At SPU we are so accustomed to talking about spirituality and faith that sometimes our encounters with the Presence can be diluted into something insincere. However, the current show in the Seattle Pacific Art Gallery, Immanence, serves as a catalyst to intensify an experience with God. Rachel Schrader, Cristina Hernandez, and Rachel Smith bring together 3 collections that invite us to encounter the works of the Holy Spirit. Abstract and realisic paintings, a portrait of the woman at the well, and a unique tent unite to call us to reconciliation and fellowship with God. Centered on the unavoidable immanence of God, the three artists successfully let us receive “something greater than what [they] have created by [their] own hands.”
The first thing to strike you when you walk into the gallery is Rachel Smith’s Tent of Meeting. In the Old Testament, the Tent of Meeting was meant to be a place of peace and holiness. Here, one can experience the breath of God; here,the immanence of God is undeniable.
The curtains from Smith’s Tent of Meeting earnestly invite you to sit and experience holiness. Once inside, the sheerness of the curtains allows light to shine through, bringing peace. Though the space is small and lacks privacy, when you sit inside your heart is called to repentance towards God. Instead of feeling the desire to be breathed upon by God, you are reassured of fellowship with Him.
Not only is Smith’s tent an invitation to push away our human thoughts, but it is a reminder of God’s boundless love for his people. The front curtain, hinting at the train of a wedding dress, amplifies this unconditional union between God and man. Though this reference is familiar to all of us, Smith’s work glows and creates a mysterious, monumental presence in the gallery space. Smith’s piece suggests a very specific and genuine definition of reconciliation. The piece is not complex, but it is effective, and its message of God’s immanence is undeniable.
As you walk around the gallery space, the next thing you notice is the well in the corner and the portrait of a woman. Here, Cristina Hernandez makes a complimentary reference to the Samaritan woman who conversed with Jesus at the well. Jesus told this woman that he could give her “living water, ”eternal life, the only gift that could satisfy her desires. Experimenting with the parallels between water and the Holy Spirit, Hernandez illustrates this reconciliation between God and man. Through the woman’s portrait, the reconciliation between God and the sinful nature of man is illustrated successfully.
Even through the “division, discord, prejudice, and hatred” that consumes our world, God remains faithful to the wicked. Hernandez’s portrait of the woman at the well meaningfully captures this hope for renewal. Evocative and detailed, the drawing of the woman at the well holds an expression of wonderment and adoration. One factor that detracts from this powerful statement is the perfectly rendered face. The women’s face is so flawless that it threatens to become bland. Interestingly, as you interact with this portrait, you are reminded of your own testimony. The immanence of God is something that cannot be ignored, as the Samaritan woman’s expression testifies. We cannot stop God from breaking down our barriers. The portrait offers an evangelical invitation to share the Samaritan woman’s relationship with Jesus.
Rachel Schrader offers paintings that display a combination of “abstraction and realism” to represent the immanence of God. Each piece represents the human struggle to find identity in the midst of tribulation. The layering of the paint highlights our human desire to be overpowered by the transcendence of God, the immanence of God. Schrader’s work overall shows her interest in the human struggle.
The paintings are distinctive for their rich, cloudy darkness at the edges, representing human struggles and hardships. Through strong color contrasts, Schrader creates a strong visual metaphor for beauty through suffering. As the darkness disappears and light shines through, God’s nearness, God’s immanence is acknowledged.
However, while Schrader’s paintings appear mysterious and go some way toward expressing the mystery of God’s transcendence, there is something obvious about their methods. They are very sincere, but the viewer longs for added conceptual complexity. Schrader does, however, succeed in inviting the viewer into a place of restoration. The artworks resonate with attentive viewers, calling us to humility and a recognition of our own brokenness.
Blending together personal experience, the pitfalls of human nature, and the closeness of God, the exhibition Immanence calls us to experience God’s simultaneous presence and transcendence. It issues an undeniable and particular invitation. We cannot help but share this personal testimony and fellowship with God through interaction with each of the works. For a moment, we reflect on God’s grace.