Shapes of Fear

by Margie Van Duzer, CFDM Faculty

During the first week of Lent, I had the opportunity to visit the Museum of American Art in Washington, DC. Now, I am absolutely no art expert. I never took an art class or art history class in high school or college. The embarrassment and shame experienced through my elementary school art projects lingers to this day. However, as somebody who believes God can speak through this creative medium, I consciously prayed as I went from painting to painting; I asked to have the eyes to see what God wanted me to see. I was drawn in by a dark and moody painting of four robed bodies. Although the robes covered their heads, one of them was facing directly towards me while I looked at the painting. Well, not exactly facing me because this shape had no face. Just darkness where a face should have been. The other three were turned to the side, so they were completely covered in robes. All four of them were wearing easily visible shoes-shoes for running away. The painting was called “Shapes of Fear”. I found myself identifying with these shapes. When I am in a state of fear or anxiety, it is as if I am faceless. I lose sight of the reality that I am God’s beloved daughter, loved in all of who I am, a person created, named, known and redeemed by Christ. Instead, I feel like a faceless, nameless non-entity, where my only distinguishing feature is my overwhelming inclination to flee.

Shapes of Fear 1930-1932 Maynard Dixon Born: Fresno, California 1875 Died: Tucson, Arizona 1946 oil on canvas 40 x 50 1/8 in. (101.5 x 127.3 cm.) Smithsonian American Art Museum Bequest of Henry Ward Ranger through the National Academy of Design 1956.10.1 Smithsonian American Art Museum 2nd Floor, North Wing. Used with permission.

How dark and lifeless these shapes looked, so far removed from God’s intent for us as God’s beloved. And yet, how often I live in that place of faceless fear, not, as Henri Nouwen would say, claiming my belovedness.

This Lent, with this picture still looming large in my mental background, I have decided to make it a spiritual discipline to consciously choose “belovedness” whenever the feelings of fear arise. And they do arise. Surprisingly, I have found that the memory of these four robed shapes somehow make it easier to name the fear when it comes and claim my rightful identity. Instead of making a move to flee, I am able to stop and turn towards the God who intimately knows all and lovingly is with me still.

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