Design for the Body & Soul


This past Spring, I watched a Netflix original program called Abstract:  The Art of Design. It highlights different people who have found careers in graphic design, stage design, fashion, architecture and many other creative outlets. The artists featured are fascinating to me.

One of my favorites from the series is Ilse Crawford, a famed interior designer. She has had a part in creating spaces that invite folks in. Her work includes design for restaurants, hotels, homes, and furnishings. Her breadth stretches from high-end to more affordable, particularly in collaborations with Ikea.

I was fascinated at the dialogue of the program. She is an interesting person with obvious gifts. Ilse operates within the realm of engaging all of the senses. Not only does she have an eye for both form and function, but she also finds a way of treating those who enter the spaces she creates with a respect to their humanity, with empathy. When five senses are attended within design, a person feels differently and may act differently, she reflects.

In A Frame for Life, Isle says, “We are interested in integrating design with human experience, in investigating how design affects us, rather than how it affects the image. We don’t view design as a finished piece of furniture. Instead we explore how it can bring us together and better connect us, how it can make us more open and aware, how it can encourage us to keep learning and growing, how it can make us more active and encourage generosity and trust.”

Her words resonate with me as I spend so much of my time at home. In particular, my home is a canvas for life and love to dwell; a place of support for souls bound in lifetime connection, nourishment, and rest— or at least that’s what I would hope it would be. Beauty and order (or maybe intention in the way things are ordered) are inspiring to me. I have always felt a tension between aesthetics and the necessities of real life lived out in the most functional way possible. Regardless of the budget, I have had better and worse success blending the two in the many spaces we have lived through the years. All in all, I have wanted those living and visiting here to be affectionately invited in, needs met, and given some sense of freedom to be exactly where they are at any given moment.  I also love art and color, particularly having the ability to appreciate the beauty of a hue without it getting lost in busy display. Monochrome is my starting speed.

Having spent some time learning about other cultures and even other folk’s stories, I realize this is a luxury. Even at its best, home is a metaphor for the space where all of God’s promises will be fulfilled. Spaces are temporary. And not all have the invariable of safety.

That in mind, Isle inspires me to think about my own efforts. I would hope that through whatever the environment, people are the most valuable in the space.

I lose sight of that sometimes. I get all bent out of shape and less quick to offer whatever I have been given out of insecurity. And if I am honest, sometimes, my home is precisely the place where I feel the least attended. This is the place my lists accumulate. It is the place the project I began months ago lies in wait in the corner of the room, collecting dust and silently looming. It is the place that the fact that I am terrible at putting away laundry is on display. Then, there are the relationships here. Tear-stained pillows line the bed. It is the place conflicts erupt with the people I love most in this world. There are the places I stood and used harsh words and traded empathy for being “right”. Injuries, sleeplessness, anxieties, wrestling with hard questions— they all center here.

It is also where these relationships grow. There is a lot of laughing and a lot of love as well. There are marks on the wall that show the children’s heights. Their artwork is literally everywhere! They learn to live together and help each other within these walls. They break out in song and dance and share their dreams and thoughts about things. Marriage is challenged here and the foundation is poured upon resulting in, at least perseverance and at best, greater strength. People bind together in love. Provisions abound. As much as I try to combine aesthetics and application, space is still shaped in and through experience— and those experiences leave me wanting more. Design is not an end unto itself, and as much as it may foster or hinder the relational part, it is limited. My best and worst efforts leave me desiring to be better attended than a well-appointed space.

Not too long ago, I began a journey out of the church denomination I knew very well into one more Anglican. You and I could spend an hour or two over coffee and I could try to articulate the reasons why I gravitated toward this. Some of it was circumstances both geographically and divinely inspired. Let me stop for just a moment and say aloud, I am not a Christian by tradition or any corruptible thing. Faith in Christ Jesus alone, by grace alone is what saves. When I found myself in a place of a deep awareness of the sin in me as well as a renewed hope of the Gospel, God gave me a place of safety to softly fall. That place happened to be an Episcopal church with a deep appreciation for liturgy.

I realized recently that the church led in liturgy, by inspiration of scripture, fits my soul like a well-designed piece of furniture or well-appointed space, yet its elements do not change or wear with time. It meets me in need and leads to the One for whom it is fashioned to proclaim.

In Beyond Smells and Bells, Mark Galli says this, “The liturgy— whose basic outline is the same in all {these} traditions— remains the staple of Sunday worship and daily prayer for millions for a reason:  it allows people to enter into an enduring story that makes sense of life, and allows them to enter into communion with God in a way that touches body, mind, and soul.” (emphasis mine)

So much of what Ilse desires to do with her art— create safe spaces where those who come in have their senses wholistically attended— is a beautiful idea. I find that the body of Christ and the liturgy in which we all share, particularly at my church home, leads in remembering our humanity and remembering God’s divinity. Both perpetuate the proclamation of the Gospel and the life of the One who tabernacled with us and ultimately succeeds where design meets its limit.

It knows the shapes and curves of my body and soul, then supports, leads into repentance, reminds of truth, brings me to be fed with physical and spiritual food, reminds me that I need not work but rest in the work of Christ. I stand, hear, speak, kneel, sing, embrace brothers and sisters in peace. The fellowship, liturgy, and sacraments afforded the church are to engage my senses, not for the sake of religious method or aestheticism, but to functionally invite communion. With deep empathy, I am attended as a person between the cross and grave, saint and sinner. And on top of it all, it is as beautiful as the God-breathed language it follows.

We have been given so much in life, including art and design, that points to something greater, or more importantly Someone greater.