The art of healing: Why churches should care more about beauty

A giant mobile of red and blue pencils sways mesmerizingly in the breeze. A life-sized horse made of recycled timber adorns a corridor. A brass dog gazes up at the sky in a courtyard.

Where are we? An art gallery?

No. In a hospital, actually.

A sculpture at Dorchester hospital.

What Wonka did for chocolate factories, arts charities are doing for hospitals. Transforming the bland into the beautiful, the clinical into the colourful, the functional into the fantastical.

Livestreaming images of beautiful Dorset cliffs, beaches, moors and meadows to bedsides in stuffy wards. Huge screen projections of swaying forest canopies form ceiling cinemas above CT scanners. A curtain-framed 'window screen' in the 'Room with a view' livestreams breath-taking scenes from Poole Harbour to isolation unit patients.

Art is building a bridge between the visible and the invisible. Patients' prisons are being transcended by impossible beauty.

Children love Dorchester Hospital's horse sculpture.

The word 'augment' means to make something greater – to expand, to raise, to multiply. Augmented Reality gives visionaries the chance to look beyond. These hospital re-imaginers are 'augmenting reality' – transcending boundaries between indoors and outdoors for patients imprisoned by illness.

Are we as church augmenting reality for those we meet, providing a fresh vision of God's immeasurably more? The now but not yet Kingdom which makes people want to reach out and touch it?

Jesus has been described as the ultimate art installation – 'the image of the invisible God'– building a bridge between the visible and the invisible (Keir Shreeves). Jesus had the ability to augment reality for everyone he met. His presence created a thin space where heaven touched earth, and where Kingdom colour flooded over clouded souls. The Aslan affect – where the Narnia winter finally melted into spring.

How could we as church be better at doing the same? Just as the artwork allowed sick hospital-gowned, slipper-clad patients to transcend their reality, gaze up at beach scenes, imagining the wind in their hair and the cries of the gulls in their ears, how can our interactions connect people with the healing eternal story of which they are a part? A bridge helping connect the seen to the unseen, the temporary to the eternal?

Elisabeth Frink's sculpture of a dog at Dorchester Hospital.

How can our presence in our community fling open the wardrobe door for those who step through, so that a new Kingdom beyond the coats can be felt, smelt, tasted and lived? It may be the smell of a freshly cooked casserole being delivered with a bright smile on a dark day. For some it's seeing the Christians Against Poverty or Foodbank sign that has that rainbow effect – promising something better than the here and now.

A big shout out to those whose servant hearts and love in action illuminate dark days, brighten up shadowy seasons and add splashes of light and colour where life's knocks has drained it.

Let's do more as church to creatively explore ways in which we can imbue cloudy skies with the rainbow promise of the 'immeasurably more than all we ask or even imagine'.

Esther Stansfield is a freelance writer and blogger who has worked for Tearfund and Scripture Union.

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