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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Images of faith

Two books explore them in language, art

Images of various sorts play crucial roles in religious faith — helping us interpret spiritual concepts. We're moving into a season when images may be even more significant for believers than at some other times.

Thanksgiving is fast approaching. And then Advent and Christmas. Of course, Christmas music has been playing in the stores since before Halloween. But what should this time really mean? Images can help us seek that meaning. Some images we create ourselves: One might imagine Advent as a road, a sacred pathway in the desert leading to a glorious culmination. Focusing carefully on such an image helps block out the noise and commercialism competing for our attention.

Books, artworks, hymns and other sources contain many word and visual images to aid us in our efforts to understand. Two recent books can help.

This year Gail Ramshaw wrote about how "symbols speak the mysteries where words fail" (April, page 12). In Treasures Old and New: Images in the Lectionary (Fortress Press, 2002), she explains the meaning and significance of 40 key images in the three-year lectionary. Appropriate for this time of year is light — the light of the Advent candles as they brighten a dark season and lead to a revelation of pure clarity.

In Image and Spirit: Finding Meaning in Visual Art (Augsburg Books, 2003), Karen Stone, an artist and art educator, suggests ways to use images to understand art's relationship to faith and spirituality. An especially useful chapter deals with art's role in forming community and how it can enrich worship. During this season, there is no more important topic: How do we focus on meaningful images and ignore the distractions around us to enrich the season's worship?

Both books remind us that the language of faith — whether expressed verbally or visually (or musically or in movement) — isn't objective or limited. It draws primarily on the deep wells of the human imagination.


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