Thomas discussed how we can learn spiritual lessons from the negative spaces in our lives
CFAC students and faculty were in for a spiritually and intellectually uplifting session with design professor Douglas Thomas during his Faith and Works Lecture on November 4. Thomas used a familiar design term—negative space—to illustrate how we can use our own negative or empty spaces in our lives to draw closer to God and become more spiritually fulfilled.
The Faith and Works lecture series is an opportunity for the faculty of the CFAC to present how their disciplines and their faith intersect and enhance one another.
During Thomas’s lecture, he addressed how the negative spaces in our lives can help us grow in faith. For Thomas, negative space is the space around any form: the margins of a written page, the space between letters, openness between buildings, silence between musical notes.
Thomas drew the students’ attention to the fact that whatever creative medium they work in, they are as responsible for creating the negative space as for the positive form. Keeping the idea of negative space in mind, Thomas focused on three main lessons of faith and space: deliberateness, inequity and healing.
Thomas noted that in design, white space is a crucial part. “We think about space deliberately in design,” he said. He emphasized that the same is true in our spiritual lives.
Deliberately making space for the things of God, Thomas noted, will expand our capacities. “Deliberateness is important in time and space,” he said.
Quoting Henry B. Eyring, Thomas said, “You will see your time expanded as you put the kingdom of God first.”
He urged the audience to “Be deliberate about your time and decisions.” Part of being deliberate is setting boundaries, Thomas continued. He encouraged the audience to be thoughtful about the time they dedicate to various activities.
“Saying no is actually your most powerful friend,” Thomas observed. Thomas shared another experience when he had to be deliberate about making space for the Lord while he was in graduate school.
“Keeping the Sabbath day in graduate school felt impossible, but I chose to put the Lord to his test,” Thomas said. While many times he was required to attend classes or meetings on Sunday, he always made space for Sunday worship and church service, even if that meant making up the time on other days.
“I was blessed with insights and revelation on those early Monday mornings or late Saturday nights. I learned far more important lessons on Sunday with the Lord than I would have in the library or studio,” Thomas said.
Thomas described how negative spaces are not equally distributed, either in terms of time or physical space. For example, he cited research that shows that affluent neighborhoods have more open spaces where people can ponder, exercise and reflect. In addition, high-end magazines literally have more white space than magazines targeted at lower-end markets.
Thomas explained that means that for some, “Negative space [can] be a luxury good.”
Quoting Jenny Odell, Thomas noted our responsibility to help give others negative space: “This is why it’s even more important for anyone who does have a margin—even the tiniest one—to put it to use in opening up margins further down the line.”
Thomas added, “If there is a designed problem, there is a design solution.”
Thomas remarked that winter snowfall creates nature’s most dramatic white spaces—negative space that forces us to slow down, stay warm and make sure we are safe. He then acknowledged that slowing down forces us to confront the truly negative challenges and trials of our lives.
Thomas reminded the audience that things like loneliness, mental illness and trauma don’t go away on their own. But they can be healed with time, space, and help.
“There are some things we cannot possibly deal with on our own,” Thomas remarked. “I’ve been incredibly grateful and blessed by those who have been given me grace, time and space for healing.”
In this way the concept of aesthetic negative space helped him confront and heal the negative experiences in his own life.
For him, Thomas shared, that negative space became “a place not only of healing, but of pondering.”
He added, “[That space] forces you to think about the most important things in life.”
At the end of his lecture, Thomas encouraged the audience to ponder on how they can make space in their lives for what matters most: “Negative spaces in our lives are formative in the meaning of everything we do.”