We’ve developed a tradition here at The Well where each summer we offer something a little different to our audience — something to support the work of rest, restoration, and preparation that we hope is part of the season’s different rhythms.
This year we are offering our Summer 2021 Visio Divina Series. You can read more about this practice in our introduction to the series. Today, we'll take a close look at a piece by artist Alma Thomas.
Alma Thomas, "Light Blue Nursery," 1968, acrylic on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum
Week 3: Light Blue Nursery
African American artist Alma Thomas was born in 1891 in Columbus, GA where she lived until sixteen when her father moved the family to Washington, D.C. She attended Howard University and was the first graduate of its art department in 1924. Following a thirty-eight year career of teaching art in the D.C. public schools, she painted more regularly and became known as an “exuberant colorist” and was a major figure in the Washington Color Field School in the 1960’s and beyond.
Many of the abstract patterns she painted were influenced by the trees and flowers around her and reflected her study and love of color. “A world without color would seem dead. Color is life. Light is the mother of color. Light reveals to us the spirit and living soul of the world through colors,” she said in a 1982 interview.
Questions for visio divina
- As you begin, take a few deep breaths. While we know God is always with us, invite the Holy Spirit to be present and to speak to you afresh in these moments. Spend some time looking at the image. What do you see? Similar to doing Bible study, make as many observations as you can. What do you like or dislike? Why? What questions do you have?
- How does the artist use color, light, style, composition, and material? What do you think the artist wanted to communicate? What stands out to you? Why do you think this is so?
- Reflect on Isaiah 40:25-31. How does this add to what you are seeing? Is there other Scripture that comes to mind?
- Spend some time reflecting on the Scripture passage and looking again at today’s image. What is God’s invitation to you? What might you need to see, understand, or believe? How does your current life experience intersect with what you are seeing and reflecting on? How might this image help you pray today? What do you want to say to God? Ask from him?
Scripture passage: Isaiah 40:25-31
“To whom will you compare me?
Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.
Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens:
Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one
and calls forth each of them by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength,
not one of them is missing.
Why do you complain, Jacob?
Why do you say, Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord;
my cause is disregarded by my God”?
Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.
If you are like me, what draws you into this painting is the color — no surprise given Alma Thomas was known as an artist who studied color and the use of color. From a distance my eyes follow the lines of color as they stretch across the page interacting, contrasting, and engaging with one another. Is there a particular color that caught your eye?
Looking closer at the painting, one notices that each row is made up of individual rectangle-ish shapes, each one distinct from the others even if sharing the same hue. Commenting on this piece, some have said the neatly arranged rows of varying shades are an abstraction of a meticulously curated garden. Indeed, one can imagine rows of various flowers and shrubs each sporting their own cultivar’s color yet within the rows each plant’s blossoms differ ever-so-slightly in size and shape. Gardens like this are amazing in their intricacy and orderliness — nothing like my backyard, I assure you, even with my degree in horticulture! If you are a “place for everything and everything in its place” kind of person, you may find this piece calming and reassuring.
While the color drew me in, what came to my mind, however, weren’t rows of hydrangeas and delphiniums, but a “celestial garden” and the One who planted it. As I looked at the hundreds of shapes lined up in succession and marching across the canvas, I envisioned the artist carefully painting, somehow knowing how many ought to be there and bringing each one into being, one after the other. I couldn’t help but be reminded of Isaiah 40:26 — ”he who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.” Every night our sky is arrayed with massive burning balls of gas shining from millions of light years away and each one has a name. Each one is known by God and inhabits its unique place in the universe because he put it there. How amazing is that? And it’s not just the stars. It’s absolutely everything. (Read Job 38 - 41 sometime). All of creation lines up and parades in front of us — every unique and amazing thing — declaring the incredible glory, wonder, and beauty of the One who created it (Psalm 19:1ff).
How do we even begin to respond appropriately to this awesomeness?
The first is worship. The second is trust. This God is one who can be trusted. Earlier in Isaiah 40, we are told God “tends his flock like a shepherd. He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart. He gently leads those that have young.” (v.11) This same God who flung the stars into the heavens also gently leads and cares for his people. Our way — whether it be difficult or easy — is not hidden from him. He who is strength gives it to the weary. As I think of how God beautifully holds within himself the realities of power and gentleness, I was reminded of the words about Aslan (the Christ figure in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe), “He is not tame, but he is good.”
Great and awesome God by whose word the world was made and by whose mere breath the starry host came forth, we declare that you alone are worthy of all praise and honor. You are worthy as well, Lord, of our attention, devotion, affection, and trust. Thank you that you not only know the stars by name, you know each of us by name. Yes, even the hairs on our head are numbered. Help us to inhabit this day, whether at work or play, with a spirit of worship and confident trust in you. Amen.
Where is God drawing your vision today? Take a photo and share your thoughts using our hashtag — #visiowell — on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook.