The formative power of the beautiful is, first of all, an attraction. Trained as both artist and church historian, Robin Jensen astutely points out that attraction is the divine energy which enlivens beauty and serves as impetus for love's creative and transformative power. In her earlier book, Understanding Early Christian Art
, Jensen concluded that ''both verbal and visual eventually come down to the same thing and reinforce one another.'' Just as John Cassian describes the effect of chanting the Psalms day after day -- ''He [the monk] will take into himself all the thoughts of the Psalmsanot as if they were the compositions of the Psalmist, but rather as if they were his own utterances and his very own prayer'' -- so, too, visual art engages us as spectator and creator -- drawing us into beauty, and by virtue of this imaginative encounter, helping us take responsibility for the subsequent life of art in the world. Jensen's survey in Substance of Things Seen
encompasses visual art and spiritual formation in Christian tradition, the visual exegesis of narrative art in early Christianity, the question of the icon as idol or incarnation, the practical uses of art throughout the Christian centuries, the idea of holy places being sacred spaces, and a discussion of the beautiful and the disturbing in contemporary and ancient ''religious'' art. ''Unless we want to condemn ourselves to the starvation of the Christian imagination and the dissolution of the Christian conscience,'' writes Jensen, ''the church cannot ignore the arts.'' 152 pp.
An Eighth Day View:
While the average person rarely sees it, the visual arts play a subtle yet profound role in the teaching and formation of faith, both for individuals and religious communities. The Substance of Things Seen explores the intersection of art and faith, offering thoughtful reflections on the way art functions in Christian life and practice. Highly readable and featuring instructive illustrations, this book is meant to engage church leaders as well as artists in constructive conversation about the critical role that art can play in the renewal of Christian education, worship, and study. It also challenges anyone who thinks the arts are only of marginal importance to the religious life. Robin Jensen considers here a broad range of topics relevant to Christian faith and culture, including the construction of sacred space, the use of art in worship and spiritual formation, the way that visual art interprets sacred texts, and the power and danger of art from a historical and contemporary perspective.