‘Prepare ye the way of the Lord’ – that is what art does. Phyllis Novak

Heaven and Hell

ArtWay Visual Meditation November 25, 2018

Child’s Drawing: Heaven and Hell

Thoughts on Robert Coles' The Spiritual Life of Children

by Rudiger Krause

Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 18:3

I praise you, Father, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned and revealed them to little children. Matthew 11:25

For some obscure reason I pulled Coles' book The Spiritual Life of Children (1990) off the shelf in order to re-read it, recalling how much it had meant to me when I first read it years ago. Again I marveled at Robert Coles' wisdom, humility, insight, sensitivity and fine writing as he recounts his conversations with children in North America, Europe and North Africa. Much of the book is comprised of the children's own words. Here is the passage about the drawing above:

“The silence of the drawing session gave way to the silence of a Swedish boy who had finished doing something and was now staring resolutely at an American man who was, for his part, staring at a drawing – and drawing a complete blank.

“It is heaven and hell.” The hint was not enough. “In heaven you're way beyond everything; you're not you anymore – light as a wisp of a cloud or like the wind going through a meadow. In hell it is very intense. You're stuck – you're stuck with yourself and with all that's weighing you down from your life: very tough!”

That commentary having been offered, the boy surveyed his picture and decided to help the viewer. He took a ruler and a pencil, drew a line: “Heaven is here, hell is there. I may have made a mistake just then.” What did he mean? “I made the difference (the distinction) too clear - too final!” He had originally, in fact, let his heaven gradually merge with his hell and then had drawn the pencil line as a teacher does: to teach. He decided to erase the pencil line but had immediate second thoughts: “It is all guessing, so I won't worry!”

Later we talked about his picture, which was utterly abstract, yet with plenty of suggestive immediacy. A boy who had sounded like a skeptic, supremely wedded to the here and now, let crayons create the basis for a spoken theology as sophisticated as it was unpretentious: he saw heaven as the loss of the self into an almost unimaginable lightness and hell as a condition of overbearing self-involvement. Not for this boy devils or angels. Not for him Jesus or Satan. Not for him the Lord in any form – or humanity either, after death.”

What more can I add? Coles and the child have already said all that could possibly be said. But the scriptures cited above make me realize that there is something I can add. We live in troubled times. We may need to find a way to heed Jesus' words to become like children. And it is a book like The Spiritual Life of Children which may just shine a light on that way, a book in which we find the conversations between a wise adult and a series of children with their fervent and earnest questions and imaginings, their wondering, their blend of innocence and wisdom rooted in their hearts.

The drawing Heaven and Hell depicts these two realities side by side rather than up and down, actually touching and not separated by a wide gulf. The contrast is established primarily through the use of colour – bright, warm colours for heaven, dark ones for hell. Yet warm colours are also used to depict fire in the center of hell. There is more definition to the hell side of the drawing, with the ladder or staircase and other more expressionistic details.

Notions of heaven and hell are rooted in scripture, yet not in any clear-cut, definitive manner. Much of what has traditionally been thought, believed and imagined (expressed for example in Dante's Divine Comedy) is not scriptural at all. We live in times when many are searching for ways to overcome simplistic and dangerous oppositional thinking. A pictorial representation like this child's drawing helps me to remember and contemplate that the line between good and evil, between heaven and hell, runs through each human heart, including my own.


Drawing by Martin from Stockholm, published in Robert Coles, The Spiritual Life of Children, A Peter Davison Book, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1990.

Rudiger Krause is a father and grandfather, retired teacher and "eternal" student, amateur artist, gardener and activist who lives simply in Vancouver, Canada.



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2. TUNE IN 282 ON CHRIST AND CULTURE – “Does a synthesis of Christ and culture exist? What thoughts do we Christians have about culture? And how do the creators of culture perceive the church? The answers to these questions are connected to theological reflections on the topic of “art and culture” and to the church’s conceptual and concrete responses. Reinhold Niebuhr’s categories in “Christ and Culture” help us to find an orientation here and to reconsider our own involvement in church and culture and perhaps to find a new direction. (On this see also TUNE INs 271,272 and 281).” By Beat Rink, in English and German, read more on Facebook.    

3. GLEN WORKSHOP 2019 - We’re delighted to announce the 2019 Glen Workshop (July 28 – August 3) website is live and registration is open. You can read all about our faculty and expanded selection of workshops and seminars here, then register here. You’ll see many familiar names among our faculty, as well as some new faces. We are inviting people to our table—quite literally in the case of the Glen, where eating together is sacrosanct—and pulling up more chairs. This gathering is a feast of both ideas and creativity, offering life-changing opportunities to sharpen our attention to the arts and develop our craft. We're excited to share this table with you. Invite a friend to join you in Santa Fe this summer to take full advantage of our early bird registration special: register by December 5 and you’ll get $100 off one registration or $250 off two registrations. Hope to see you and yours in Santa Fe.

4. NEW BOOK – J. Cheryl Exum, David J. A. Clines, Diane Apostolos-Cappadona: Biblical Reception, 5: Women and the arts, Bloomsbury, 2018. The latest in the Biblical Reception series examines the reception of the Bible in art and particularly focuses on women in the Bible.

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