The Art of Reflection: Thoughts on Advent and New Year

But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart   –Luke 2:19

The emergence of an ending can often usher in moments of clarity. Thus, the potential or reality of death, an impeding geographical re-location or the loss of trusted employment ruptures the ebb and flow of routine existence and affords the opportunity for reflection upon the important things in life.

As we approach this season of coming (Advent) and closure (New Year), individuals will tend to reflect upon the past year, regretting certain failures or unfulfilled goals, while inwardly celebrating the wonderful accomplishments tinged with the warm glow of divine enchantment and nostalgia. We will sit around with friends and family, or perhaps in quiet solitude, and reminisce about our cherished memories through the recounting of stories, the viewing of pictures and the promise for improvement by means of well-intentioned resolutions.

These moments of contemplation provide an invaluable opportunity, both practical and theological. The lens of our perspective can be augmented as we step outside our current mundane situations and view our lives from an expanded angle or a narrator’s perspective, in the same ways we read a novel or view a film.

Often, it is only by stepping back and looking at our lives from these variant and broadened perspectives that we are allowed to see the dissipation of minor inconveniences and the emergence of the essential. Thus, George Bailey, in It’s a Wonderful Life, is able to view life as if he were never born and its impending consequences due to his absence, whilst Ebenezer Scrooge, in A Christmas Carol, is able to observe his life and surroundings in the past, present and ‘yet to come’.

The power residing within these great tales, and others, is that we are able to watch these characters realize the error of their ways and to subsequently experience the joy and meaning found in friends, family and the tripartite transcendentals of truth, beauty and goodness that is often neglected through the film of immanence and ennui that tends to cloud our lenses. By separating ourselves from the immediacy of everyday life and reflecting upon its constituent parts, clarity and perspective is often the fortunate result, both for the fictional characters and for the viewers.

During this season of reflection, perhaps it may be most beneficial for all of us to emerge from the impetuous flow of Christmas hustle and bustle and to situate ourselves along the residual holiday banks to ponder the grander narrative of our lives.

Artwork: The Mystical Nativity, by Sandro Botticelli. Tempera on canvas, c. 1500; National Gallery, London.

Some of the best opportunities for contemplation are presented to us as we engage with various mediums of art, whether visual, auditory or literary. Hence, I would like to encourage us to read the story of Christ’s birth again with childlike wonder as if it were the first time we had heard it, with attention to all the details; listen and sing along with familiar Christmas carols that announce ‘the new born King’ or that simply share in the joy of gathering together with family and friends; read or re-read a novel that transports us back to bygone days; or merely sit and reflect upon a piece of art for its sheer beauty or the differing perspective that it affords.

Perhaps we may imitate G.K. Chesterton, who once remarked concerning Boticelli’s, The Nativity, ‘Do you blame me that I sit hours before this picture? But if I walked all over the world in the time I should hardly see anything worth seeing that is not in this picture.’ [1]

As you find those moments of reflection, all of us at Transpositions, and the broader community at the Institute for Theology, Imagination & the Arts (ITIA), would like to wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! May you enjoy and cherish this time in the company of family and friends, or perhaps surrounded by your favorite book, piece of music, film or work of art.

Finally, we would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your continued support and interest in our offerings as we persist in our exploration of the interface between theology & the arts.  If hindsight is indeed 20/20, our reflections for this past year should provide vision for the upcoming months.

We look forward to returning in 2017 with additional articles and reviews that will continue to advance this conversation further into theological, aesthetic and academic understanding.

Soli Deo Gloria,

Brett H Speakman


[1] G.K. Chesterton: Notebooks, mid 1890s.

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