Henri Nouwen, a priest and prolific writer on the spiritual life, had just finished an exhausting lecture tour and was “dead tired, so much so that I could barely walk.” He was anxious, lonely, restless, and, in his words, “very needy.” As he visited the office of a friend, he came across a reproduction of Rembrandt’s The Return of the Prodigal Son. Stunned by the painting’s power and beauty, Nouwen told his friend, “It’s beautiful, more than beautiful…it makes me want to cry and laugh at the same time…I can’t tell you what I feel as I look at it, but it touches me deeply.”1
Rembrandt’s embrace remained imprinted on my soul far more profoundly than any temporary expression of emotional support. It had brought me into touch with something within me that lies far beyond the ups and downs of a busy life, something that represents the ongoing yearning of the human spirit.…The yearning for a lasting home, brought to consciousness by Rembrandt’s painting, grew deeper and stronger, somehow making the painter himself into a faithful companion and guide. This seemingly insignificant encounter with one of Rembrandt’s masterpieces set in motion a long spiritual adventure that brought me to a new understanding of my vocation and offered me new strength to live it.2
God used this painting to confirm Nouwen’s call to minister in a community for mentally disabled adults. The power of art to move us into a deeper understanding of God’s truth and nature has been grossly neglected by some in the Christian community. Throughout the ages, the most magnificent art has been produced in the name of faith.
Biblical accounts of the glory of God in heaven are elaborate affairs and rarely quiet, to say the least.
As I’ve lived and studied the Christian life, I’ve found that some Christians are moved more by a sensuous worship experience than by anything else. By sensuous I’m referring to the five senses: taste, touch, smell, sound, and sight. When we reduce all Christian worship to mere intellectual assent, we force Christians to worship God in a crippled existence. When we embrace the use of the senses—which God created, after all—we open up entirely new avenues of worship.
This may be a difficult message for Christians who grew up, as I did, equating silence and lack of sensory stimulation with reverence. When we look at Scripture, however, we find that God often appears in a very loud and colorful way.
The Loud and Colorful God of Scripture
Biblical accounts of the glory of God in heaven are elaborate affairs and rarely quiet, to say the least. Consider, for example, the experience recounted by Ezekiel. He feels a wind. He sees flashing lightning surrounded by brilliant light, fantastic creatures, and a magnificent and stunning throne of sapphire.3 He hears the sound of wings like the roar of rushing waters, and a loud rumbling.4 Ezekiel is then asked to eat a scroll that tastes sweet. After it is all over, Ezekiel is so overwhelmed—perhaps the sensuous onslaught is so great—he sits down, stunned, for seven days.5
A similar appearance occurs in Ezekiel, chapter 10, where Ezekiel experiences burning coals, great radiance, a loud sound, clouds filling the temple, and fantastic sights and movements—wheels that sparkled like chrysolite, and cherubim with four faces.
When the Glory returns to the temple, we again read that God’s voice is like the “roar of rushing waters”6 and the land becomes radiant with his glory. The sight is so great that Ezekiel falls facedown.
There is something within each of us that is awed by the presence of beauty.
Thomas, Gary. 2009. Sacred Pathways: Discover Your Soul’s Path to God. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.