Soft light, hard surfaces

The effect of the thrown light in the gallery is dazzling.

Intricate patterns engulf me. They’re on the floor, the walls, the ceiling – all emanating from single lights inside solid, steel polyhedrons.

It is an astonishing, mathematical splendor.

I read the descriptive notes on the wall. They tell me that the artists are after a tension between the hard geometric surface and the soft inner light, to encourage the “contemplation and awe of the inherent beauty of universal forms.”

Being an artist who loves contrast, I’m intrigued by the disparity between a hard surface and an inner light. I spend the next hour wandering the streets of Washington, D.C., ruminating on it.

Later, I turn to Scripture and find this verse:

Who is like the wise? And who knows the interpretation of a thing? A man's wisdom makes his face shine, and the hardness of his face is changed. (Ecclesiastes 8:1)

There’s a nice variation on this theme. Just like God’s word to add nuance.

One of the observations I’ve gleaned from spending so much time in public spaces is that people rarely look happy. Today, a ride in a Metro car reminds me, but it could just as well be an airport, grocery store, or church. We don’t often think about our resting faces – how our “neutral” often comes across as “grumpy.”

It’s rare to pass a smiling stranger on a sidewalk. And if we do, we give him plenty of space.

Does my inner light show? It should. Wisdom, Solomon says, flows from a right relationship with our Maker (Prov. 1:7). Being loved by God should soften our hearts toward those around us. And that softness should work all the way up to our faces. “A glad heart makes a cheerful face.” (Prov.15:13)

In this, we don’t become some Disneyfied, Pollyanna, Stepford-Wives version of ourselves. But, like with these polyhedrons, inner light that shines through our distinctiveness creates unique, beautiful patterns for the world to see.

So, riding on the Metro, I meditate on the love of God and allow that knowledge unclench my brow. Perhaps even turn up the corners of my mouth.

And I don’t mind the empty seats around me.

Lord, make me more aware of how I come across in public. Help my face reflect the joy in my heart. Shine through me that the world may see how amazing you are!

I would love to hear your thoughts and comments. Email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. And if you liked this, please use the buttons above to share it!

Bruce Van Patter

As a freelance illustrator, graphic recorder, and author, Bruce is on a lifelong journey to delight in the handiwork of the Creator. And he’s always ready for fellow travelers.

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