Advent devotion: Chiaroscuro

News | December 9, 2017

I learned about chiaroscuro when I studied art and photography in college (hear how to pronounce here). It means “light-dark” and the technique is often associated with Renaissance Italian artists like Leonardo da Vinci and Caravaggio. The artist darkens the shadows and heightens the light to focus the viewer’s eye on the most important elements of a painting.

For example, in this painting, our eye is drawn to the peaceful face of the young singer because of the light. The child’s hand is also lit by the candle he holds, but the primary focus is his beatific face. Clearly, he is concentrating on his music and there is a sense of serenity and peace in his expression. He has a purpose and task that he cannot complete without that small candle of light.

The boy is lit by one small candle, but that is sufficient for him to see his music. Without it, he’d be lost but because of that small light, his world is transformed. Like this child, we are all children of God, all needing a light to shine in the darkness of this world. Perhaps we are feeling despair or concern. Perhaps we are not feeling joyful during this time of joy. Perhaps we are feeling overwhelmed with all of the additional expectations of this season. Maybe, like this child, we need to focus on each small task, and bask in the light of God’s enduring love for us that illuminates all the dark places on the canvas of our lives.

In this Advent season of light, we will light the candles on Advent wreaths, or turn on the sparkling lights nestled in the branches of Christmas trees, or use the headlights of our car to travel safely to spend time with loved ones. May each candle and light remind us that God’s promise to love us is the most important light in our chiaroscuro lives.

Katie is a professor at Augustana College where she teaches literature, writing, and future teachers. She loves to read and walk her 12-year-old yellow Labrador, Sandi.

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