Echos of the Heart
Creative Meditations for the Developing Soul
As the season of Advent begins, we reflect on the first coming of Christ Jesus to earth, and how His life changed history for humanity. As a Christ-follower, it is imperative for us to continually meditate on the person of Jesus. He is the mirror-image of the Father, and we are invited, through the Holy Spirit, to become reflections of Jesus and the Father as well.
In December 2020, His Church Anglican (Livonia, MI), commissioned me to create paintings that would be incorporated into their Lessons & Carols service on Dec 19 & 20, 2020. The paintings were inspired by seven symbols of Jesus Christ that are described and prophesied in the book of Isaiah. The seven symbols of Jesus are the following: Emmanuel (God with us or God became man), Cornerstone of the Temple, Light & Word, Shepherd, Branch of Jesse, Herald of Good News & Bridegroom.
Symbols in the Paintings:
Jesus Golden Face:
I decided to gold leaf Jesus’ face, to represent the dichotomies within His incarnation. Jesus was 100% man, which was represented in my paintings by the remainder of His body being human flesh & skin, but he was also 100% divine. I wanted to visually represent His divinity and holiness within his human form.
As an artist, I did not want to create a pictorial representation of His face, for a few reasons: All of us have different ideas of how Christ may have looked, and many of us gather our understanding through artwork we have already witnessed that has attempted to pictorially represent him. There is artwork that depicts how we may subjectively perceive Christ to look, and that artwork causes us to be in awe and glorify Him. But there is other artwork that does not depict how we may subjectively perceive Christ to look, so it can create a barrier between us valuing the essence of what the artwork is trying to teach us about Christ. I wanted the viewer to be able to use their own imagination to think of how Christ may appear to them, in order to represent that even though Jesus came to earth as a Jewish man, He, in His divinity, represents all men as the new Adam for mankind.
Jesus is Emmanuel, the Cornerstone for the Temple, the Light & Word:
In the first set of three images, Mary is the main person of focus. We can see Jesus in her womb, and He is close to being born. Mary is gazing into the eyes of the viewer, who is also aware of the coming birth of someone extraordinary, in the womb of a seemingly ordinary girl, in the midst of humble circumstances.
The dove represents two moments where Mary encountered the presence of the spirit of God in the midst of her pregnancy journey. The first was the annunciation, where an angel visited her to announce that she will give birth to “the Son of the Most High” (Luke 1: 26 – 38). As stated in Luke 1:35, “The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” The Holy Spirit was the one who began the holy process of incarnation. Right after this moment, Mary travelled to visit her relative Elizabeth, who was also pregnant. Luke 1:41-45 states, “41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby [John the Baptist] leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!” After Elizabeth celebrated in the joy of the Holy Spirit, Mary also responded in song, inspired by the Spirit of God. Even when Christ was in the womb, they were experiencing the presence of God.
I painted the background as a dark, starry night, to represent how the people of Israel were living in a hopeless era, where they had no land to call their own, no prophets and God had felt distant and silent for 400 years. The Israelite people were surrounded with the darkness of oppression from the rulers and authorities of the Roman Empire, as well as the Jewish religious leaders, who would conspire with the leaders of Rome, to gain financial, social and political power. When Israel fell to Roman rule, the Romans would specifically tax the Jews to invest that money into a temple for their Roman god, Jupiter, as a way of saying “Jupiter reigns above the God of Israel.” The Temple in my artwork is multifaceted: it represents the active and corrupt presence of the pagan temples where the Romans worshipped many gods, as well as the Jewish religious system that did not have a full ransom sacrifice to set people free from bondage.
In redemptive symbolism, the temple also represents the person of Jesus, who comes to rebuild the temple with Himself as the cornerstone, the foundation of all holy and true spiritual practice. Once, when Jesus visited the temple in Jerusalem, he referred to His own body as a temple by saying in John 2:19, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” He was referencing His own death, that would lead to His resurrection, and subsequently building His followers as new “temples” for the Holy Spirit.
Christ was coming to be the light, the daybreak in this dark time. Christ was a living manifestation of the Scripture scrolls that were inside the Jewish temple. He brought illuminating revelation to the holy Scriptures by explaining the words, and demonstrating how to live the words properly.
Jesus is the Shepherd, the Branch of Jesse, and the Herald of Good News:
I picture these next three images to be representative of when Christ dwelt on earth & the long-lasting effects of Christ’s spirit in humanity. The sunset colors represent the spiritual changes that happened as Jesus entered the world, and light began to radiate over humanity. For the “Good Shepherd” image, I painted Jesus tenderly holding a sheep in His arms. I was inspired by Isaiah 40:11, “He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.” Christ carries all of humanities sins to the cross and became our self-sacrificial lamb. We were not spotless sheep, and yet in Him, we are renewed to life. He was the spotless lamb, and subjected himself to blood-stain and death to be the ultimate sacrifice for our sins.
For the Branch of Jesse image, I painted intricate roots of the tree going down into the soil, to represent the long lineage of Jesus’ ancestry. The “shoot” I painted is a grown tree, bearing fruit and restoring what was lost. Jesus represents our new tree of life. The fruit I painted on the tree are pomegranates, which are a symbol of righteousness. Pomegranates are a common fruit in the Holy Land, and certainly a fruit Jesus would of eaten, similar to how an apple is a common fruit in the United States.
The last image on this tryptic is “Herald of Good News.” This image represents those that Jesus set free in his lifetime and the people that He continues to set free today. Jesus came to multiply freedom to all of the peoples of the earth. We, Christ’s followers, become conduits of distributing that freedom to others. The mountains that the women is facing are reminiscent of Jesus famous words to His followers from Matthew 17:20 “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” The Good News empowers us to do the impossible that is stated in Isaiah 61:1-4, to bind up the brokenhearted, give liberty to those in bondage, bring comfort, joy and praise to all who mourn, and rebuild the devastations of many generations.
Jesus, the Bridegroom of His Bride, the Church:
This final image ties together the visual elements of all of the previous pictures, to create an image of Jesus at the end of time, meeting His Bride, the Church. The dark sky is being pushed back by the radiant sun rising from behind the mountains. The sun represents the presence of Father God in the picture. Twice in Revelation, it states that God will be the light for the new Earth. For example, Revelation 22:5 states, “There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will be their light. And they will reign for ever and ever.”
In this moment, Christ meets His beloved Bride, the church that His Father God faithfully matured to make her presentable for Him. Jesus’ hand is on his heart and his arm is outstretched, lovingly welcoming her into eternal union with Himself. The Father and Son can now live fully reconciled and united with the humanity that was restored through the Holy Spirit. The Father breathed His life into every person in humanity, and Christ gave His life for every person in humanity. The Son and Father rejoice in receiving their desired reward--the souls of the people who love them in return.
The Brides face is also gold-leafed, to represent her likeness to Christ and the Father. Her face is glowing in radiance, a church that went through the refining fire of suffering and had emerged as purified gold. The Bride is holy, matching the trinity that she loves.
The mountains in the background represent the mountain-moving faith of the church, the believers, in this moment of union. Ephesians 2:8-9 states, "8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- 9 not by works, so that no one can boast." We have received the gift of God's grace and we respond to God in faith. The lily flowers represent purity, fresh life & rebirth. At the end of time, everything will be reborn into new life and what will remain is everything pure and lovely. The Bride will present herself to Christ in purity and she will be received by Him in eternal love, communion and fellowship.
Symbolic Connections between Image 1 & Image 2: