in this spiritual journey through art, which was to create a representation of the current landscape of one’s spiritual journey.
The first depicts a traveler on a rather dark and desolate path just past an overshadowing, sinister-looking tree. Light streams from a source up ahead. Nancy says that creating this drawing allowed her to reflect in a manner that ultimately inspired her to go on to make the second drawing:
I was completely blown away when I saw the second drawing. The rings of the circle in Nancy's artwork are filled with words and intricate drawings that represent significant dates and places, a self-portrait, a picture of Nancy’s family, depictions of artists that have impacted Nancy’s spiritual journey, and finally—what moved me most of all—dozens and dozens of names of loved ones. You’ll have to click on the image to get the full impact of Nancy’s artwork. To me, it’s a portrait of a rich life. I think it’s fitting that the circle depicting Nancy’s journey fans outward, grows larger and more intricate. The X depicts where Nancy sees herself now. Beyond the X is the future, and I can only imagine the harvest that will fill each succeeding ring of the circle.
Nancy created these drawings in conjunction with the first exercise, but she was already projecting ahead to where I was headed in subsequent exercises. In the second drawing, she effectively maps the span of her spiritual journey up until now and casts forward into the future. She identifies a diverse community of travel companions and names the individuals in her extensive spiritual family tree. Her drawing includes symbols that evoke a sense of her spiritual territory and spiritual luggage. Though Nancy may not have intended it thus, I think this artwork reflects the fullness and scope of her spiritual journey and the many lives she blesses along the way. I’m moved and inspired.
Thank you, Nancy, for sharing your artwork, and thank you, readers for joining me on this six-week spiritual journey through art. May your journeys continue. May they be graced with light, artfulness, fellow travelers, and growth.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/4158