The view from our knees
If you've ever had the opportunity to visit Florence, Italy, you know that just walking the streets is an experience of total immersion in artistic expression and achievement. Nothing is merely plain or functional. Everything is beautiful, and overwhelmingly so.
But art doesn't just make our world more beautiful; its history has something to teach us. One of the main differences between medieval and renaissance art was the development of perspective. Images created before the 13th century are striking, but appear flat. No attempt was made to depict depth or dimension until Giotto and Duccio introduced shadowing as an early way to convey it. But when the architect Brunelleschi created a system of linear perspective in 1415, everything changed. Two-dimensional canvases were transformed by the use of "vanishing points" and a new era of artistic realism -- one that defined Western art and dominated it for five centuries -- was born.
Perspective matters. And we all see things differently. Our perspectives are shaped not just by life experience, but also by individual gifts, limitations, and personality. The sweeping influences of language, culture, and history affect our viewpoint. But so do the granular realities of nature and nurture, like our genetics and the books we read in school -- or didn't.
Of course, how we see things isn't the totality of how they are. While we'd all like to think that our perspective is more than just one view of reality, it isn't. In fact, under the right set of circumstances, most of us are masters of distortion. But even when the stakes aren't very high, many of us tend to see the world in ways that make us look good, often better than we are. And some can't seem to escape the conclusion that they aren't good enough, and never will be.
But the thing about perspective is that it is an illusion. The canvas is still two-dimensional and flat, even though it does not appear to be. And if we want to see things as they truly are, we must stop looking at the image of reality we have created and look out the window instead.
That is why the Church calls us to deeper prayer during Lent. Conversation with God doesn't just take our eyes off ourselves and others, it widens our context and gives us our true horizon. Prayer gives us a perspective that transcends our own limited view. It takes away the tools we use to create the illusion of meaning and dimensionality and gives us the truth instead.
And yes, that can be painful. Few of us are the heroes we imagine ourselves to be. We are limited, flawed, and far more self-serving than we hope. But thankfully, we are also not the worthless villains we fear we might be. Prayer shows us that God is always in the picture. The Ancient of Days is always with us. And more, he is always for us. The beautiful thing about encountering the truth in prayer is that we encounter it resting in the arms of the one who loves us.
Every one of us has our own version of reality, a perspective we live out of every day. But we cannot see things as they are except on our knees. The view from a position of humility before God, dependence on God, and trust in God is the closest we can get to the truth. And it is the truth that sets us free.
Prayer isn't a magic spell or a scientific formula -- an alchemy that changes the world around us. It's a dialogue (a negotiation perhaps?), with the God of Truth and Love that changes the world within us. Slowly, gently, over time, he opens the vista before us in all its color, context, and dimension. And when we begin to see things the way God sees them, from his perspective, a whole new renaissance can begin in us.
- Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a Catholic convert, wife, and mother of eight. Inspired by the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, she is an author, speaker, and musician, and provides freelance editorial services to numerous publishers and authors as the principal of One More Basket. Find Jaymie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @YouFeedThem.