The Eye of God

A journey through the territory of trauma 

“I will guide you with my eye”  Psalm 32:8

This project explores a personal journey through the middle space of traumatic experience; and my gratitude for the healing power of the Spirit who is found in the nooks and crannies, in dark places, in the gaps. The artistic process involved pondering scripture, theological reflection, immersion in the literature on trauma, and contemplative doodling.

The series was inspired through my ongoing meditative practice of doodling the psalms and centers on a phrase from Psalm 32:8: “I will guide you with my eye”.
My initial drawing was my vision of the Eye of God—conceived as a glowing “eye”.

The process might have ended there, if it were not for the discovery that this bore an uncanny resemblance to images of the Helix Nebula NGC 7293 (see above) above, commonly described as “the eye of God” nebula.

This “coincidence” inspired me onto two parallel journeys. The first, artistic journey entailed a series of works attempting to capture the “Eye” as an image on paper. Alongside this visual exploration of the Eye I followed a second, more personal trail. If the Eye of God is/was leading me, where is that journey taking me?

As I pondered that question, a series of images and answers began to develop:

to the ends of the earth, where there be dragons; 

through the valley of the shadow of death; into the abyss

the somewhat nightmarish poem “The Hound of Heaven

These answers surprised me both with their darkness and with their ambiguity. As I began to develop images around these motifs, I struggled both to express this mood in the images, and to understand why these were the directions I was going.

Where was God leading me—or did this dark edge have anything to do with God?

When a theologian friend introduced me to current work at the intersection of trauma and theology, I recognised that the malaise affecting me, and being expressed in these concepts, was an expression of childhood trauma.

The final project as presented here took shape after this realization, as a working out of impact of childhood trauma and as a wrestling with the “absence” of God common in these circumstances.

The work consists of a series of images reflecting on the experience of living with the long-term affects of trauma.

Here Be Dragons, unfinished drawing, 2017

This was the first image of the series to be attempted, and served as the nursery for the techniques used in the remaining images. It has not yet been rendered in its final form.
The Abyss, 2017

The abyss is the psychological territory of trauma. This image plays off of my love of the land, in particular the wide and diverse landscape of the Alberta foothills. While it references the 23rd Psalm in both the green pastures, and the valley, it refuses the comforting resolution of the Psalm. This is not a guided tour of the Valley of Death, but a descent into the Void, or the Abyss of trauma.
The Hound of Heaven (or, the Black Dog), 2017
This image draws upon the 19th century poem “The Hound of Heaven”. Francis Thompson is a tortured, perhaps traumatized soul—caught in the grips of failure and addiction. His poem tells of God’s relentless pursuit of the soul; a pursuit ultimately revealed to be an expression of God’s love and grace. The poem begins: I fled Him, down the nights and down the days; I fled Him, down the arches of the years; I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears I hid from Him, and under running laughter… However, I find myself questioning this image: is this the Hound of Heaven, or the Black Dog of depression, or the eternal return of the traumatizing memory?
The Eye of God

This proved to be the most difficult image of the series to execute. Attempts to recreate the Eye/nebula in the structure and media of the other pieces led to numerous cartoonish and garish results. Inspiration finally came as I toyed with the idea of representing the feeling of “hanging on by my fingertips” through a child-like scratch drawing. Under the black ink square is the eye of God symbol, hanging in a starry expanse, and circled by the four elements of earth, wind, water and fire. This is hidden to the viewer, only glimpsed where the blackness has been scratched off.
Holy Saturday

This image draws on the work of theologian Shelly Rambo in Spirit and Trauma, and her discussion of Hans Urs von Balthaser’s and Adrienne von Speyr’s mystical and theological exploration of Holy Saturday. This is the day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, when “the Son is dead”. Here, says Balthaser, Jesus is “the connecting thread linking ruin and rising.” For Rambo, the theological answer to the crisis of trauma lies in this space between cross and resurrection; in Holy Saturday. Here, between the passion and the resurrection, is the black emptiness of the void; “a place of absence, emptiness and profound loneliness”. Here is the place where the traumatized person dwells.

“The survivor occupies a space like Holy Saturday, between death and life, between an ending and a beginning”.

Shelly Rambo, Spirit and Trauma: A theology of remaining

Artist’s Notes

The technique used throughout the project is an intensification of an earlier doodling style of meditations (see “Tears of God”. The design is sketched out, then “doodled” with fine tip markers. This is then overlaid with solid colors with Sharpie pens. In turn, the drawing is “rubbed” with pencil crayon which highlights the ridging of the paper resulting from the two kinds of marker. Other media used include wax crayon, printer’s ink, and metallic Sharpie.