The Divine Artist

Speaking in tongues

This Sunday, May 31, is Pentecost when the church celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit. It occurs 50 days after Easter, and the Greek word for 50 is “Pentecost.” The story as told in Acts 2:1-21 is that all the disciples were together when there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind and divided tongues of fire rested on each person. Jesus breathed on them and they were each filled with the Holy Spirit.

This painting by Paul Benney modifies the scene. The subjects portrayed are his friends and contemporaries instead of Apostles. In a unique way, he shows Pentecostal flames hovering above them, coming from inside them. The resin surface of the painting creates a shine that reflects the viewer, so you get a sense you are standing alongside the men as a part of the picture.

But what makes this painting unique is the sound element that one experiences when observing the painting in person. Speakers have been placed around the church where this painting hangs in Venice. When you first enter in, you only hear soft murmurings, but when you stand directly in front of a person in the painting, you hear their individual voice. Each person has recorded an account of a transformative moment in his life. One man tells of his accidental shooting of his best friend; another tells of the joy of becoming a father.

I love the idea of transformative stories because that is what the Holy Spirit does—transforms. In Acts, the Holy Spirit is likened to wind and fire. In other places, he is described as breath, a dove, a stream—each image is a way to help our finite minds understand the Infinite. One image I have of the Holy Spirit is as a Divine Artist. He takes the raw materials of our good colors, dull colors, victories, mistakes, hopes, talents, weaknesses, and anxieties and mixes them all together on his painter’s palette to help us create our life’s picture. 

Being Human connection: We are invited to paint our life’s picture in the image of Christ and the Holy Spirit helps us achieve that. No matter how organized or messed up your palette is, the Divine Artist invites you to remember that you are God’s masterpiece!

Featured art: Paul Benney, Speaking in Tongues, 2014. ©Paul Benney.

tongues close up Tongues context